A trip around Winter Garden and Orlando 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. If coming from the east, at Debary the SJR2C turns North toward Palatka and the C2C turns South to join with major trails in its journey west to the Gulf. In fact, Debary is one of the few mkain trail hubs where 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. Palatka is the other major trail hub in Central Florida.
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 there's no really great route to get to the Beresford Trail section of SJR2C, 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 shoulder, double yellow line, and hills - so motorists don't want to cross the lines to give you space because they can't see what's ahead - 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.
Beresford 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!
The 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.