Conquering San Felasco

Funds raised will benefit the park


A lone rider passes over a bridge during the Tour de Felasco 50 mile off-road bike eco-tour at San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park. The tour drew 320 cyclists and was not a race, but it offered riders challenging trails without ever crossing a paved road.

Lee Ferinden/Special to the Sun
Published: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 12:30 a.m.
Some 330 riders were greeted with bright sun and a crisp breeze for Saturday's first Tour de Felasco, a 50-mile mountain bike ride through one of North Florida's most diverse ecological preserves.
The emphasis was on "diverse," according to those who participated. The 50 miles of trails didn't cross a single paved road. What it did cross was Turkey Creek, the slightly-soggy Sanchez prairie and a series of devilish loops called the Tung Nut Trail.
The climbs were what impressed Gabriel Gonzalez. "Boy, they were long!" he said at the finish line. Other riders compared the course to bike trails in Tennessee, where hills are the name of the game.
"We patrol on ATVs," park manager Randy Brown said," and some of those trails are tough going even when you've got gas and good brakes."
The fund-raising ride was planned by the Friends of Felasco, a citizens' support group for the preserve. Three hundred riders were expected, but organizers say even more showed up for the 8:30 a.m. start at the park's north entrance behind the Progress Center outside Alachua.
A hayfield was converted into an impromptu parking lot for hundreds of cars sporting bike racks at the starting area.
What riders got - besides a day outdoors and a souvenir T-shirt - was a chance to experience sections of trail that are usually closed to cyclists.
Although organizers emphasized the event was a ride, not a race, Chad Hungerford was the first to check in at the 25-mile mark, rolling up at just 10:25 a.m. Riders leading the pack were mounted on bicycles whose prices were comparable to a small car.
Others were just rolling into the lunch spot two hours later.
"If I make it back, I'm really going to enjoy the party tonight," one hooted as he passed the checkpoint.
Brown said the tour marked the biggest single day for park usage since the trails opened in 2001, "but we can see 300 to 600 people on any given weekend."
Leslie Folkerth and her husband Doug are members of the tour committee that organized the event.
The couple spent New Year's Day out on the course, cutting up logs and moving them out of the trail.
"Next year, can you go back and get the roots?" Linda Hallan asked as she claimed her T-shirt at the finish.
Folkerth pointed out that proceeds from the event will be put back into the park, for maintenance and improvements.
"Money raised here stays here," she said.
Gerald Woods was among the first to check in at the finish table at 12:42 p.m. Woods, who works at Gator Cycle, pronounced the course "unbelievable" while loading his bike for the return trip to Gainesville.
"It's been great, but I'm due at work at 1 o'clock," he said as he drove off.
Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun. com.

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