Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Trails Coming to West Bank 4 Miles Being Built along Ortega River

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Trails Coming to West Bank 4 Miles Being Built along Ortega River

Article excerpt

Nature lovers soon will be able to hike a trail along wooded wetlands in a rapidly developing area of the Westside.

"We expect it to be a real gem in our trail crown, and it's in town," said Carlton Higginbotham, a planner with the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Entertainment.

"It's a stone's throw from Ortega and will soon be surrounded by subdivisions because the land adjacent to it has been sold."

In 1996, the city bought 317 acres of undeveloped waterfront land to create the Ortega Stream Valley Park. The property is along the western bank of the Ortega River, adjoining Ringhaver Park, which is on 118th Street off Ortega Farms Boulevard.

Construction of two nature trails started in early July and is expected to be completed in September.

The northern trail is a 1 1/2-mile paved loop that will begin at Ringhaver's playground. Higginbotham said he can envision mothers strolling with baby carriages along the trail.

The trail, which is handicapped-accessible, will wind through a mature pine forest. It will bridge a wetlands area and cross sandhills, which are tops of old sand dunes. Some of the mounds of white sand are home to gopher tortoise, blackberry bushes and scrub oaks.

The southern loop is a 2 1/2-mile rough nature trail. A third of a mile of the trail meanders along a JEA power easement where colorful flowers bloom in the spring and fall.

"It's got a wonderful butterfly garden, and the sharp observer with binoculars can spot an osprey nest at the top of one of the power poles," Higginbotham said.

Then the trail crosses what he described as beautiful wildflower thickets, wetlands, sandhills and live oaks. It borders a creek inhabited by rare Black Creek crawfish and gopher tortoises, which are protected by the state.

Other animals that make their home in the park are deer, raccoon and fox. …

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