One great way to enjoy the outdoors is in one of our many public parks and forests. I have the good fortune to live very close to the Osceola National Forest, a wilderness playground of almost 195,000 acres, over 300 square miles! This gives me the frequent opportunity to combine two favorite pastimes, motorcycling and enjoying the outdoors.
The Osceola has riding opportunities ranging from two lane pavement to unmarked, and unmaintained, "jeep trails". There are also graded roads and simple two track forest roads in between. All of these are open to motor vehicles, with some exceptions for certain jeep trails during hunting season. I recently completed my quest to ride every numbered road in the forest. It took over a year to do it, riding mostly on Sunday mornings. I obtained a road map from the Florida Game and Fish Commission, (since reorganized and renamed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), and highlighted each ridden road segment after each ride. The off-road trails are so numerous, and frequently not mapped, that it would be impossible to try to account for riding each one! Some trails have been recently marked with colored arrows to permit following a designated trail. These were designed for horseback riders but can be used by anyone.
Among the joys of exploring the forest are frequent wildlife spottings. I have even had deer come out of the woods and run alongside me for several hundred yards before bounding back into the trees! A family of wild pigs stopped me as they each crossed the road in turn following the sow. I sometimes wonder about that rattler, if he had struck for a hot spot would he have hit me, or my muffler?
In the middle of the forest is the Big Gum Swamp Wilderness area. This area is closed to motor vehicles year round. It is only accessible on foot. This is a popular hunting area during the seasons.
There are numerous ponds throughout the forest. Some are obviously borrow pits, others could be natural.
The forest contains several fire lookout towers. Although once manned, they now use remote fire sensing equipment to spot fires. This equipment, sort of an infra-red television camera, permits one operator in an air conditioned building to watch over an area once requiring a large work force.
At the southern edge of the forest is Ocean Pond. This is a 1700 acre lake that is nearly perfectly round. It isn't know if it was formed by a sinkhole or a meteor impact. The lake has a campground on the northern edge, a primitive campground (Hog Pen Landing) on the western edge, and Olustee Beach with a beach, picnic area, boat ramp, nature trail, and group picnic area on the south edge. There are also some privately owned cabins around the waterfront.
In addition to the two campgrounds on Ocean Pond, there are another eight designated primitive campgrounds within the forest, including one only accessible by foot on the Florida Trail. These camping areas get pretty crowded during the annual hunting seasons, when camping is only permitted in the campgrounds. .
The Florida Trail, part of the Florida Scenic Trail System, runs the length of the state, with 22 miles within the Osceola National Forest.
The Osceola also contains the Olustee Battlefield park. This is a state park comemorating the only major Civil War battle fought in Florida. Each year there is a reenactment of the battle (and the South wins every time!)
On May 7th, the River City Dirt Riders, a Jacksonville off-road riders club, held an enduro starting from the battlefield. I rode in the forest on the same day, and other than riding by the battlefield, I never saw or heard any of their riders. That just shows that the forest is large enough to swallow up a large number of riders.
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June 18, 2000