West Orange Trail–A “Rails to Trails”

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Riding Through Winter Garden

Riding Through Winter Garden

“Why didn’t I think of that?”

Every now and again you encounter an idea that is so simple, yet so brilliant, you instantly know it is truly genius.

That’s how I felt several years ago when I first heard of the concept of “Rails to Trails.”  It’s a pretty simple idea–Many railroads are going out of business.  There are a huge number of railroad tracks that are being abandoned.  These tracks are already graded, level and designed so they skirt around obstructions as much as possible.  Wouldn’t they be perfect for walking or bike paths?  Since railroads have connected the entire country, wouldn’t it be possible to connect large portions of the country with bike or walking paths?

Unlike the Appalachian Trail, that intentionally provides a more rustic contiguous path from Georgia to Maine, rail trails can provide more locally interactive community experiences as rail lines were designed specifically to transport from one community to another.  Along the way, those utilizing these trails can get exercise and enjoy the great outdoors in environmentally friendly ways.

Slowly, quietly, communities–mostly in the Midwest at first–would begin converting the old rail lines into healthy, environmentally friendly trails.  In 1986 the rails to trails conservancy (RTC) was born.  Although it was co-founded by Peter Harnik and David Burwell, I had to do a lot of research to uncover these founders.  Instead, the RTC website identifies an expansive network of grassroots activism that worked together to develop the concept.

It’s an impressive website that seems to indicate an impressive organization.  One of their success stories is the West Orange Trail that connects the town of Clermont, FL to the town of Apopka, FL.

One of the essential underlying themes to my blog is that there is so much more to do in Central Florida than to simply visit our world class theme parks.  (which, by the way, are fabulous.)  As members of the LanceAroundOrlando community read and share about their Central Florida experiences, it is my dream that the little, “off-the-beaten-path” nooks & crannies will gain a measure of popularity among the well informed travelers.

One such place would be the West Orange Trail–a 22 mile rail trail that goes from Clermont, FL (just a few miles north of Disney) to the community of Apopka.  The trail features numerous “stations” and “outposts.”  A station is a full service facility offering restrooms, water fountains, benches and so forth.  An outpost  may simply offer access to the trail.

One end of the trailhead starts at Killarney Station, Clermont.  Here you can find bikes and blades rentals, a children’s play area and a covered picnic shelter.  Less than a mile later, the trail traverses the covered Old Rail Road Bridge across the Florida Turnpike.  In a short distance, you come to the xeriscape/butterfly garden about a mile east of the Oakland Outpost.

Winter Garden Wheel Works

Winter Garden Wheel Works

A few miles further along the way, the trail passes through the downtown medium on Plant Street in Winter Garden.  Here there are two bike stores, various restaurants and other small shops line a street reminiscent of a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  The Winter Garden Historical Museum is another feature on this section of the trail.

A few miles further along is the Clarcona Horseman’s Park.  This public equestrian park offers show rings with bleachers, judging towers and horse stalls.  It is also a staging area for equestrians to link to the equestrian path of the West Orange Trail.

After the trail skirts some beautiful scenic views of Lake Apopka, it comes to the other trailhead at Welch Road in Apopka.

The trail has won several awards including one from the National Department of Transportation as one of 25 of America’s Best Enhancement Projects.  Someday, it will be part of what will be known as the Central Florida Loop–A 200 mile regional trail connection.

It’s just one of the many fantastic attractions in Central Florida that cost little or no money and are discovered only by well informed travelers looking for “more than a mouse!”™

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2 Responses to “West Orange Trail–A “Rails to Trails””

  1. Ann Says:

    I love the West Orange Trail! Did you know that from Kilarney Station you can travel on to lakeside in Clermont on the South Lake Trail and Lake Minneola Scenic Trail? These connectors have been opened for at least a year, and add another 10 miles or so of rolling pathways through beautiful trees and neighborhoods, ending at the lakefront where you can have a quick swim to cool off before heading back towards Winter Garden.

  2. LanceAround Says:

    Hi Ann: I did not know that! Thanks for sharing. One of my goals over the next couple of years is to lose the excessive weight I have gained and then take a day long ride along these trails. I used to ride my bike a lot when I was younger. Once, I even rode around the entire island of Puerto Rico. I hope to have that kind of adventure again! LanceAround

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