Trans-Florida Central Railroad Trail: So read the lettering on a new pedestrian overpass spanning I-95. I'd never heard of it, and couldn't find it on the internet, so I decided to drive down and check it out.
I started at the Fellsmere Trailhead Preserve, just west of I-95 on highway 512. A young mother was watching her child on the playground as I unloaded my folding bike. Inside the shelter I found restrooms and a wall map of the Regional Greenway, which includes the rail trail (see pictures).
Pedaling around the trailhead, I saw no way to the trail until I came to a hard packed sand roadway leading north from the entry road. A road grader operator confirmed that this was the way to the overpass.
At the trail, packed sand gave way to a hard gravel surface with pinewoods on either side. I turned left, to find the end of the trail at a locked gate. Here the old railbed led straight west, through the woods of the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park towards Fellsmere.
Turning around, I pedaled a half mile eastward to the paved section, twelve feet wide, beginning at the approach to the overpass. Out to the left were several structures of the FIT Challenge Course: horizontal rope nets, wooden walls to scale- challenges I might have tried half a century ago.
Descending the overpass, the trail turned a few degrees south of east and ran board-straight between stands of tall pine to the vanishing point. Not much shade; a summer afternoon sun would shine straight down the trail, and this morning there were only a few patches of broken shade.
It was busy on this Saturday morning- two couples walking abreast, pushing a tandem stroller; two young girls walking a huge, furry poodle-ish dog; other couples and individuals pedaling or strolling. The mile and a half of pavement led to North County Regional Park and its large, well attended swimming pool. I could hear shouts and splashes as I passed. A trailhead shelter here was closed.
From the pavement's end, a nicely wooded mile of gravel trail meandered through thick woods, over several boardwalks across the wetter places and through an oak hammock with some magnificent trees. I passed a young lady jogger, then a fast moving male cyclist, who confirmed that the trail ran on into Sebastian.
It popped out of the woods at a bridge over an arm of the St. Sebastian River, where it joined a wide sidewalk on highway 512, continuing the Regional Greenway northeast into town. I didn't have time to ride it, but looked it over by car- a true greenway. More than half its length was set back from the roadway and screened by tall, thick rows of cedar. Some of these sections adjoined neighborhood streets. A number of walkers and cyclists were using it.
Four miles of greenway led from the end of the rail trail to the downtown Sebastian waterfront, at US 1, which boasted a mile of wide bike lanes. A block east, Indian River Drive followed the shore of the Indian River Lagoon, with a half dozen seafood restaurants overlooking the water.
Starting at US 1, a rider could go about six and a half miles to the east end of the existing rail trail. Plans call for the rail trail to extend about three miles further west, into downtown Fellsmere.
Fellsmere has two very authentic Mexican restaurants, one including a bakery, plus a local pizza parlor. Southern comfort food is on offer at the century-old Fellsmere Estates Building, in a small historic district along Broadway St. The town has the oldest operating library in the county, and was the first town in the south where a woman voted in a municipal election.
Despite its imposing name, the Trans-Florida Central Railroad was never more than a feeder for the main rail line along the east coast. It reached about fifteen miles inland, to the St. Johns marshes and the former town of Broadmoor, planned for development but abandoned after a hurricane flooded the area in 1916.
The rails brought lumber and building materials inland to Fellsmere, carrying out whatever products were harvested from the marshy land over the decades- sugar, citrus, potatoes, muck for fertilizer, pulpwood. Early in the last century, passenger service ran four times a day between Fellsmere and Sebastian.
This short rail line buoyed the region's economy for half a century. Its legacy is a pleasant greenway, well used by locals and worth a visit for anyone seeking a leisurely ride.