Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Land Bridge

I’m riding west on the paved Santos Trail and go over the Land Bridge. This is where all of the hiking, equestrian and cycling trails of The Cross Florida Greenway come together to cross the Interstate 75 Highway. While the bridge was built primarily for recreation, night time motion activated cameras have shown it also serves as a crossing for bears, panthers, deer, and other wildlife. The bridge has proved to be a lot safer for all users than jumping the fence and dodging the traffic. 

Completed in 2000, the Cross Florida Greenway Land Bridge was the first of its kind in the United States. In a sentence it’s a 300 foot long, 50 foot wide thousand ton concrete planter holding soil, rock, trees, native plants, and a watering system all thrown together with some massive beams and a center support which enable it to span the six lane road below.

It’s not possible for me to go any further without mentioning Marjorie Harris Carr the environmentalist without whom none of  this would have been possible. She succeeded in having the lands acquired for the Cross Florida Barge Canal (the largest unfinished public works project in US history) repurposed for recreational use. What a gift to us all!

And speaking of the canal – as I continue west off the bridge the path swings downhill to the left followed by a 90 degree turn to the right. Here where the trail levels off and is straight for the the next mile I am in the bottom of the ditch dug for the canal. On my right through the trees I can see the rise of the side of the canal which if completed would have been 150 feet wide and 12 feet deep and enable barges to carry freight the 172 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Coast.
Enjoy the trails and STOP to read the informational plaques along the way.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021


I’m riding west on 44A to Wildwood planning to cross 301 and the multiple RR tracks of the railroad yard then take CR 209 north toward home. I’m hoping there’ll be some cars around to change the light to green as from my experience it only changes for traffic and the seasons. And those are good days – bad days are when a mile of railroad cars are being put together and being shunted across the road at three miles per hour!

I’m stopped at the 301 traffic light and looking to my right I see the Wildwood Shopping Center which was built in 1964 and looks like it – having become somewhat tired. Interestingly enough it was built on the site of Lake Malinda a small lake in the middle of town named for Malinda Thompson, the original owner of the 80 acres that a large part of Wildwood was built on. For some reason a Joni Mitchell song about paving Paradise is running through my mind!
                   Loulie Fleece, Ida and Margaret Vining at Lake Malinda circa 1910
The story goes that Wildwood was named when a surveyor overseeing construction of a telegraph line south of Ocala in the 1870’s reported that he was somewhere in the wild woods. That’s the best they can do.
Wildwood was settled in 1877 by Isaac W. Barwick, a 25-year-old entrepreneur who traveled to the area from Georgia and set up a lumber company. Barwick built a few stores, homes, a town square and a post office that has been in operation since 1881. In the beginning, apart from lumber most work was agricultural for local consumption although some cotton was exported via ox cart to Silver Springs and Leesburg.
                                    Steam locomotive at Wildwood depot circa 1915
Life changed on June 1, 1882 when the first train of the Tropical Florida Railroad Company arrived from Ocala pulled by a wood burning engine named "The Cabbage Head". This was the start of Wildwood’s development into a major railroad yard and the growth of an agricultural industry which was now able to export its products including tomatoes, cabbage and water melon to the north.
                                            The Orange Blossom Special
The brick buildings on Main Street offer a glimpse of what the town looked like in its railroad heyday. Especially the art deco station built in 1947 by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. The station served the Orange Blossom Special and was a major junction where trains were split between continuing to Miami or Tampa. The majority of residents were employed by the railroad, and one of the benefits was that family members could ride free. Irish Wolf, who was born in Wildwood’s first hospital remembers his entire high school graduating class going to the 1964 New York World’s Fair by train.
Oh well – the lights have finally changed so I’m on my way again.