Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lake Harney Wilderness

St. Johns River
Lake Harney Wilderness is a short, but quiet hike far away from Orlando's noise along the north flowing St. Johns river.  It starts with a one mile walk through a flowered oak hammock down to the flood plain along the shores of Lake Harney.  The open space is huge and since the elevation is so low, you may not see the lakes water, just the dark line of trees at the opposite shore.  The trail goes into the trees and turns back to the parking lot, following a canal through a tree tunnel.  My friend Walt had joined me to hike the trail.  We saw two eagles flying high and a perched red tailed hawk on this portion of the walk.
Lake Harney Shoreline
Once you finish the waterfront trail, follow the entrance road bed to the right out of the parking area.  This trail is shaded well throughout the day.  This road was once a Henry Flagler railroad called the Florida East Coast Railroad, and his trains hauled cypress lumber from the old sawmill nearby to northern markets in the early 1900's.  That mill supported a town of 200 souls called Osceola, which thrived with running water and electricity well before larger communities in the area had these luxuries.  The commercial draw for St. Johns river cypress lumber kept the plant operational and profitable for years, processing 60,000 board feet of lumber daily.  It ran out of trees in 1942 and the town closed, eventually becoming the Osceola Fish Camp for which the road is still named.  Just to your right there is a field with two eagle nests, look for them high in the pines.
Field Near the shell mound
Continue enjoying the butterflies along the railroad bed and turn right at the signed trail junction, following through a hydric hammock to the river.  Here you will turn left and follow back to the shell mound near the river crossing passing a bench in the shaded area.  There is an open field here that runs from the hammock to the trees along the shore of the St. Johns river.  This is the area around the shell mound, which was started by the Timucuan Indians settling the area around 500 BC. The town grew and eventually became known as King Phillips Old Town.  The park signage tells the story of the Indian community there, and how that ended during the Seminole wars.
Great Deck!
A deck is at the top of the mound where the railroad crossed the river, it was proceeded by a ferry boat at the same location, crossing Volusia County to New Smyrna Beach.  This deck was built as an Eagle Scout project by a scout in my old troop in 2009.  We sat there under the cedars, enjoying the cool breeze, watching eagles soar above us and listening to fish jump below us.  It was 66 degrees when we started hiking and it was still in the 70's when we finished with humidity in the mid-fifties, low for Florida.  A beautiful day!
We followed the trail past the Osceola signs to finish the second loop.  A side trail split off to the right after a bench, and we followed that down to the rivers edge and to the wilderness property line.  It was cool here and some of the trees with roots were awesome.  Water marks on the trees showed how high the water level had been.
A bench built to last
We walked back and rejoined the trail where it followed through the old mill town area, on the lookout for those foundations and other man-made right angles.  We didn't see anything man-made but the ground cover was very thick.  Maybe we will come back after a freeze and look for cement.  The trail ends at picnic tables in the hydric hammock and rejoins the railroad bed for the walk back to the parking lot.
Lots of Cool Trees are by the river
To get to Lake Harney Wilderness, take state highway 46 east of Sanford.  After the first bridge out of town, turn left onto Osceola Road West and follow that several miles to Osceola Road East, then take Osceola Fish Camp road the last half mile to where it turns into the parking lot.  You are north and east of Geneva and there are stores there along highway 46 if needed, accessed by taking The Old Geneva Road.

St. Johns river at the outflow of Lake Harney

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a great place to hike. Hope you are doing well.