The Withlacoochee State Trail (WST), managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways & Trails, is the longest rail-trail in Florida, extending 46 miles from just south of Dunnellon in Citrus Springs to its southern terminus in the City of Trilby. The WST is a 12-foot wide, paved trail with an adjacent unpaved equestrian trail along portions of the paved trail.
In the late 1800s, an increase in phosphate mining activity in the area convinced railroad entrepreneur Henry Plant to extend his existing rail line from Tampa to Croom northward to Inverness to join Silver Springs, Ocala and Gulf Railroad, thus completing the Plant System’s West Coast Route. The Plant System eventually became the Atlantic Coast Line in 1902, the Seaboard Coast Line in 1967, and finally, CSX Transportation in 1980.
ALONG THE WITHLACOOCHEE STATE TRAIL (PHOTO BY JOHN MORAN)
Due to a decline in railroad use beginning in the 1960s, service was abandoned and tracks removed on many thousands of miles of rail corridor nationwide. In December of 1989, CSX Transportation sold their 46 miles of right-of-way between Gulf Junction (Citrus Springs) and Owensboro Junction, six miles north of Dade City, to the State of Florida to establish the Withlacoochee State Trail. The route where rail passengers on the Southland and the West Coast Champion once traveled is now enjoyed by more than 300,000 hikers, bikers, skaters and horseback riders each year.
The corridor was one of the first purchased under the Florida Rails to Trails Program, which has been incorporated into the Office of Greenways & Trails (OGT). Managed by OGT, the Withlacoochee State Trail is officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails and is currently the longest paved rail-trail in Florida. The 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail (WST) is a 12-foot wide, paved trail. An unpaved equestrian trail parallels portions of the paved trail.
A REST STOP ALONG THE TRAIL (PHOTO BY JOHN MORAN)
The WST traverses three counties (Citrus, Hernando and Pasco) and offers an enjoyable, varied journey through small towns, ranches and natural communities. As it makes its way south from Citrus Springs to Trilby, the Trail seems to lead visitors back through time. The WST’s northern trailhead is situated next to a modern, suburban setting while halfway down the Trail visitors have access to small towns that reflect the comfortable lifestyles of some forty years ago. As they approach the southern end of the Trail, visitors can drift yet another step back in time as the quaint, historic town of Trilby stands in peaceful contrast to the relatively nearby theme parks and bustling atmosphere of Central Florida.
Like most rail-trails in Florida, the WST is generally flat, offering an easy ride for all skill levels. Reminders of the Trail’s historic railroad activity include cement mileage and whistle markers, the Lake Henderson Trestle and the privately owned Inverness Depot which was built in 1982. The Trail’s extremely dedicated citizen support organization, Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee, relocated and restored a 1925 caboose for the Inverness trailhead. The red caboose now serves as a symbolic, welcoming landmark which volunteers hope will ultimately house a small museum of railroad memorabilia. The group has also enhanced the Trail with the installation of a 20-station health and fitness circuit near the Inverness trailhead and interpretive signage highlighting points of interest and natural resources along the Trail.
ON THE WITHLACOOCHEE STATE TRAIL (PHOTO BY JOHN MORAN)
The Withlacoochee State Trail is named for an Indian word meaning “crooked river.” One of the trail’s most prominent natural features results from its intersection in several locations with the nearby Withlacoochee River’s floodplain, which, along with scenic Lake Henderson and the Tsala-Apopka chain of lakes, attracts many species of birds. As it winds through six distinct natural communities, the WST offers rich opportunities for viewing wildlife. The diverse habitats of upland mixed forests, sand hill and wetland communities are home to gopher tortoises and other native plant and animal species. Transient wildlife species include bobcats, feral hogs, river otters, turkeys, deer, squirrels, and a great variety of snakes, birds and insects.
The trail traverses a region that offers many other outstanding recreational opportunities. Among the recreational highlights nearby are the unpaved and motorized trails in the Croom area of the Withlacoochee State Forest; the Withlacoochee River (South) Canoe Trail; swimming and camping at Fort Cooper State Park; camping, fishing and boating at Silver Lake in the Withlacoochee State Forest; swimming at Hernando Beach County Park; a fishing pier at Wallace Brooks Parks; picnicking and river access at Nobleton Wayside Park and the Floral Park day use area.
BICYCLING ALONG ONE OF SEVERAL SCENIC LAKES ON THE TRAIL (PHOTO BY JOHN MORAN)
Rails to Trails Bike Ride – occurs annually, usually in October. The event is sponsored by the Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee, the trail’s citizen support organization, as a way to raise funds for trail improvements. Participants can choose a 14-mile, 32-mile, 60-mile, or 92-mile route. There is also an eight mile on-road option. In 2008, attendance was reported at 1,350. Visit railstotrailsonline.comfor more information.
Citrus County 5K Breast Cancer Walk – occurs annually, usually in October with approximately 200 participants. This event raises money for Citrus County breast cancer programs.
Clean Air Bike Ride – occurs annually, usually in March with approximately 800 registered riders. Participants can choose a 14-mile, 28-mile, 48-mile, or 100-mile route. Proceeds from this event benefit the Key Trailing Center for Developmentally Disabled Adults in Citrus County. Visit cleanairride.com for more information.
Firecracker 5K Run – occurs in July with approximately 200 participants. This event is part of the City of Inverness’ Patriotic Evening event held in Liberty and Wallace Brooks Parks. Proceeds from this event benefit the Dream Society which provides assistance to physically disabled persons within Citrus County.
Directions and trailheads:
The trail follows Hwy 41 through much of its length. There are numerous access points near the towns of Brooksville, Citrus Springs, Dade City, Dunnellon, Floral City, Hernando, Inverness, Istachatta, Nobleton, and Trilby.
For more information:
Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Greenways and Trails
Withlacoochee State Trail
315 North Apopka Avenue, Inverness, FL 34450