May 2016

Winter Garden to Winter Park and Debary by SunRail

Submitted by mag on

SunRail Winter Park to DebaryToday's ride was much shorter (only 20 miles) and one that also had its highs and lows. The highs were the ride back along the West Orange Trail under 429 and around the golf course, then the lovely tree shaded bike lanes in College Park and Winter Park and the wonderful Orlando Urban Trail (complete with bike repair station!). The lows were along Clarcona-Ocoee Road when the bike lake gave out at HIawassee (Google shows it continuing on to N. Pine Hills but there is no bike lane and only an untenable sidewalk east of Hiawassee) and the lane along the high-speed high-traffic John Young Parkway (441). But it was an easy ride and we made it to our charming AirBNB place just south of Winter Park before the rain. This turned out to be the perfect place to use and a base and our wonderful hosts provided everything we needed for a perfect stay.

Orlando Urban TrailAfter a quick shower we headed north to Winter Park to use our gift certificate at the Wine Room - but it was closed until 3:00 so we headed for the library to make the most of our wait time. While we were there the skies opened and dumped a deluge on the streets of Winter Park - stopping just in time for us to pedal through the puddles back for a later lunch and visit to the Wine Room. Very interesting place and a lot of fun... the $$ flow as easily as the wine so watch it's important to keep your balance! From there we had a nice ride back to our place and again the skies opened as soon as we closed the door - so the rain gods were looking out for us all day!

The third morning we pedaled up to the Florida Hospital SunRail stop and had a nice breakfast at the Panera near there. Riding the Sunrail back to Debary was amazingly easy! We are used to riding trains all over Europe but this was our first time in the US. It was a snap... the step was low and wide, and there was plenty of room for the bikes with good tie-downs, bikes travel free, the train runs frequent, fast and quiet, and only cost $2 for seniors! Just remember to scan your ticket on the way in and out. Before we knew it we were back at Debary Station ready for a leisurely ride home. So anyone can easily take the SunRail into just about any area in Orlando any weekday - we plan to do this a lot more often.

Orlando Urban Trail
Orlando Urban Trail
Bike Repair Station at Orlando Urban Trail
Bike Repair Station at Orlando Urban Trail
Orlando Urban Trail
Orlando Urban Trail
Charrming AirBNB south of Winter Park
Charrming AirBNB south of Winter Park
Lovely lakes and good cycling in Winter Park
Lovely lakes and good cycling in Winter Park
Wine Room of Winter Park
Wine Room of Winter Park
Wine Room of Winter Park
Wine Room of Winter Park
Wining down at the Wine Room
Wining down at the Wine Room
Orlando Urban Trail
Orlando Urban Trail
Orlando Urban Trail
Orlando Urban Trail
SunRail Winter Park to Debary
SunRail Winter Park to Debary
SunRail Winter Park to Debary
SunRail Winter Park to Debary
Bike tiedowns on SunRail Winter Park to Debary
Bike tiedowns on SunRail Winter Park to Debary
SunRail Winter Park to Debary
SunRail Winter Park to Debary
SunRail Winter Park to Debary
SunRail Winter Park to Debary

Winter Garden - Orlando's Coolest Suburb

Submitted by mag on

Winter Garden West Orange Trail Head ParkWinter Garden makes the most of it's location - it's in the heart of the beautiful West Orange Bike Trail - and the Bike Trail is the heart of Winter Garden.  There are actually 2 terrific Trailhead parks -   one east of Winter Garden and one right in at the edge of town.  Both have a great rest building, an extensive playground and plenty of free parking.  

55 miles is a long ride for us and we were happy to reach Winter Garden. We checked immediately into our B&B hotel the historic renovated Edgewater right in the center of town.

The hotel has several restaurants, an ice cream parlor and a charming lobby with authentic fireplace on the ground floor and 29 rooms on the second floor that are reached by the original Otis Elevator - so old and cranky it has to be operated by an attendant. They provided a secure storage room for our bikes just off the lobby. There is also a lovely comfortable common area and breakfast room/kitchen on the second floor with self-serve cold drinks and snacks available all the time. And of course cyclists always appreciate being able to chill the water bottles for the next day.

Welcome to Winter GardenAfter a shower and rest we enjoyed exploring the charming historic town that makes the most of its location right on the trail. The wide main street has a lovely long park with fountains and gazebos - perfect for events like weddings and picnics. The town was bustling with activity and all the shops, bars and restaurants were full of people and there was a very active live theater. Everyone we spoke to in town attributed the revitalization of Winter Garden to the bike trail. According to Jeraden, the bar tender at The Chefs Table, "Over the last five years the trail has changed the whole character and economics of the town, giving it an 'outdoor lifestyle' flavor."

At breakfast in the morning we spoke to one of the owners of the Edgewater, Alicia Wilder. She said the bike trail brings thousands of customers every year. A number of cycling groups have standing reservations at the hotel, sometimes taking up every room. She said before the trail and town revitalization effort, which began in 1995, the town was known as "winter garbage". It required a major cooperative effort on the part of cycling and trail advocates, benefactors, entrepreneurs and merchants to bring about the change. Some wanted to demolish the historic buildings, including the Edgewater which had been derelict and in disrepair for years, but luckily people with the vision, power, pull and funding came together to completely renovate the town, turning the central space (originally the railroad tracks and then parking) into a minipark with fountains and places to sit. This slows the traffic and makes outdoor seating at along the entire main street pleasant, quiet shady places to enjoy.

Wining down and the Chef's TableThe Edgewater itself was saved from destruction and faithfully restored by a cooperative ministry over a period of about 8 years, and this group continues to own and operate the B&B portion. By working together, visionaries were able to revitalize the entire town and make it a destination that attracts cyclists and other tourists all year round.

Recently Winter Garden was named "Orlando's Coolest Suburb". It's a model community that can serve as inspiration to any small town that has access to a bicycle trail.  Listen up, Deland!

Winter Garden West Orange Trail Head Park
Winter Garden West Orange Trail Head Park
Welcome to Winter Garden
Welcome to Winter Garden
Checking in to the Edgewater
Checking in to the Edgewater
Historic room in the Edgewater
Historic room in the Edgewater
Historic train in Winter Garden
Historic train in Winter Garden
Wining down at the Chef's Table
Wining down at the Chef's Table

Debary Station to Winter Garden

Submitted by mag on

1792 Bridge across the St JohnsFrom Debary Station you get right on Highway 1792 and approach the St Johns River Bridge. This is actually not too bad - there is not a marked bike lane, but the shoulders are quite wide. The only problem is the shoulder disappears once across the bridge so the intersection is a bit tricky. You need to cross the highway at the light to get on the bike trail.

There are a lot of lights to negotiate, so it's slow but safe. From there were headed on South on a good trail along Monroe Road, which held until we got to Highway 46. There we turned west and Google wanted us to continue on highway 46 under I4 to the Seminole Wekiva trail... but I had my heart set on crossing I4 at the Florida Trail overpass so we turned south on Rinehart Road. That's where we started running into trouble with intermittent construction and finally came to an impasse at the intersection of Rinehart and Highway 417. We were forced to go back east all the way to Upsala Road to get under the freeway, but once under we were able to proceed on a good path alongside Thomas Parkway all the way to the Cross Seminole Trail which led right to the Florida Trail and the beautiful overpass over I4.   

This is the trail crossing you see near Lake Mary as you drive on I4 into Orlando. It's on the Cross Seminole Trail between Lake Mary and Heathrow. About 5 years ago I rode with a group from the Rails to Trails Conservancy to AAA to protest their position to eliminate trail funding from the transportation budget... It was freezing cold, in the 30s and we were supposed to wear business attire!  AAA didn't pay much attention to our delegation - so we all burned our AAA cards to keep warm!  (Not really but we did all terminate our membership from AAA.  A decision I came to regret when I had car trouble at WHEELS Miami... but that's another story.)   

 

Art on the Seminole Wekiva Trail

Once across I4 we were on the beautiful Seminole Wekiva Trail. We decided to celebrate with a Second Breakfast/First Lunch at the Broken Egg - great place for a stop as soon as you join the trail. After lunch we continued south on the great trail, past the famous paintings on the fence and all the way to Highway 436. Once there we were forced to follow 436 on a narrow, noisy, trafficy bike lane/sidewalk situation for 5 miles until at last we joined the West Orange Trail. (there are 2 McDonalds on this route... great hydration & refill stops with their bottomless fresh ice tea, water and lemonade.) This beautiful trail goes all the way from North Apopka through Winter Garden and on to west of Clermont. The first section runs through residential areas but after Vineland Rd it passes by a quiet Buddhist community and through peaceful woods and near several large golf courses eventually passing under the new 429 freeway and on to Winter Garden. 55 miles is a long day for us, especially with all the dismounting stops for traffic, photos and checking maps.

 

Leaving from Debary SunRail Station
Heading from Debary SunRail Station
1792 Bridge across the St Johns
1792 Bridge across the St Johns
1792 Bridge across the St Johns
Not too bad - plenty of room
1792 Bridge across the St Johns
Beautful view from the bridge
1792 Bridge across the St Johns
But the lane ends abruptly on the south side
1792 Bridge across the St Johns
Use caution cross 1792 to the trail
Coast to Coast connector
Lots of stoplights on the Coast to Coast Connector
Rinehart Road C-2-C trail is a work in progress
Rinehart Road trail is a work in progress
Rinehart Road C-2-C trail is a work in progress
Rinehart Road C-2-C trail is a work in progress
Cross Seminole Trail
Finally made it to the Cross Seminole Trail
Cross Seminole Trail I4 Crossing
Cross Seminole Trail I4 Crossing
Cross Seminole Trail I4 Crossing
Cross Seminole Trail I4 Crossing
Broken Egg Cafe in Heathrow
Second Breakfast Stop
Broken Egg Cafe in Heathrow
Second Breakfast Stop
Broken Egg Cafe in Heathrow
Second Breakfast Stop
Seminole Wekiva Trail
Seminole Wekiva Trail
Seminole Wekiva Trail
Seminole Wekiva Trail
Art on the Seminole Wekiva Trail
Art on the Seminole Wekiva Trail
Art on the Seminole Wekiva Trail
Nurture the spark
Coast to Coast Connector on 436
Coast to Coast Connector on 436
Coast to Coast Connector on 436
Coast to Coast Connector on 436
436 from West Orange Crossing
436 looks a lot better from up here on the West Orange Trail
West Orange Trail Bridge across 436
West Orange Trail Bridge across 436
West Orange Trail
Buddhist compound on West Orange Trail
West Orange Trail
West Orange Trail
West Orange Trail
West Orange Trail
West Orange Trail
West Orange Trail

SJR2C - Deland to Debary Station

Submitted by mag on

New Blue Spring Trail segment of SJR2CWe set out to prove that a couple of casual, cautious, recreational bikers who do not like riding on high-speed roads can have a great, mostly-trail-riding adventure leaving from Deland. This should theoretically be easy! Deland and Debary are near an important intersection that forms a hub from the Great Florida Regional Trail Network. Deland is just a few miles east of the St Johns River to Sea Loop (SJR2C) and at Debary the SJR2C joins the Coast-To-Coast Connector to continue east to Titusville. At Debary the SJR2C turns North toward Palatka and the C-2-C turns South to join with major trails in its journey west to the Gulf. In fact, Debary is one of the few places 4 Regional Connectors meet - the St Johns River to Sea, the Coast to Coast Connector, the East Coast Greenway alternate route, and the Heart of Florida Regional Connector. So it's vitally important that this get completed as soon as possible.

Our destination on Day 1 was Winter Garden, in the heart of the West Orange Trail - and in fact the West Orange Trail is the heart of Winter Garden. Sticking to trails as much as possible it's a distance of 55 miles. We don't travel fast and we stop a lot for photos, nav checks and breaks. We planned a loop route - the only section we overlapped outbound and home-bound is Deland to Debary Station so I'm only going to cover that section once. 

From Downtown Deland the best way to get to the Beresford Trail section of SJR2C there's no really great route, but the best route we've found is to take Minnesota west to Ridgewood. Ridgewood is a fairly quiet, slow road and it cross Highway 44 at a place where the traffic is slowed down to 40 and you have good visibility (unlike the dreaded crossing at Grande). Take Ridgewood south to where it comes to a T at Beresford. From there you have 2 options - bad and badder... going left (East) on Beresford and down Fatio is our least favorite because, although you aren't on Fatio long before cutting into Beresford Park, it's one of those roads with no shoulders, double yellow line, and hills - so motorists don't want to cross the lines to give you space - and they don't... it's quite dangerous. The other option is to go west to Alexander, which is a sand road and from the end there's a short path through the woods. I've included photos of this route even though I fear the wrong person might see it and close off this option... If this is you, think twice before you do it... sooner or later someone will get killed on the other route.

Florida Softshell Turtle on SJR2CBeresford is a gorgeous trail ...lots of wildlife! This guy is a Florida Softshell Turtle who came out of the river to bask in the sun and didn't care to be bothered by wandering photographers. He was HUGE!. I estimate his carapace was about 24 inches but they actually get up to 3 feet!

SJR2C One Mile GapThe original trail ended at French Avenue and the entrance to Blue Spring Park. The trail now continues to a RR Overpass about a mile south, and from there it goes another 2.5 miles to a dead end turnaround. The new section is nice for exercise and recreation, but doesn't actually help the touring cyclist or commuters... you cut off a little of the back-roads through Orange City, but the cost is a steep ramp up and over the tracks - this is a tradeoff most fully-loaded cyclists would not want to make, so they would probably take the French Avenue exit rather than the overpass to Blue Spring Avenue. There is a nice parking lot at the overpass - empty on a weekday - but once the trail connects to Debary Station I'm betting it will be full! From this point it is 10 miles to Debary Station by road, and at least 2 - 3 miles are very ugly miles on Highway 17-92. Once the trail is complete it will be 7 miles, all protected from traffic. People will be able to park at the trailhead, hop on the trail, and take their bike on the train to just about anywhere in Orlando. A whole new batch of cycling commuters may emerge!

But for now, southbound cyclists must leave the trail at Blue Spring Avenue and thread their way through local roads to the southernmost road (Azalea at the Wendy's) and from there ride either in the traffic lane or on the sidewalk for at least 2 miles - it's 3 miles if you aren't willing to take a long detour. On our return trip we detoured west down Highbanks  to Donald Smith Blvd, which is where we expect the extension of the trail to come out. It's only ONE MILE from where the trail dead-ends to this intersection... it should be easy to make this connection - it's mostly public or utility land.  It looks like there is plenty of space for the trail under the power lines or along existing access roads.  This would surely be a more direct, faster and cheaper alternative than another RR over pass, which would take years to complete and more years to fund.    

But for now you are stuck on 17-92 for way too long.  Eventually though you get to Shell Road which is a nice quiet road that takes you directly to Debary Station, where it's simple to hop on a train, or not too difficult to proceed south toward Orlando by bike. For our adventures beyond Debary Station please read the next posts.

 

 

 

 

Heading out from Deland to Winter Garden via SJR2C
Heading out from Deland to Winter Garden
Heading out from Deland to Winter Garden via SJR2C
Heading out from Deland to Winter Garden
Minnesota Avenue - best route to Beresford Trail (SJR2C) but not great
Minnesota Avenue - best route to Beresford Trail but not great
Ridgewood Avenue is best south route to SJR2C
Ridgewood Avenue is best south route to SJR2C
Crossing Highway 44 to SJR2C
Crossing Highway 44 to SJR2C
Approach to Beresford Trail SJR2C from Beresford Park
Approach to Beresford Trail SJR2C from Beresford Park
Alternate approach to Beresford Trail SJR2C
Alternate approach to Beresford Trail from the north
Alternate approach to Beresford Trail SJR2C
Alternate approach to Beresford Trail from the north
Beresford Blue Spring Trail segment of SJR2C
Beresford Blue Spring Trail segment of SJR2C
Beresford Blue Spring Trail segment of SJR2C
Beresford Blue Spring Trail segment of SJR2C
Florida Softshell Turtle on SJR2C
Florida Softshell Turtle sunbathing on the Beresford Trail
New Blue Spring Trail segment of SJR2C
Fully loaded cyclists can exit here to avoid the steep overpass
New Blue Spring Trail segment of SJR2C
New Blue Spring Trail segment of SJR2C
Blue Spring SJR2C
Use caution at the new tunnel due to sand
RR Overpass at Blue Spring Ave SJR2C
Steep climb for loaded Cyclists
RR Overpass at Blue Spring Ave SJR2C
Steep climb for loaded Cyclists
RR Overpass at Blue Spring Ave SJR2C
Steep climb for loaded Cyclists
RR Overpass at Blue Spring Ave SJR2C
Parking lot empty - No bike commuters here!! Not yet...
SJR2C intermim route
Still some sand roads in Orange City
SJR2C intermim route
Highway 1792 is NO FUN!
Future SJR2C Route
Here's where we expect the SJR2C to emerge
Future SJR2C Route
Plenty of room for a trail
Future SJR2C Route
This will cut off 3 ugly miles between Blue Spring Park and Debary Station
Future SJR2C Route
This will cut off 3 ugly miles between Blue Spring Park and Debary Station
SJR2C One Mile Gap
Less than ONE MILE GAP to connect the SJR2C to Debary Station
Future SJR2C Route
Shell Road takes you right to Debary Station
Debary Station - link to the SJR2C
Debary Station - link to the SJR2C

Scouting Our Corner of Florida's Trail Network

Submitted by mag on

Day 1 - Deland to Winter Garden

Tomorrow Trail Scout and #BVBikerJim are heading out to scout and report on our little corner of the Great Florida Trail Network. We will leave from Deland and make our way down the existing fragments of the ST Johns River to Sea Loop (SJR2C). From Deland we will head out Minnesota Avenue and then down Grand, crossing Highway 44 at the dreaded intersection where a horrible accident occurred recently. Or maybe we'll take Ridgewood which is reportedly a better highway crossing, but a much long stretch of shoulderless road. Deland is only a few miles from one of the best trails in Florida... and has not provided a safe way to get there... Shame on them.

But eventually we'll get to the SJR2C at Beresford park, and take that lovely trail south, using the new tunnel under French Avenue, proceeding past Blue Spring State Park, cross the amazing new RR overpass and then leave the trail at Blue Spring Drive (sadly there no access points on the southern extension which dead-ends 2.5 miles south of Blue Spring Avenue). From there we will take local roads as we can, but eventually will be forced onto Highway 17 with its dangerous bike lane/side walk hodgepodge until we get to Highbanks. From there we can follow Shell Road as far as Debary Sunrail Station. Once there we have to get back on the highway where we will join the (future) Coast to Coast Connector.  Debary is one of the few places 4 Regional Connectors meet - the St Johns River to Sea, the Coast to Coast Connector, the East Coast Greenway alternate route, and the Heart of Florida Regional Connector.   So it's vitally important that this get completed as soon as possible.  

But for now, we'll have to use the highway 17 bridge to cross the St Johns River.... If we survive we'll report on that experience... This is, after all, the Coast to Coast Connector - Florida's premier trail and the Flagship of the Great Florida Trail Network. It would be bad publicity if touring cyclists got hit on the bridge..  Anyone pedaling from Titusville to St Pete on the C-2-C will have to get across the St Johns here or someplace else.  Once across The Great River we have to negotiate our way under I4 and then south to Lake Mary where we will hopefully finally meet the Seminole Wekiva Trail (still following the C-2-C planned route).

We follow the Seminole Wekiva trail south for quite a ways, ultimately crossing over I4 on a wonderful bike overpass and south down to Highway 436 in Altimonte Springs. At this point we are on our own for about 5-6 miles to get over to the West Orange Trail... either a brutal ride in a narrow bike lane along the deadly 436 loop or attempting to thread our way through local streets... will let you know how this goes.

Once on the West Orange Trail, we are home free as far at traffic and dangerous streets are concerned... The West Orange Trail is one of the nicest trails in central Florida and one we are quite familiar with.. It's thrilling to know it will form such a vital leg in the (soon-to-be) legendary Coast to Coast Connector. We still have about 15 miles on the West Orange Trail to Winter Garden... 55 miles is a long day for us old codgers, and that's assuming we don't get lost or otherwise derailed. I can imagine we'll be 2 tired puppies when we finally reach our destination in Winter Garden... Will report more later... From Winter Garden we'll head back east to Winter Park... VIEW IN GOOGLE MAPS