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By Nancy Stuparich
South Lake County is the location of approximately 10 miles of the General James A. Van Fleet Trail (Van Fleet Trail). The Van Fleet Trail is a 29 mile multi-use trail accessible from Mabel in Sumter County at its north end and Polk City in Polk County at its south end.

The trail was named in honor of General Van Fleet for his distinguished military career in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. General Van Fleet also had strong ties to the University of Florida.

At the University of Florida, he served as a coach of the Florida Gators football team from 1921 to 1924. He was given an honorary doctorate degree and inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame.

The University of Florida U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy ROTC programs are located in Van Fleet Hall. Van Fleet died in Polk City at the age of 100 in 1992.

Biking on the Van Fleet Trail is a different experience from biking on other South Lake trails. The Van Fleet Trail does not border a lake, like the South Lake Trail's path along Lake Minneola.

Instead, the Van Fleet Trail traverses Florida's Green Swamp, a recharge area for the Floridan aquifer, which provides water to many Central and Southwest Florida cities. The Green Swamp also serves as the headwaters for the Hillsborough, Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha and Peach rivers.

Although the bike trail crosses thru the Green Swamp, cyclists don't have to worry about getting wet. The trail is built upon an old railroad line and includes a couple of small bridge crossings.

Unlike parts of the South Lake Trail, the Van Fleet trail is remote, flat, and has only one curve. There are a few intersection crossings; but vehicular traffic is minimal. Wildlife, such as alligators, deer, goats, turtles, and squirrels, easily outnumber the amount of cars visible while riding the trail.

Rangers from Lake Louisa State Park patrol the trail from 8 AM to 5 PM to assist users and to maintain the trail.

The first trailhead from Mabel is located in the Bay Lake area in South Lake County. To begin your ride at the Bay Lake trailhead, drive west on Highway 50 to Highway 565 in Mascotte and follow the road to the trailhead.

Along the way, you will see new development and open fields. Although not incorporated as a South Lake city, the Bay Lake is a distinctive community with a rich history.

The Van Fleet Trail is part of the soon to be completed Coast to Coast Connector trail, which will connect this part of South Lake County to its other existing bike trails.

Van Fleet Trail takes cyclists and hikers through
10 miles of South Lake's wilderness Green Swamp
Van Fleet Trail
The Van Fleet Trail takes cyclists and hikers join a 10 mile stretch through South Lake County. The entire trail runs 29 miles and will be part of the states coast to coast connector. (Photo by Nancy Stuparich)


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