The whisper of the wind in the long-leaf pines gives this forest in Ocklawaha the perfect atmosphere for contemplation. Part of the Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration south of Ocala, this 314-acre forest was dedicated a decade after the Chernobyl disaster to honor the victims and survivors of the 1986 disaster half a world away.
The hike begins at the trailhead on SE Highway 464C in Ocklawaha Florida. It’s located about 20 minutes southeast of Ocala and a little more than an hour northwest from downtown Orlando.
The forest consists of more than 150,000 longleaf pine trees, with a few laurel and live oaks breaking up the otherwise orderly rows of trees. The longleaf pines were planted as a symbol of renewal, rebirth, and restoration.
An easy 4.6-mile hike traces the circumference of the forest, which was planted with funds donated from the American Forests Global ReLeaf Fund. The longleaf pines are now about a quarter-century old.
The trail is flat and easy walking, suitable for horseback riding or for a hike with the dogs. (Dogs should be kept on a leash.)
Longleaf pines grow up to a little more than a hundred feet tall, and their needles grow up to 17 inches in length. Because of extensive logging over the years, they are not as common as they used to be. According to one estimate, more than 90 million acres of longleaf pine blanketed the Southeast, and only a tiny fraction of that remains.
The St. Johns River Water Management District has been restoring 2,400 acres of wetlands on the Ocklawaha Prairie near Moss Bluff, freeing the river from a canal that constrained the river.
This 360-degree aerial view shows the Chernobyl Memorial Forest, Moss Bluff, The Ocklawaha River, and Lake Weir in the distance.
Photos by Michael Warren / 352DRONE.COM.