At 6AM today Dr. Frank and I met at the "Lower Hillsbourgh Wilderness Park" http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/recreation/areas/lh-offroadloop.html for his last long run before he conquers the Umstead 100 mile run. Technically the park doesn't open till 7AM, but I told Frank that it would be ok, because I used to ride every trail in that park before technical was even an issue. I assured him everything would be ok (aka, I lied!)
Back in the day (an acquaintance told me he was tired of that term, and it should be retired, never did care for that dude, so....) Back in the day, we use to refer to the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Park, simply as the Turf.
Back in the day, the Turf was a series of unmarked trails in eastern Hillsborough County predominately used by equestrians and mountain bikers, there was even one place where the main activity was growing Mary Jane, whomever was into this enterprise would place board with nails in them all around the trails to discourage us from riding on their turf, with The Turf. There were no runners out there and you needed a guide, either Jim McAvoy or Roamie would do fine, to find your way around. Eventually my other biking buddies, Gary Palmer, Lee Wentz, Tampa Ray and I got the hang of it as well and could spend an afternoon out there without getting lost.
More often than not, we would meet at "The Hole in the Fence" to start our adventures. This hole in the fence was simply a hole in a barbed wire fence on a dead end road. We would sneak our bikes through it go across the Bypass Canal and BAM! we were in the Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Park. Well, those who use that area today still refer to a popular spot to start as the "The hole in the Fence," but it isn't really a hole, it's a planned entrance with signage and real parking spots, and it's moved about 200 yards to the East just off of a major road, you don't need Jim or Roamy to find this area. One of my favorite idiosyncrasies about the old Turf, was to complete the 15 mile loop you had to cut through a narrow trail and lift your bike over a fence and ride up a hill and on Interstate 75 over a bridge, back down a hill, lift your bikes over another fence back through a narrow trail onto the dyke and BAM! You were back on the loop. Now, that's adventurous, now that's fun.
You know what those goodie-two-shoes park service people did about 10 years ago? They built a pedestrian bridge over the canal so you don't have to trespass on the Interstate anymore to complete the 15 mile loop. Some people don't know a good thing until they ruin it!
These days not only is the "HTF" as some wanna be old-timers call it, on the map, so is the entire area on a map! They have all of our little trails mapped and named and all with real signs. Shoot, if you get lost out there now, well it means you can't read a map. The trails are all groomed now too. You don't have to hop over massive logs or plough through palmetto plants to traverse the 15-mile loop. Heck you don't even have to bring water anymore! There are not one or two, but 7 places to refill water bottles in the "Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Park."How do I feel about all of these "improvements?"
Well, I think they are great! Instead of just a place for a few dozen hard-core mountain bikers, of which I am proud to say I was one, like it was 20 years ago, our turf, is now a favorite spots for thousands of local residents to hike, bike and picnic. I see families with small children and dogs out there. Many high school and college cross country teams train out there.
Do I miss the turf? Hell yes! Am I glad they improved it and that I have to share it with the area? Hell yes! Do I wish they'd come out after 10am? Well, yes, I'm not that darn generous.