RIDIN' DIRTY: DIRT BIKE TRAILS
If you have an off-highway or all-terrain vehicle, you probably already know about the Croom Motorcycle Area in Withlacoochee State Forest. With more than 2,600 acres of trails, this a true playground for motorsport enthusiasts. Open seven days a week, the Croom Motorcycle Area has something for riders of all levels, including a training area for those new to the sport and another section for younger riders. The state forest acquired two bulldozers in 2012 so some of the trails are now groomed and graded, but there are still miles of natural rough throughout the park for those who like a challenge. While you are there, keep an eye out for Croom's population of white piebald deer (sometimes called the ghost deer). Call (352) 797-5759 for information. Helmets are required for all riders.
CREATURE FEATURE: NESTING SHOREBIRDS
April is one of the best months for the beach, especially the wild shores with no crowds. But those hard-to-get-to beaches are also the favorite nesting places for shorebirds. A variety of species build shallow nests out of sand and shells on beaches in spring and summer. The nests, eggs and chicks are so well camouflaged that they are often hard to see and easily stepped on. The species that nest on local beaches include the snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oystercatcher and Wilson's plover. So if you see nesting shorebirds, keep your distance, whether you are walking along the beach or paddling watercraft along the shore. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, then you are too close. A good general guideline is stay at least 300 feet from a nest. You can also help spread the word. For more information, go to myfwc.com/shorebirds.
SEEK THEM OUT: HIDDEN CREEKS
Florida has its share of great rivers, but nearly every major waterway has a few feeder streams, and this is often where the true adventure lies. Don't be afraid to explore.
One of my favorite places is the Chassahowitzka River in Citrus County, which has more than one hidden side creek worth the trip. When it comes to rivers, the spring-fed Chassahowitzka isn't much to talk about. Just 7 miles downstream, the cool, clear waters empty into the Gulf of Mexico.
If you put in at the campground and paddle about 20 minutes downstream, you will see a tiny island with palm trees off to your left. This is the entrance to Baird Creek. As you paddle deep into the woods, the creek will narrow and you will be tempted to turn back. Remain steadfast. Paddle on. Eventually you will hit Blue Springs, which is usually full of large schools of mullet. There is a rope swing here, so it's a good place to stop and take a dip.
But the adventure is not over.
Keep paddling until you cannot paddle any more. Then leave the canoe behind, get out and walk along the creek bed. A 200-foot trek through ankle-deep water will bring you to "The Crack," a 30-foot-long crevice for swimming. Bring a mask or some goggles and take your time and explore. You will be glad you did.
PACK IT: GRANITE GEAR
The outdoors market is crowded with manufacturers of high-quality backpacks. But if you are looking for a good, durable rucksack that will give you a good bang for your buck, check out Granite Gear. The Minnesota company has great daypacks like the one pictured for under $50, but the Lutsen Series is ideal for a summer trip on the Appalachian Trail. granitegear.com.