Date Visited: 1/12/2020
Opened in 1940 as one of the original nine state parks in the Florida Park Service, O’Leno (Old Leno), is a beautiful and peaceful place to stay. With 20 miles of hiking, biking, equestrian trails within the 6000 acres that encompass O’leno (and its sister park the River Rise Preserve State Park), you can spend plenty of time exploring the “Real Florida”.
The crown jewel of this little park is the Santa Fe River, another of Florida’s disappearing rivers. The river begins at the Santa Fe Lake and travels 44 miles before arriving at O’leno park. Within the park the river disappears underground at what is known as a sink. Over 900 million gallons of water flow through the underground caverns each day. Three miles downstream the river re-emerges in the River Rise Preserve State Park and travels another 35 miles before finally meeting with the Suwannee River.
In the late 19th century, the city of Leno was a thriving little town, but after the railroad was diverted through Fort White the town was abandoned. Although abandoned, it was not forgotten. Many locals would continue to visit the area for recreation and thus the town became known as O’Leno or (Old Leno if you’re not a southerner) from which the state park got its name.
In 1935 the Florida Forest Service purchased the property and in 1938 it was used for two years as a forestry training camp before becoming a state park.
The swinging bridge and other buildings that you see on the property were developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp. The site is also known as a Historic Civil Engineering site, due to Bellamy Road crossing through the park.
The Bellamy Road was completed in 1826. It was the first federally funded road in Florida and connected St. Augustine to Tallahassee, crossing the Santa Fe on the natural land bridge formed by the river sink.
The river is prone to flooding and you can see a recorded history of the most severe events at a totem located inside the park. To put it in perspective, watch the video at the beginning of the article. I can only imagine how long it would take waters that reach those heights to recede. However, flooding is a natural process and brings much needed nutrients to the soil, thus, feeding the forest and its inhabitants
There are 18 natural communities in the park each with their own distinct topographical/geologial features, and flora/fauna and animal species. A few of the animals you may spot are White-tailed deer, turkey, gray fox and gopher tortoise. If you cross over the bridge and take the loop trail to the left, you can spot a variety of these unique ecological environs.
Another trail, that begins at the swinging bridge, is the River Trail. This trail is for hikers only and takes you to the natural bridge or sink. Here at the ‘river sink’, the Santa Fe disappears underground and resurfaces three miles away at River Rise Preserve State Park. It is an easy trail and the relaxing sounds of the water, along with the potential to spot wildlife, makes this a nice walk. While taking a stroll, Mr. McGee spotted a river otter who popped up like a periscope before disappearing below the tannin-stained waters.
There are two campgrounds in the park: the Dogwood and Magnolia. We stayed in the Magnolia campground and were lucky enough to score the last remaining walk-up site. There is not much for privacy at this campground. Although there is plenty of vegetation behind the campsites, there is little or no vegetation between campsite, allowing you to look straight into the neighbors on each side. This makes it somewhat less attractive to tent campers that spend most of their time outside the tent, but is fine for RV campers who spend most of their time inside the RV.
We had a nice relaxing stay filled with trail exploration and stargazing. Speaking of stargazing, while watching the stars and scanning the skies for satellites, we spotted a trail of 28-30 Starlink satellites all lined up in a row. It was quite fascinating to watch them march across the sky with such precision.
Oh, and just a note: Starting in April of 2022 the videos on our YouTube channel will be changing format.
Originally, we created these videos from our vacation footage to share with Kim’s family. The videos you see from Nov 2021 to Apr 2022 are those videos. However, with the passing of Kim’s father (from whom we developed our interest in travelling and who’s footsteps we hope to follow) we have lost our primary fan. Moving forward we hope to connect with like-minded people who might also enjoy discovering the beautiful places we are fortunate to visit.
Starting in April of 2022 videos will be created with a YouTube audience in mind. With that said, we have invested in new video and sound equipment and will give more detailed information about the places we visit.
You are still more than welcome to watch our older videos; just keep in mind they were made as a modern-day slideshow for which we narrated to family and friends as we watched them together in our own Livingroom.
Please be patience with us as we go through this growing process. Thank you.
O'Leno State Park 410 SE O'Leno Park Rd. High Springs, FL 32643 386-454-1853 Website
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