Looking for a way to relax, clear your mind, discover new things, and maybe get a little exercise? You don’t have to travel far. Pick one of the many parks, preserves, or nature trails in Lake and Sumter counties for a mini-vacation from life’s daily stresses.
Some of Florida’s most beautiful scenery exists right here. The early morning reflections on the water at the end of Flat Island Preserve’s boardwalk and the sunsets along Ferran Park’s lake walk are indeed spectacular. But, for me, the little surprises can be just as memorable.
I have discovered much about the area’s rich history with simple excursions on nature trails that are only a few miles from my home. For instance, a Shotgun-style cracker home at the Bourlay Historic Nature Park, right off Highway 441 in Leesburg, is a history lover’s delight. The 80-year-old structure is filled with information about early pioneer families and the town’s role as a steamboat landing. Venture along Bourlay’s Waterfront Landing Trail, and you’ll find a commemorative plaque honoring War of 1812 veteran Thomas Robertson, the area’s first settler. Another marker commemorates the first Methodist church services held in Leesburg during the days when religious circuit riders preached at the landing.
Drive a little farther south to Clermont’s Lake Louisa State Park, considered one of America’s top family campgrounds, for 23 miles of hiking trails and 16 miles of equestrian trails. As you approach the bathhouse, you’ll notice an impressive monument seemingly rising from the sand near the park’s beach area. The lone marker tells the story of Lt. Dean R. Gilmore, a young WWII hero whose P-51 Mustang crashed into Lake Louisa during a 1944 training flight. I entered the trail from the County Road 561 entrance and had been walking for awhile when I stumbled upon the tribute to the young pilot, who had earned a Distinguished Flying Cross during the war in Italy.
Nature lovers have always appreciated the many varieties of flowers and trees found along our trails, but one tree that will cause you to pause is Florida’s fifth largest Live Oak tree near the entrance of Lake Griffin State Park in Fruitland Park. Knowing that the mammoth giant has survived hurricanes, tornadoes, and man’s encroachment for more than 300 years was comforting to me on a somewhat tumultuous day.
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks,” said naturalist and preservationist John Muir. I have found that to be especially true in Lake and Sumter counties, where a hike on one of the many trails is more than just a walk in the woods.
For More Information
Let Us Know
Where is your favorite place in Lake or Sumter County to hike and enjoy the scenery? Join our Facebook discussion or e-mail me.