Friday, November 30, 2012

Croom: The River Trail

If the Bay Area’s weather is like a broken record, with heat and storms dragging it down rather than skips and scratches, then Thanksgiving weekend was that spot where the needle drops right into the groove and generates glorious music.

With overnight lows in the forties and fifties…and even some thirties in the usual cold spots around Brooksville…and daytime highs in the seventies…and the sky a cloudless arc of robin’s egg blue…it would have felt criminal not to be outside:

So on Sunday I rounded out the weekend by putting Parker in the car and driving us to Croom. Parker is 17 months old and with Erika and Sarah enjoying a Mommy-Daughter Day, it seemed right to take him hiking for a Daddy-Son Day. He is usually happiest when he is outdoors, and Sunday was no exception:

When I closed my November 19th piece by saying I expected to post my first review “of specific hikes in Croom…by the end of this month,” what I had in mind was for the first review to be about the massive loop that is accessed by a few trailheads in the northwestern quarter of the preserve. After all, I have walked on that loop about 15 times and could probably write about it in my sleep. It’s just that those visits were all before I started this blog, so I never bothered to take many pictures during them, and therefore I wanted to go back and snap some more before publishing anything.

However, during a Saturday bike ride I saw something in Croom’s far south that captured my attention. While standing near the restrooms at the Withlacoochee State Trail’s Ridge Manor Trailhead, I looked across a meadow strewn with pine straw and noticed a signboard on the opposite side. It is easy to miss because it does not face the trailhead directly. With my curiosity piqued, I walked across the meadow and when I got there found an opening in a fence next to the following sign:

That piqued my curiosity even more, so it is where I went with Parker on Sunday. Based on my general knowledge of the area, I figured that the trail would reach the Withlacoochee River in a not-too-long distance and perhaps follow it north along its western bank. Since toddlers slow down any hike on which they themselves are walking, I placed Parker in our jogging stroller and off we went.

The River Trail’s opening stretch slips through a stand of young longleaf pines. Their presence tells me that a tree farm once stood here, and that these trees were its final planting:

Before long the pines thin out and are joined by other flora, with a more natural appearance taking over. The terrain in this section of Croom is nowhere near as hilly as it is to the north and west, but it is also not pancake-flat. It is obvious you are at a high point when you emerge into this big field that is dotted with scrubby oaks and mature longleafs:

As I entered the field, I thought to myself that it was perfect habitat for gopher tortoises and wondered if one would show himself. No more than two minutes later, this fella obliged:

In the middle, a blue-blazed side trail called the Windmill Loop branches off to the left, but Parker and I stayed on the River Trail, which is marked by orange blazes. After taking you across the field, the River Trail penetrates the tree line and heads downhill, which is where things got dicey for us because wild boar had recently scoured this section of woods and left behind wallows that covered the trail off and on for some distance. Pushing the stroller through those wallows felt like mogul skiing because we were greeted at each step by a jarring bump -- and on top of that, instead of continuing to move after each bump, we were often brought to a stop because the stroller’s tires kept getting mired in the tossed earth.

So I decided to abandon the stroller and soldier on by carrying my little guy. However, after we made it beyond the wallows he started squirming in my arms and insisting on being let down to handle his own ambulation. When I consented, he engaged in a little bit of true forward progress:

And a whole lot of stopping and turning around. Plus, he kept pausing to lift and inspect whatever he found on the forest floor:

It became apparent that Parker and I would not reach the river in good time, nor would we reach it with anything resembling mutual satisfaction, so finally I scooped him up and sprinted back to the stroller. Once he was strapped in, I pushed him back to the beginning of the trail and let him run around in that original meadow.

Therefore, I can not give you a blow-by-blow account of everything that awaits you on the River Trail. However, I can tell you that according to the map posted on the signboard, the trail is more than five miles one-way and ends near the campgrounds in Croom’s Silver Lake Recreation Area. I can also tell you that it does come to the Withlacoochee River like I expected, then follows it north like I hoped.

And regarding that blue-blazed side trail called the Windmill Loop, the map on the signboard shows it being a straight-line short-cut rather than an actual loop. From the spot where it and the River Trail diverge, it tracks east-northeast while the River Trail tracks south before curving east to meet the river. At some point after the River Trail begins its northward route, the Windmill comes to an end by emptying back onto it, and therefore the two paths can be used to create a loop I estimate would be about 3½ miles long.

To get here, take exit 301 from I-75, drive east for one mile, and turn left on Croom Rital Road. The Ridge Manor Trailhead is obvious. Simply walk across the meadow that lies beyond the restrooms and picnic tables, and you will find the start of the River Trail waiting for you. Happy Trails!


  1. Great story in words and pictures.

    The mangroves in Oman are in the coastal region - and parts of Oman do get a surprising amount of rain!

    Cheers - Stewart M

  2. I'm glad to see you're starting Parker's outdoor education early! A jogging stroller is an active toddler parent's savior, but it's good to give the little guy some foot time, too, even if it limits the hike considerably.