Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dutch & Faye Trail, Ebro, Florida

The Dutch & Faye Trail is located just south of Ebro in the Sand Pond Recreation area of the Pine Log State Forest. The Pine Log State Forest was established in 1936 as Florida's first state forest, but apparently did not require a park ranger until 1978, when Edgar "Dutch" Tiemann stepped into the job. Before retiring in 1992, "Dutch" laid out the campground and the original trail system in the Sand Creek Recreation Area. When I first visited the recreation area several years ago, the large loop trail was named the "Dutch Tiemann Trail" in his honor. Since then, the name has changed to the "Dutch & Faye Trail" to include Mrs. Tiemann.

To get to the trail head, turn west onto (unpaved) Environmental Road off of Highway 79, 1.4 miles south of the intersection of state road 20 and state road 79. (This turn was a bit hard to find on the day of our visit because of construction on Highway 79. ) Make the first right onto Longleaf Road. Drive past two ponds, one on the left and one on the right. Trail head parking will be one the left, near an elaborate picnic pavilion (stone fireplace, sunken floor, ceiling fans...yeah, it's elaborate). The information board and trail head for the Dutch & Faye Trail will be to the right of the picnic pavilion, next to one of the ponds. Two other trails pass by here--the red-blazed Campground Boardwalk Trail and the orange-blazed Florida National Scenic Trail. The Dutch & Faye Trail is marked with blue blazes and blue metal arrow signs. Most of the trail is in fact very well marked.

We did the trail clockwise, so we took the blue-blazed trail to the right. We were immediately in a forest dominated by pines, which does not change during the 5-3/4 mile length of the trail, except for a few plunges into swamp titi. Even if you don't look up, you'll notice changes in the species of pine by the size and shape of pine cones littering the path.

Soon after starting, at 0.14 miles the trail passes a open area with picnic shelters on the right. After that we were alone in the woods, with only an occasional glimpse of Crews Lake Road on the left to spoil the illusion of wilderness. Well, that and the fact that the pines seemed to be planted in rows, and that the forest has been well-managed with regular prescribed burns. We crossed a forest road at 0.42 miles and reached a bench on the left side of the trail at 0.91 miles. By now the trail was taking us south along state road 79, and you could make out cars through the trees behind the bench. Farther along, the trail and the highway angled apart for a while, so that the traffic was no longer visible from the trail even if it was still audible.

At 1.12 miles a side trail on the right goes first to the red-blazed Campground Boardwalk Trail and then crosses it to go to the campground. Past the side trail, the trail crosses a rough blacktop road at 1.27 miles, followed by some rare downhill. Most of the Dutch & Faye Trail is extremely flat, so any sort of uphill or downhill is unusual, and the slopes that do exist are barely noticeable.

The trail makes a very close approach to state road 79 around a mile and a half, running next to the highway right-of-way. This may not have been the case until recently, when work to four-lane highway started. The trail hurriedly turns away from the road and heads onto a foot bridge over a small creek. After the bridge the trail is going through a swampy area, and gravel has been added to the path to keep it from becoming muddy. This is not so bad for foot traffic, but can't be fun for the off-road bicycles that also use the trail. Pitcher plants grow along the trail here.

At 1.75 miles the trail crosses Enviromental Road near its intersection with state road 79. South of Environmental Road the trail skirts some depressions that look like they may have been borrow pits for the highway. Whatever their origin, they must make things more interesting for the cyclists. Past the pits, a bench is on the right side of the trail at 1.89 miles. Here the trail turns a bit to the west and away from state road 79. At 1.99 miles the trail crosses the orange-blazed Florida National Scenic Trail, which seemed somewhat overgrown on the day of our visit. After crossing the Florida Trail, the Dutch & Faye Trail went over another small footbridge at 2.02 miles. To the left of the trail there is a thick wall of swamp titi indicating the margins of Pine Log Creek.

At 2.48 miles the trail crosses Longleaf Road. Leaving the trail and turning left onto the road will take you to a primitive camp site on Pine Log Creek. Forging ahead on the trail takes you to an annoyingly pointless series of curves taking the trail away from the creek. If there was an appreciable slope here, I'd call these switchbacks and praise them, but the change in elevation here is too subtle to require switchbacks. Were the curves added to entertain bicyclists? To add extra distance to the trail? I can think of other possible reasons, but I lack the imagination to come up with a good reason.

The trail eventually straightens out, though, and at 3.01 miles you go over a very long bridge over a small tributary to Pine Log Creek. Coming off the bridge, the trail turns left into a recently logged area. In this clear area, the trail passes three short lengths of fence, or Fences Of No Obvious Utility. The first two F.O.N.O.U.s are two upright posts connected with two horizontal rails. The third is larger, with three upright posts. They are not old, nor do they appear to have ever been part of a larger structure. They are a mystery.

After the third F.O.N.O.U., at 3.21 miles the trail crosses a forest road and leaves the area that was logged. Once again the trail is a path with trees on either side, and remains so until 3.47 miles where it intersects with another forest road. This time the arrows direct you to turn left and head south on the forest road. At 3.65 miles the trail turns right off the road and back into the woods, but if you continue a short distance farther south on the road you'll reach primitive camp site #3 on Pine Log Creek. Camp site #3 features a picnic table, a charcoal grill, a fire ring, and Pine Log Creek.

Back in the woods, the trail continues west for a short ways and then turns to the north. At 3.87 miles the trail crosses a short footbridge and reaches a bench on the left side of the road at 3.96 miles, the first bench for over two miles. This bench had been staked out by a family of carpenter bees, one of which buzzed around our heads menacingly. However, his threats were empty--male carpenter bees have no sting, and any females were inside the bench, chewing out new tunnels and laying eggs. The rest of the benches on the trail were similarly inhabited.

Heading north, the trail runs along a creek, as evidenced by the thick growth of swamp titi to the left. Pines remain dominant, but there are a few magnolias sprinkled through the forest here. At 4.28 miles a forest road intersects the trail on the right, on the left it disappears into the titi. The trail crosses another small foot bridge at 4.52 miles, followed by a bench at 4.89 miles. The vegetation seems more upland on this stretch with more scrub and less palmetto. The wall of swamp titi has faded off into the distance. Too soon for another rest, the trail passes the last bench at 5.15 miles. At 5.26 miles the trail crosses a wide, dirt road, Environmental Road. By now you are headed northeast, almost straight toward the trail head.

Before you get back to the trail head you cross the Florida Trail again at 5.67 miles. The red-blazed Campground Boardwalk Trail also runs nearby, and you may notice hikers on it. At 5.75 miles the trail arrives back at the information board and trail head; the loop is complete.

The Dutch & Faye Trail is an easy hike, and would make for a relatively tame trail run. As mentioned earlier, the trail is also open to off-road bicycles, and any sort of fat-tire bike would do well here. As on any shared-use trail, pedal traffic needs to watch out for foot traffic and vice versa. Portions of the trail run through a part of the Pine Log Wildlife Management Area, that is open to bow-hunting, so everyone needs to look out for archers during bow-hunting season. A few miles away, the Crooked Creek Trail offers a 4-1/2 mile option and a nine-mile option to off-road bicycles as well as foot traffic. None of these trails is open to horse-riding, but the 12.5-mile Crooked Creek Trail has been established for equestrian use. If you're trying to earn a patch by collecting ten trails in the Florida Division of Forestry's Trailwalker Program, the Dutch & Faye Trail will count toward your total, as will the Campground Boardwalk Trail and the Crooked Creek Trail. Visitors to the Sand Pond Recreation Area are required to pay a day-use fee of $2.00 per person (as of 1 March 2009), or hold an Annual Day-Use Permit which the Division of Forestry issues for $30.00. The Annual Permit should be displayed in a car windshield and covers the driver and up to seven passengers--it's not a bad deal for regular visitors to Florida State Forests.

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