Friday, January 24, 2014

Lake Monroe Conservation Area

The open field begins your walk
The trails are well marked
Several ponds are part of the water management program here
For a cool day's hike my friend Walt met me at the Lake Monroe Conservation Area parking lot for a short hike.   Windy and 50 degrees is cool weather in Florida.  Bundled against the wind in our Gore-Tex rain coats we ambled across the open field following a double-track which was our trail for the day.  We followed the 1.9 mile red blazed Red Trail through cattle and pies to turn south into the woods, where we were warmed by the trees blocking the wind.  This trail ends at the St. John River at a campsite.  Once we got to the trees, the highway sounds were heavily muted and it was peaceful.  To find other St. John River outdoor areas to visit here's a regional map.
The big open
And the trees
The sky was a clear blue.  There were lots of birds about and besides a few white herons, a blue heron, and the ever-present hovering and circling carrion birds, we didn't see any other wildlife.  We walked through another open area, then back into the trees again.  You can find the trail map here.  There is a yellow-blazed trail we will walk another time.
High water marks on trees
More water marks
Near the St. John River
We quickly noticed a dark mark on all the trees that was about waist-high.  It was the high water mark from when these lands are covered in high water.  That happens just about every year and I remember back in 2004 during the hurricanes, when the water here was up to the highway.  This is part of the reason the St. John River Water Management District purchased all these lands, to help protect the quality of the water in the river.  Keeping these lands open to hikers, horse riders and bicyclists is a good thing for us.
By the way, the Kratzert Tract of land is right next door.  I hiked there a couple of years ago and it was a short but interesting trail.  Here's my blog about it.
Along the way we met a bicyclist who was bringing a boy scout troop here the next day for a Philmont hike training session.  He was followed up by a wildlife officer in his rusting vehicle who was checking around and was making sure we were not lost.

We finally got to the St. John River edge and followed to the west where someone had boated in a huge campsite full of gear.  It was a nice campsite with fire rings.  A few boats buzzed by.  There was another campsite here by an old, dead tree and there was a shelter by the water further down the riverfront.  Three more boats were tied along the shore, one of which belonged to Jeff from my old boy scout troop.  He was camping on Lake Monroe with his wife, son and a friend, and they were out exploring.  We spent a few minutes catching up and it was good to see them camping and spending time outdoors as a family.
More wind
Rough to walk on, painful to bicycle on
I love cedar trees!
Walt and I walked back, looking for a road back the wildlife officer told us about, and we ran into very rough ground, chewed up by cattle going through it when wet.  The road we had been walking on would have been much easier to walk on than this stuff.  It was still nice to be outdoors.  We finally got back to the main road by the first trail turn, crossed the field and returned to the parking lot.  It was a short 4 mile hike, but nice!  And I've found a close campsite to test new gear with.
Return trail
Trees again
Walt & the parking lot in the distance
To find the Lake Monroe Conservation Area, north of Orlando, exit I-4 onto Lake Mary Boulevard and go east.  Cross 17/92 and continue to State Highway 46 passing the Sanford Airport Terminal entrance.  Cross SR 46 and follow County Road 415 through the widening construction project, across the St. John River, and take the first right turn into the parking lot.  Watch for the sign as it comes quickly.  Also watch for the construction-caused bumps when turning off the pavement.  Park in the lot and pick up a map at the trail kiosk.
To hike the 1.4 mile Kratzert loop, exit the parking lot and turn right onto CR 415, take the next paved left turn, Reed Ellis Road, follow less than a mile and turn left into the signed parking lot.

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