Bike the Byway – Cycling in Florida

The Green Mountain Scenic Byway is a system of rural, county and state roads that combine to form a natural corridor through the heart of Central Florida. The Byway wraps around Lake Apopka on a journey from Winter Garden to Mount Dora.

Throughout the history of Central Florida, the Byway has evolved with the times, but despite the influences of growth the Lake Apopka shoreline and the surrounding topography has retained its beauty and character. Originally settled and inhabited by the Timucua Indians, the fertile landscape provided the residents with a bounty of wildlife and ample agricultural resources. With the arrival of European settlers and the exotic diseases they brought, the Timucua were eradicated. The Creek and Seminoles came and went under different but ultimately similar fates.

As America’s population increased, the area around Lake Apopka became attractive to settlers due to the abundance of natural resources. A canal was built to connect Lake Apopka to the Ocklawaha Chain and railroads brought freight and passenger transit. As the water level in Lake Apopka dropped, the surrounding marshland drained and became very attractive for farming, which would eventually have dire consequences to the water quality and the wildlife that lived there.

Unknown-14Industrial advances in the production of orange juice made citrus the dominating agricultural and economic force in the Byway area between the 1940’s through the 80’s when massive freezes wiped out that industry. The effects of citrus on the lake, namely run off of pesticides and fertilizers are still being dealt with to this day. An enormous 50 year $130 million dollar restoration project is slowly returning Lake Apopka to its once pristine nature. As the water quality improves, Mother Nature has moved back to town, bringing a diversity of water fowl numbering over 270 species.

The Byway is a cross section of Florida’s rich history, with over 12 sites, homes and buildings that are eligible for the national Register of Historic Places. 23 different threatened or endangered plants grow in the corridor which also has views of an Indian mound. The Friends of the Green Mountain Scenic Byway is a group that advocates for and sees to the preservation of this historic area. As the Byway becomes more and more popular to tourism due to the beautiful scenery, winding roads, and expansive wetlands and nature preserves, the Friends continue to promote the region and plan for its future.

wildlife_drive-300x189Visitors to the Byway can find a multitude of things to do, places to visit and fun to be had. The North Shore Restoration Area, a project of the St. John’s Water Management District, is a 20,000 acre area on the north shore of Lake Apopka. This area boasts 20 miles of hiking and biking trails through a vast wilderness with multiple observation towers and several trail heads.

The Oakland Nature Preserve and the Ferndale Preserve are two areas that should definitely make a short list of places to see in Central Florida. Both offer educational resources, tours and wonderful views.

Eco-tourists who are into bird watching can feast their eyes on the Great Florida Birding Trail while cyclists can peddle the West Orange Trail or the South Lake Trail, both of which fall along the Byway.

One of the most unique and highly used amenities the Byway offers in the Wildlife Drive. This one way 11 mile corridor runs from Lust Road near the 429 exit onto 441 to Jones Road. It is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and any bank holidays, between sunrise and an hour prior to sunset. This safari like stretch of multiuse road is home to all the creatures one would expect to find and if you want to see gators, you will not be disappointed.

byway-mapThe Friends of the Green Mountain Scenic Byway hold regular events and fund raisers to continue to assist in the stewardship of the Byway. You can visit their newly revamped website at www.greenmountainbyway.org if you’d like to know more about this great resource. Greg Gensheimer, Chairman of the Green Mountain Scenic Byway Committee says the purpose of the update to the website mirrors the goals set forth by the Friends of the GMSB. “We had state FDOT contractors work on the web update.  The objective is to both coordinate our web with the state scenic highway website that is being updated and will integrate all of the state’s scenic highways into one site with links.” He goes on to add, “The other, larger objective is to connect those visitors and byway travelers to our local businesses.  This new web site integrates the open spaces with a brief sampling of businesses.”

Business owners within the reach of the Green Mountain Scenic Byway would be wise to investigate being listed on this website as the eco-tourism industry continues to grow in Central Florida and the Coast-To-Coast bicycle Trail becomes a reality.

 

Ferndale Preserve
19220 County Rd 455
Clermont, FL 34715

Oakland Nature Preserve
747 Machete Trail
Oakland, FL 34787

Joe Runnels, Writer (joe@mountdoracitizen.com)