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Put Down Your Devices and Recharge Yourself in The Great Outdoors

April 9, 2024

By: C. Cody Moulton

With the spring equinox behind us and summer solstice now approaching, there is no better time to get out in nature. The mid-summer heat is not quite here, yet the winter's chilly mornings are behind us, making for great days spent outdoors.  Luckily, we have the advantage of living on the edge of suburbia, where one can find a preserve in scattered niches throughout the area. For those willing to travel a little bit farther, you will be rewarded with larger tracts of land, abundant with springs, rivers, caves, and old-growth trees that can’t be as readily seen closer to the city. Below, you will find a collection of places (ordered in terms of distance with the Clermont Campus of Lake-Sumter State College as the midpoint), along with some brief descriptions. I can only hope you find the time to step out of your everyday reality and immerse yourself in Mother Nature.

Crooked River Preserve: This small preserve is just a couple miles south of Clermont’s historic downtown and is nestled along a portion of the Palatlakaha River. It offers a canoe launch as well as some well-maintained hiking trails through both swampy riverbank and oak scrub-type terrains. Bring a book, as there are plenty of places to have a seat and read a few chapters. As a bonus, there is no admission fee for entry to the preserve.

Scrub Point Preserve: This preserve is located on the southern shore of Johns Lake, just west of the Orange-Lake County Line. It offers densely forested hiking trails and loops sprawling throughout the area. At the end of the main path are some picnic tables and a small beach where swimming is permitted. While the preserve itself is free of charge, canoes can be rented in advance and launched at the beach.

Lake Louisa State Park: Located just a few miles south of SR50 along US 27, Lake Louisa State Park offers a wide variety of terrain and as well as a wide range of recreational activities. A large area on the shore of the lake offers swimming, canoeing, and picnicking, amongst other opportunities. The area offers an abundance of small wildlife that can be easily seen on the park's many scenic roadways. The state charges a small entrance fee of just $5 per vehicle per day, but it’s a small price to pay to see one of Florida’s great state parks for yourself.

The Big Green Swamp: This area encompasses a few different preserves, state forests, and WMA’s, but as its name suggests, it is mostly just that, a big green swamp. Most areas are free of charge, and you will see signs notifying you otherwise if you're in a paid area. Both the Florida Trail and the Van Fleet State Trail Bisect the Swamp and offer Hiking and Biking opportunities. Smaller, less maintained trails, along with many dirt roads, crisscross their way throughout the swamp, offering even more hiking or scenic driving opportunities. For an easy-to-access opportunity, try visiting the historic Richloam General Store nestled in the northwestern portion of the swamp.

Withlacoochee State Forest- Croom Tract: The Withlacoochee River and Little Withlacoochee Rivers wind their way through this tract of forest. While swimming is abundant when the river is low, the water is mostly tannic and dark during rainier times of the year. Canoeing and kayaking are the primary recreational activities on the river here. Ghost towns such as Pemberton Ferry (later known as Croom) and Oriole line the banks of the river as it traverses Northward. Hiking is also abundant as the Florida Trail winds its way North from The Big Green Swamp, and many smaller trails and loops weave their way throughout the large expanse of forest land. Further west, the hills and topography get higher and steeper, showcasing various changes in the surrounding terrain.

Withlacoochee State Forest- Citrus Tract: Hiking, Caves, and Ghost Towns, oh my. This large section of the Withlacoochee State Forest offers a wide variety of recreational activities. On the north side of the forest is the ghost town of Mannfield, the original county seat of Citrus County. Large rolling hills span the entirety of the forest, offering some of the best elevation changes afforded on a Florida hike. The hills here are heavily eroded, leading to many areas of exposed surficial karst and other limestone outcroppings. Dozens, if not hundreds, of caves, sinkholes, and other karstic features dot the landscape of the forest. Dames Cave and Peace Cave, although heavily vandalized, offer great beginner opportunities to explore some of Florida’s caves; they can easily be found on Google or Apple Maps. Don’t forget your headlamp (and a spare)!

Ocala National Forest and Alexander Springs: Ocala National Forest is massive and offers recreation of every kind. The Florida trail bisects a large portion, and many dirt roads and smaller trails bisect the rest of the forest. Years could be spent exploring the forest and one would barely scratch the surface here. Wildlife is abundant, and there are good chances of seeing large game such as deer, bobcats, and bears. Most activities are free since the National Forest falls into the category of public land. If you are entering a fee area, you will see signs notifying you of such. Many dozens of springs line the lowland areas of the forest, offering an abundance of swimming or tubing opportunities. Alexander Springs is one of the closest to our location and offers an excellent swimming option for people of all ages as the pool starts at just inches deep and gradually increases in depth to many dozens of feet over the central spring vent. For added excitement, try visiting the forest on a day the military is doing tests in their bombing range; silence shattered by explosive rumblings in the distance.

Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area (WMA): This one is the furthest out but one of my personal favorites, and while it does require an entrance fee, it is relatively inexpensive. Easy to reach and still within the bounds of the WMA you can find Centralia Ghost Town. Also easy to reach is Eagle Sink, which is near the area’s southernmost reaches. Buford Spring and Little Gator Syphon are also easily accessible. For weekend visitors, you can find a small mom-and-pop style whiskey distillery tucked away on private property surrounded by the WMA on all sides. They offer tours (to anyone of any age) of the distillery, where you can see the process of how it is made. For those who are more adventurous, venturing into the swampy coastal marsh can be very rewarding. My favorite spot is an ancient old-growth cypress tree tucked far into the swamp at 28° 34' 43.954''N, 82° 37' 47.3077''W. There is no trail, only swamp between the closest road and the tree. If you and your friends (do not hike this alone!) are brave enough to try, you should wear boots that are as high as possible (and snake bite proof preferred), and bring a compass (no, not just a phone, a compass is 100 percent necessary here), a first aid kit, and some sort of defense in case of rouge wildlife. You will see wildlife, and you will see snakes. You may even get lucky enough to see a bear or bobcat.

Now, if you decide to visit any of these places, remember to pack the essentials: plenty of water, a couple of small snacks, and some emergency toilet paper (scrambling for a non-toxic leaf, miles from any type of infrastructure, is not a fun experience). While I tend to prefer hiking solo, many people prefer the buddy system, and that is never a bad idea. That said, if you want to go to one of these places and have no one to otherwise go with, feel free to find me and reach out, I will always make time for a hike. I also strongly recommend that you try to minimize your screen time. Of course, taking pictures of a beautiful new place is something that most people enjoy. But aside from that, try to keep it in your backpack. While it's okay to listen to music, I recommend playing something very low or otherwise instrumental so as not to distract from the beauty around you. It is never a bad idea to take time to enjoy listening to nothing more than your own thoughts, surrounded by nothing more than what mother nature has bestowed upon us.

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A place for any college kid or even just a person who enjoys fun, Pop Culture Soda Shoppe is an incredible combination of some of the most enjoyable things in the world. Soda that looks like your head will explode if you drink it, vintage video games such as the SNES, SEGA Genesis, 90s kid Nostalgia, and sweet delicious monster-sized cookies that will take your taste buds on a rollercoaster.

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That we have 2 halal restaurants in Clermont? That we have another Publix? That we have an authentic Vietnamese boba tea shop? Find out more information in the article below!

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1250 N Hancock Rd
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