Mosquitoes dine on poor hiker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve

I’ve been putting off reviewing this trail for a while now, mainly because of my problematic experience with the park, but alas, the time has come.

I hiked the trails at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve back on July 4, in between the parade and firework spectacular in nearby Micanopy.  It wasn’t really a planned part of the day, more of a let’s-check-and-see-if-there’s-any-hiking-while-we’re-here kind of event.  The reserve was easy to find, and it has several miles of trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians.

There’s certainly some good things to say about the reserve – it’s easy to get to, it’s quiet, it’s free.  But dear heavens, the hiking is not enjoyable at all.

I’ll start by saying that the trail starts and ends at a single parking lot, and there’s a nice variety of loops that connect, so you can hike for as short as 1.5 miles or as long as 7 miles without repeating a trail, provided the trails aren’t flooded.

And some of them were flooded when I was there, but it hadn’t rained in days.  I’m still wondering how that’s possible, and if, perhaps, those trails are always flooded.

Look! I found shade!

My mistake was hiking the trail in the middle of the afternoon, something I don’t typically do in summer.  That was my fault and I know that, but the trail conditions were fairly terrible all on their own.

My three complaints:

1. There’s virtually no shade.  (I’m not saying I expect the State to plant trees so I can pleasantly hike in the middle of July, but I’m pointing it out nonetheless.)

2. The trail isn’t well maintained or used often, so the trail alternates between knee-high weeds and ankle-deep mud.  The grass ensures that you get sufficiently covered in ticks, and the mud ensures that the ticks won’t be visible until much later in the day.

3. Parts of this trail (the parts with the standing water) are so absolutely mosquito-infested that, if you absolutely must hike it, you should probably wear a bee-keeper’s outfit.

It’s Florida, in July, and I expect there to be mosquitoes.  I keep a can of Deep Woods OFF! in my truck.  I don’t mind the occasional mosquito lunching on my leg – it’s a part of the experience.  But at one point on the trail, I looked down at my forearm and saw nine mosquitoes working away, like an afternoon buffet.  They were all over my legs, there was a cloudof them – and I use that word because it’s the only way to explain it – around my head.

By far, this was the best 1/4 mile of the trail.

It was inescapable, annoying and painful.  It’s been a few weeks and I feel fine, so it’s looking promising that I didn’t get malaria or West Nile or Lyme disease, and for that I’m thankful.  Because when you’re getting bit over and over and over, you start to think about those things.

I really don’t mind mosquitoes, mud, sunshine, heat or any of the other things I’m complaining about here.  But I don’t like them on short hikes.  For me, the whole point of small parks near urban areas is to give people a place to spend an enjoyable few hours outside.  On long hikes, in Ocala National Forest or on the Florida trail, these things are to be expected – and the people on them are prepared, willing and aware.  But on a seven-mile trail in Gainesville?  There isn’t really anything at Longleaf to justify that kind of itchiness.

Splattered with a weird combination of mosquito guts and my own blood, I tucked my head and ran through the last half-mile, triumphantly emerging in the parking lot and doing a Rocky Balboa victory dance.  My ankles were swollen from the bites, and I spent a good chunk of my afternoon pulling ticks from my legs.

I won’t be hiking there again.  I’d imagine that the biking might be slightly more pleasant, as a fast-moving target likely presents a greater challenge to the mosquitoes.  A lot of the trail is thick sand, so come prepared to peddle.

One last thing:  A fair reviewer should note that this is a reserve, not a park.  I’m appreciative of any land that is made available for free public use, and the St. Johns River Water Management District, which manages the reserve, should be commended for that.  The primary function of the land isn’t human use, although we’re invited to try.  It’s there for conservation purposes, and I’m sure it’s doing a good job of that – the mosquito population is booming.

——

If you must, here’s the trail map (PDF) and the reserve on Google Maps.  It’s about five minutes from Micanopy, 15 minutes from Gainesville.  Admission is free.  Deep Woods OFF! is $6.40.

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Comments

  1. I’ve done a lot of hiking at Longleaf Flatwoods, its one of my favorite places in the area to get away since it is so lightly used. There is plenty of wildlife, I’m amazed you didn’t see any deer. Being a block of non-hunting land in the middle of a large area of WMA’s and private land, the place is really full of them. There are a few more interesting natural features there, but you don’t necessarily see them from the trails, which unfortunately are just old woods roads and not specifically designed for walkers. Yes, the flatwoods portions don’t drain well and there is often standing water in certain sections of trail, and the ticks are certainly numerous in summer. However, historically (well, going back a few years at least) the mosquitoes were not nearly as bad as they have been lately. I was just there yesterday and they were worse than I’ve even seen them. Hopefully by winter they will have settled down to background noise again.

    • Thanks for the great comment! I could tell, even from my limited time on the trails there, that Longleaf Flatwoods had a lot to offer – but the mosquitoes made it unbearable. I’m happy to hear that this is a more recent problem, and I hope that it resolves itself so we can get back to enjoying those trails. Any advice on how to get to the other natural features? I’d be interested in going back this winter when the mosquitoes/ticks are at bay.

Trackbacks

  1. […] But more importantly, it made me think about how you can use fall festivals as a good spring-board for more adventurous activities.  That’s one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday, as I did with Micanopy’s Independence Day festival and a mid-afternoon hike through nearby Longleaf Flatwoods. […]

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