Pioneer Trail honors some of Clay’s first families

By Nick Blank
Posted 2/20/19

MIDDLEBURG – The Florida Forest Service added a new trail to its repertoire at Jennings State Forest where some of Clay County’s early settlers once lived.

Volunteers cut swaths of trees for …

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Pioneer Trail honors some of Clay’s first families

Posted

MIDDLEBURG – The Florida Forest Service added a new trail to its repertoire at Jennings State Forest where some of Clay County’s early settlers once lived.

Volunteers cut swaths of trees for the five-mile Pioneer Trail split in two section, based on the settlements of Clay’s first families. The first 2.5-mile segment is Indian Ford up to Knight’s Landing and the next is Knight’s Landing to Ellis Ford.

“We came up with the Pioneer Trail to sort of recognize the pioneer families of Clay County,” Forestry Supervisor Frank Burley said.

Burley said officials looked for established trails in the forest, game trails beaten out from animals, old roads or fire lines out of use. He worked extensively with volunteer named Dennis Chapman, an avid hiker and ancestor of the pioneers, who owns a deed for an old cemetery west of Ellis Ford.

“Hopefully in the end it’ll be a series of loops, so you could go to Indian Ford and Knight’s Landing and take a loop trail back around,” Burley said.

Florida Forest Service Spokeswoman Annaleasa Winter described the landscape of the trail as vibrant and the level of hike as moderate, fit for novice or experienced hikers, in a press release.

Thousands of volunteer hours went into the project. The trail’s historical aspect was a key draw, she said.

“There are some old foundations that you can see depending on where you look,” Winter said.

The trail is in the southern portion of the forest. Burley said he hopes to connect the Pioneer Trail with Jennings’ five creek landings within five years in a loop back to Indian Ford, though it could be carved out quicker.

He said the Florida Forest Service aimed to give hikers another recreation opportunity in addition to its other activities such as hunting, fishing, horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking.

Burley touted the Pioneer Trail’s switchbacks, a 180-degree bend in a trail, and the elevation changes in the section north of Indian Ford, which should give hikers a challenge.

“There’s bluffs where you’re 40 or 50 feet over top of Black Creek,” Burley said. “It’s not a common trail you’re going to find in Florida.”

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