STARK TRACT OFF–ROAD BICYCLE TRAILS BLUE SPRING STATE PARK ORANGE CITY, FLORIDA OCTOBER 2008

Mark Schweder Friends of Blue Spring State Park Inc. markschweder@yahoo.com 352 281-6567

This is a proposal by the Blue Spring State Park staff and the Friends of Blue Spring State Park, Inc. Citizen Support Organization (CSO) to develop 11 miles of expert, intermediate and beginner level single track off–road bicycle trails in the 1000 acre Stark Tract of the Blue Spring State Park located 2 miles west of Orange City in Volusia County, Florida. The Stark Tract is an unutilized, somewhat triangular–shaped area located north of the Blue Spring State Park main use area that is bounded on the south by French Avenue, on the west by the St. Johns River/Lake Beresford and the Volusia County Spring–to–Spring Trail/CSX railway line on the east. The Stark Tract is mostly scrub and upland mixed forest with smaller regions of scrubby flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, hydric hammock, depresssion marsh, shell mounds and some ruderal vegetation within two barrow pits in the southeast corner as well as a fallow orange grove at the north apex. The two barrow pits occupy about 18 acres and were mined as a source of sand and clay in the past. The pits have been unused for many years and more recently have become a dumpsite containing assorted trash scattered throughout. Today, the pits are generally covered with various types of thick vegetation with a few clearings that contain a number of gopher tortoise burrows. The fallow orange grove is a north – south oriented rectangle that occupies about 100 acres. Laurel oaks now stand on most of the orange tree sites. Existing soils indicate that the grove was originally either sandhill or scrub. The grove also contains an unrecorded farmstead, site of the historic Stark house and a known mound. The unrecorded farmstead has been identified as a sharecropper’s house consisting of a collapsed residential structure and an associated barn or packing house from an undesignated temporal period with no cultural affiliation. The 19th century, post–Seminole Wars, historic Stark house site was the residence of John Stark, an early western Volusia County settler. This structure was burned by vandals in 1962 and only brick, metal as well as other building materials are currently observable on the surface. Stark’s grove sand mound is a large, obvious feature (possibly from the St. Johns period) topped by a large live oak tree. Several other mounds, middens, cultural and historic sites are scattered throughout the Stark Tract, particularly along the St. Johns River and Lake Beresford. The 2005 State of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks, Blue Spring State Park, Unit Management Plan consists of two interrelated parts which 2

are the basic statement of policy and direction for park management: 1) the resource manage– ment component; and 2) the land use component. The plan also identifies the objectives, criteria and standards that guide each aspect of park administration and sets forth the specific measures that should be implemented to meet management objectives. The Unit Management Plan for Blue Spring State Park stipulates that the park is a site for both conservation and public outdoor recreation. As a result, management of the park is a balance between maintaining and enhancing natural conditions while simultaneously providing various recreational opportun– ities for visitors. Development in the park should provide public access to and within the park while, in reasonable balance, providing recreational facilities that are convenient, safe and capable of sustaining natural systems. The Stark Property Conceptual Land Use Plan mentions: 1) that the fallow orange grove should be restored to a natural community; 2) that the barrow pits should receive an environmental review before undergoing any enhancement; and 3) a small trailhead with a kiosk should be established off French Avenue to help publicize a previously established, albeit rarely used, four mile equestrian trail as a multi–use route to potential primitive campsites in the fallow orange grove. The Stark Tract contains several protected zones, primarily along the St. Johns River and the southeast corner surrounding the barrow pits. Protected zones are areas of high sensitivity or outstanding character that must be protected from development that require extensive land alteration or result in intensive resource use (e.g., parking lots, camping areas, shops or maintenance areas) while generally allowing facilities with minimal resource impacts (e.g., trails, interpretive signs and boardwalks). However, all decisions involving the use of protected zones are made on a case–by–case basis after careful site planning and analysis. Blue Spring State Park is in an area of rapidly expanding urbanization and will continue to be a primary destination for nature–based travel and recreation. In fiscal year 2003–2004, the park had 358,837 visitors, a 19.3 percent net increase in five years. The Division of Recreation and Parks estimates these visitors contributed $10,569,270 in direct economic impact and the equivalent of 211 jobs to the local economy. As a result, the park should continue to provide the recreational activities offered at present as well as initiate development of upgrades or expansions to existing facilities that enhance the visitor experience and provide easily managed conditions for park staff. Volusia County and Orange City regard Blue Spring State Park as a destination for local recreational trail initiatives. The Division of Recreation and Parks supports these initiatives and intends to continue coordination efforts to link local projects to the park and manage access at appropriate locations. One phase of the Volusia 3

County Gemini Springs to DeLeon Springs multi–use paved trail (Spring–to–Spring Trail) between French Avenue and Lake Beresford Park, including a connection to Blue Spring State Park, has been completed. It’s clear that the Blue Spring State Park Conceptual Land Use Plan considers new visitor recreational opportunities in the Stark Tract a high priority. However, to this point an impetus to begin has been lacking or unsustainable. Today, the direct connection between the adjacent Spring–to–Spring Trail and Blue Spring Park has revealed the opportunity for the Stark Tract, particularly the barrow pits, to develop a single track, technically challenging off–road bicycle trail. The remainder of the Stark Tract offers the opportunity for an extensive, less challenging off–road bicycle trail that will allow park visitors to experience the diverse natural communities and abundant wildlife in this corridor that links the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park, Seminole State Forest and Black Bear Wilderness Area to the south and the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge and Ocala National Forest in the north. The 18 acre barrow pit site: 1) has quite a few steep changes in elevation; 2) has a high concen– tration of gopher tortoise burrows; and 3) has a number of localized dump sites. Previous mining activity in the barrow pits has resulted in some elevation changes as high as ten to twelve meters that overlook the main pit. A Pit Loop that takes advantage of the elevation changes in the barrow pits, coupled with numerous and sharp switchbacks, offers an opportunity to provide a technically challenging off–road bicycle trail for expert riders. Gopher tortoise burrow density is approximately one per acre in and around the pits. The Pit Loop Trail will be located no closer than three meters from identified burrows to mitigate disturbance to these sites. The quantity of solid waste (lumber, tires, corrugated/galvanized metal panels and a 500 gallon steel tank) found in the pits is isolated to small pockets and easily avoided or removed. The area available for the Pit Loop Trail can be more than doubled by including some clear and flat terrain directly north of the barrow pits. This area is delineated by an old fence line about 500 meters to the north and will provide a beginner/intermediate trail that is a consider– ably easier ride compared to that in the pits. The fence line originates at the Spring–to–Spring trail and extends 250 meters west before turning southwest and extends another 300 meters before encountering a wide firebreak. The 2.7 mile Pit Loop Trail will follow the fence line for about 500 meters and 4

will have two connections along this length to the 8.3 mile Grove Loop off–road bicycle trail for beginner and intermediate level riders. Access to the Stark Tract Off–Road Bicycle Trails can be easily controlled by utilizing the existing gated entrance to the barrow pits along the north side of French Avenue and nearly opposite the main entrance to Blue Spring State Park. An unattended pay station at this gate will eliminate the need for trail users to circle through the Ranger Station or for staff to collect fees. A wide firebreak just west of the barrow pits can accommodate vehicle parking as well as providing a kiosk site. Access to the nearby Ranger Residence can be restricted by installing a gate across the road leading west from the firebreak. The two ends of the Pit Loop Trail terminate near the Stark Tract Off–Road Bicycle Trails entrance. The west end of the Pit Loop Trail goes north along the west rim of the barrow pits and is a relatively easy beginner/intermediate level ride. Approximately 600 meters north, the west end of the Grove Loop Trail splits off to the northwest. The Pit Loop Trail continues northeast another 280 meters along the old fence line before turning east and continues along the fence line for 150 meters before turning south and connect– ing with the east end of the Grove Loop Trail which splits off to the north. The east end of the Pit Loop near the Stark Tract Off–Road Bicycle Trails entrance immediately enters the technically challenging expert level trail and works its way through 2000 meters of difficult climbs, descents and switchbacks before exiting at the northwest corner of the barrow pits. From this point, the Pit Loop becomes a beginner/intermed– iate level trail in mostly open, flat terrain for 1100 meters until reaching the old fence line and the east end of the Grove Loop Trail. The backbone of the beginner/intermediate level Grove Loop is a primitive road (double track trail) that extends northeast from the corner of French Avenue where it turns southwest. French Avenue continues southwest a short distance, terminating at French landing on the St. Johns River. The northeast oriented double track trail traverses 2000 meters of open and thick vegetation along rolling terrain until it reaches the south end of the fallow orange grove. The Grove Loop continues north another 2500 meters as a single track trail, crisscrossing the grove and providing vistas of Lake Beresford, before turning south. After turning south, the Grove Loop follows a 4000 meter meandering single track trail through thick vegetation on rolling terrain and reconnects with the Pit Loop along the old fence line.

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An 1800 meter single track trail that wanders through mostly open, rolling terrain completes the Grove Loop by connecting the south end of the double track trail and the west end of the Grove Loop at the point where it splits off the Pit Loop. All trails in parks and forests have an environmental impact. An impact that is tolerated because trails accommodate a variety of recreational activities, provide access to remote sites and protect resources by concentrating visitor trampling to restricted areas. A well designed and managed trail can mitigate many environmental impacts: 1) by providing an experience that makes it less likely users will venture off trail; 2) by leading users away from sensitive areas or critical habitats; and 3) by narrowing the disturbed area to an established, defined region. Environmental Impacts of Mountain Biking: Science Review and best Practices by Jeff Marion and Jeremy Wimpey in the Managing Mountain Biking: IMBA’s Guide to Providing Great Riding, 2007 concluded that all forms of outdoor recreation result in measurable impacts to vegetation, soil, water resources and wildlife. However, while the impact and forces of mountain biking are obviously different from hiking, the overall effects of a managed off–road bicycle trail are minimal and comparable to a managed foot trail. Locally, the SWAMP Mountain Bike Club, in cooperation with the Division of Forestry, marked, mapped and maintained loops of the Croom Off–Road Bike Trails in the Withlacoochee State Forest as a part of a three year user impact study. At the conclusion of this study, forestry management determined that user impact was minimal and off–road cycling was deemed an acceptable, low impact form of recreation that would fit within the Forests’ Recreation Use Guidelines. A number of groups and clubs have expressed interest in utilizing the Stark Tract Off–Road Bicycle Trails once established: Central Florida Adventure Racers (www. mycfar.com); West Central Florida Adventure Racing Club (www.wecefar.com); Gainesville Cycling Club (gainesvillecyclingclub.org); Ocala Mountain Bike Association (omba.org); Spruce Creek Mountain Bike Association (www.scmountainbike.com); Suwannee Bicycle Association (www.suwanneebike.org); SWAMP Mountain Bike Club (www.swampclub.org); Team Bike Works Orlando (www.teambikeworksorlando.com); Friends of San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park Citizen’s Support Organization (www.sanfelasco.net); Team Florida (www.grove.ufl. edu/~cycling); Windermere Roadies (www.windermereroadies.com); and Florida Freewheelers (www.floridafreewheelers.com). In addition, a number of individuals within these groups or clubs have volunteered to help clear, mark and maintain the trails once development is approved. During trail construction, vegetation and soil receive the most severe abuse. Unfortunately, this damage is necessary and unavoidable in order to provide a clear route for trail users. Therefore, a significant objective during trail construction is limiting vegetation destruction and soil disturb– ance outside the trail corridor. Development of the Stark Tract Off–Road Bicycle Trails will occur by hand construction. This method can provide a route wide enough to accommodate bicycles while limiting soil disturbance and can be accomplished with readily available tools: 1) machete to chop through herbaceous vegetation; 2) lopper and handsaw to cut small diameter woody vines and shrubs; 3) chainsaw to remove tree falls; and 4) shovel to shape and smooth tread. Further damage is expected when users begin utilizing the trail. That disturbance will diminish with time because visitors will naturally remain on the intended path as trail definition increases, a stable tread develops and an active maintenance program removes tree falls and other impedances as they appear. 6

The following maintenance actions will discourage user trail widening: 1) cutting a narrow section out of trees that fall across the trail; 2) limiting the width of vegetation trimming; 3) minimizing soil displacement, erosion and muddiness; and 4) defining borders with logs, rocks or other objects that will not restrict drainage. In addition to leaving gopher tortoise burrows undisturbed and avoiding pockets of trash in the barrow pits, no trees will be cut down to provide a path for the Stark Tract Off– Road Bicycle Trails. Furthermore, known archeological and cultural sites will be protected by routing trails away from these vulnerable assets. A kiosk erected near the entrance of Stark Tract Off–Road Bicycle Trails will not only educate users with the importance of staying on trail, it will also provide maps of the trails, describe the skill level necessary to safely travel the Pit Loop and Grove Loop as well as the conditions to expect on each trail. Trails will be marked with rectangles that are painted or fastened to trees or posts next to the tread. Intersections will have signs similar to those used at the off–road bicycle trails at San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park to indicate trail direction and distance. Visitor fees and charges are the principal source of revenue generated by Blue Spring State Park. The proposed Stark Tract Off–Road Bicycle Trails offer a new and recurring revenue stream for Blue Spring State Park: 1) it will provide an alternative recreational activity for regular park visitors; 2) it will be a visual attrac– tion to passersby on the adjacent Volusia County Spring–to–Spring Trail; 3) there are few facilities with similar qualities in the vicinity; and 4) it will be a potential venue for competitive events. Finally, the proposed beginner, intermediate and expert Stark Tract Off–Road Bicycle Trails will offer all riders an authentic experience as well as the challenge and opportunity for skill improvement that should convince users to return many times.

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