“This just SUCKS!” Kelli proclaimed as we pushed through another section of impassable off-road vehicle trail that consisted of 6”– 8” deep sand that more resembled a nice (thin) beach than a bicycle trail. This was the first of several less than desirable sections of “trail” that we would have the displeasure of finding on our first and possibly last visit to the Southern Florida trail system commonly referred to as North Port.
North Port consists of a trail that more or less loops around the Myakkahatchee Creek. It’s loosely contained in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental county park. I say “loosely” because after reading a good deal about the trail from locals, it seems to encroach on some private land from time to time. Several distances of trail have been reported, and I’m sure that the actual distance changes often. The number that seems to be an average is around nine miles. The trails are fledgling, precariously developed, wild trails, that at times can be less than interesting or even desirable to challenging short stretches of technical masochistic single track.
The park’s main trail head just north of I-75 off Tropicaire Road, doesn’t seem to be the most desirable place to access the trails if you are looking for sinuous single track. The trails north and immediately south of I-75 range from flat track through pretty prairies to deep sand that shouldn’t be considered bike trails.
Current, as of this writing (April 04), construction around the I-75 overpass creates a nightmarish pass under a bridge, around construction equipment and down and up rocky creek embankments just to get to the trails that are south of the intrastate. When you arrive on the other bank, there are no signs or markers directing one as to where to go from there. In fact, as easy as following a trail that loosely rims a creek sounds, it’s definitely not an easy task to navigate confidently and successfully at North Port. Due to the lack of trail quality in some sections, the first-time visitor will often be second-guessing if they are actually on the right trail, or even on a trail at all.
Just south of I-75 on the western side of the creek, you’ll find a great deal of this area’s signature trail quality - deep sand in off-road vehicle wide strips. No signs, no markers, just you, lots of sand and your thoughts as to where the hell the real trail is. The bad news – that is the trail in this area….
Relief comes, but not real soon. Eventually, if you are persistent enough, a rider riding from the north to the south on the west side of the creek will finally find some single track along the banks of the creek. While a relief, the often- technical nature of this area will frustrate the hell out of anyone with a lack of an adventurous spirit and an above average mountain biking skill level. With a rooted surface that is unkempt and regularly covered with twigs, branches and palm tree debris the trails are not very inviting for the beginner or even intermediate rider. Lots of trash and debris sadly litter parts of this area and give it an unfortunate trash dump appearance.
On the opposite side (east) of the creek there is a surprise - decent single track appears. Mind you, the stunts and bridges that are built there certainly are more appealing than the previously experienced trails, but at best, the overall impression is still one of disorganization. These trails lack that magical “flow” that well planned and well thought out trails can have. Just as soon as you are enjoying yourself, there will without a doubt be a slab of tattered shag carpet in the trail (yes there were several), a ditch full of sand or some other obstacle to stop your progress cold. Just because a trail is technical shouldn’t preclude it from having “flow” as witnessed in such places as Alafia State Park and Reddick (Razorback) Park, both also in Florida.
South of the spillway brings more stunts, jumps and decent single track. Also on the east side of the creek there is another trail head that I would recommend using to access the best areas of North Port. It’s off of Lady Slipper Avenue just south of I-75 west of Sumter Road.
Overall, some areas of North Port are enjoyable, while others shouldn’t be considered bike trails. If stunts, jumping and trials-type riding is your thing you’ll enjoy the work that the locals are doing. If you are a beginner – forget it, you’ll be miserable within an hour regardless of where you start. Speaking of the local riders, it would be a great idea to ride along with a seasoned local to get the most out of these trails. The people in the North Port area are very proud of this trail system, and they should be. There are a couple of enjoyable miles here as well as fun stunts – if you know what particular portions to ride, which ones to avoid and where to access them.
A small group of riders are making a great effort to form a biking club to develop and maintain these trails as well as negotiate some of the imminent private land access problems on the horizon. That’s a great thing because as of now there is disorganization; trails are developed, cut, re-cut, rerouted, trashed, littered, forgotten, stunts built on them and whatever else anyone with an axe, hammer, nails, 2 X 4s and some free time feel like doing. After my experience here, I would suggest a more modest plan that’s more aggressive. Let the lower quality section that are north and just south of I-75 go to walkers and equestrians. Concentrate on cleaning up, signing and developing the few miles of good track around the southern trail head and then promote just that section for mountain bikers.