I had been dissuaded from visiting Sawmill Slough Preserve. The University of North Florida web site warns that people should hike in pairs, and a sign at the trailhead reiterates this. However, I started on the trail at 9:15 on a Sunday morning, and there were already many cars in the lot. A short distance onto the trail I came across a family with small children. One wouldn’t find themselves alone long in the event of an emergency.
There were unsafe bridges, which were closed. One spanned a lake; another, at the southern end of the park, crossed a stream.
I tested the remaining boards at the stream crossing. All were severely rotted and some would slide underfoot. Even the telephone-pole support beams appeared untrustworthy. I had to concur with the sign – Extremely Dangerous!
Normally, I would have turned back, but I had waterproof shoe covers in my pack that I’ve been wanting to try.
I took a look at the stream. The water was crystal clear and, probing the bottom with a stick, the bottom proved sandy rather than muddy. I leaned against a tree and slipped on my mini-waders.
During the last step or two, the water threatened to exceed my 15 inches of protection, but I managed to get across with only a few drops flecking my knees. The experience reminded me why I carry a pack and come prepared.
The only other part of the experience that concerned me was that water levels are high right now, and many trails were immediately edged by water (of course, “slough” is another word for “swamp”). And where there is water, there are snakes and alligators.
While walking around the lake, I saw places where alligators might habitually drag themselves from the water, but today I saw no wildlife other than insects and songbirds.
Road noise was noticeable throughout the park, but the scenery was so engaging that I often failed to notice it.
Although dogs are not permitted on the trail, there are always individuals who ignore the rules. Today I met a middle-aged couple with a tiny leashed dog. A group of college students was accompanied by a white terrier, which ran up to me unrestrained.
When I saw the unleashed dog, I readied my finger on the button of my recently-purchased ultrasonic dog deterrent, which blasts dogs with a confusing sound but does no permanent injury to the animal. So far, only off-leash dogs have threatened me on trails, so I come prepared with increasing levels of protection – ultrasonic device; pepper spray; knife.
There are several intersecting trails, which means hikers can extend or shorten their walks as desired.
During the week, there is a fee to park in the lot. Parking is free on Saturday and Sunday, but on these days the restrooms are locked.
Benches and picnic tables are scattered throughout the grounds.