Thursday, April 1, 2021

University Of North Florida

I admit I felt a little lost handing over the bag of overnight stuff my wife had prepared when checking in for the room reservation she had made for me. I walked out to the van, my home away from home and drove ten minutes across I-295 to Freedom VanGo where they were ready willing and able to install a front winch on my Promaster.

I am one of those people who thinks that being late for an appointment is not polite so I showed up early and stretched out on the bed with my book for twenty minutes as I waited for opening hour.
Freedom VanGo is a combination of two van builders in North Florida who have combined to build custom van interiors and supply accessories. They mostly do 4 wheel drive Sprinters which are fashionable  and much desired at the moment and they turn them into camper vans with bumpers, winches lights and huge boxes and spare wheel carriers of the gnarly sort. FreedomVanGo .They also install accessories by Van Compass. As far as I know Van Compass has the only front winch installation for a Ram Promaster van. The technicians got to work, I averted my eyes as they dismantled Gannet 2.
The Van Compass website includes winch installation instructions for the home mechanic (!!).  The winch fits in a steel cradle that is bolted onto the frame of the van and the plastic bumper is then re-attached hiding all but the exit point of the rope cable and hook. They very kindly pointed me in the direction of  OEX, a North Carolina company that will teach imbeciles like me how to use this $3,000 installation to best effect. I plan to sign up before we go to Alaska next year.
While I left the experts to do their work I decided the best thing I could do is take a walk as soon as the rain, scheduled for my day off naturally, eased up.  I am slightly embarrassed by this winch installation as I view it merely as a Hail Mary pass when all else fails and I get the van stuck due to my over enthusiastic back road ambitions. I am not an off roader or a rock hopper but I want the confidence to seek out lonely beaches and dirt trails when we finally head south after heading north. I don't want the complexity of four wheel drive and I don't want to have to climb feet in the air to get into my home so I am resisting lifting the van or seeking more ground clearance. 
The University of North Florida, familiar to you of course as home to the Ospreys (never heard of the place) happens to be home to a nature preserve. It so happens if you draw a vee between Freedom VanGo and Homewood Suites the apex of the vee sits on a patch of green right next to the university's Parking Services offices. Hmm, thank you Google satellite.
Naturally the day developed into a gray overcast sky and I wondered if it would be worth taking a camera for a walk, bu I determined to make the most of it.
Bear in mind I had to walk half an hour across campus to get the far distant entrance to the nature trails and I passed ponds and boardwalks and some weird piece of unlabeled sculpture that I could not locate any information about. Google you suck.
The drizzle stopped as I reached a boardwalk overlooking a pond inhabited not by fierce alligators but a bunch of turtles.
I watched them for a while until a bunch of them ganged up on one of their number and chased it out of sight under the boardwalk. I'm not actually a turtle behaviorist you may be surprised to learn, so I don't know what the chase was about but probably the usual one way or another.
After I took an aesthetic photo of a bright blue outflow pipe (I think) I had no excuse not to resume the forced march.
The campus is actually quite pretty and expansive with illuminated trails all carefully marked with blue emergency beacons. Press a button and someone rather resembling me when I'm at work will answer the direct line. Each post is marked with a number which should make locating the student in need way easy. We should plunk these around Key West and make my job that simple. Tourists have a tendency, especially in a a crisis, to view every street as "Duval Street," the only street they think they know. Makes it complicated to get the ambulance to the right place.
Geese, not a bird you see much of in the Keys. It didn't think much of me, though I found it quite attractive. 
More reflections as I closed in on my goal.
No dogs no bikes no other things that I can't remember. You have to pay to park if you arrive by car and aren't a student or employe of UNF, but walk-ins, even sweaty ones like me, can walk around for free as long as there is daylight. I came onto the campus from the right hand side and I entered the trails where the red blue and yellow trails meet at the parking areas.  I followed the red trail and walked around the lake to the yellow trail that exited at the road where I turned left to cross the freeway and walk back to my hotel. 
Students and volunteers helped build a 1600 foot wheelchair accessible boardwalk along the lake. It actually goes round in a loop though I only walked one side of it.
Once again I was all alone and could dawdle and spend time without anyone around me. The University requires masks everywhere but I confess when I was alone and in the open air a mask seemed not too important.  I did meet a couple of unmasked joggers and I stepped off the trail to let them by properly distanced.
It was a very pleasant walk as the rain receded and I meandered around the lake.
A green heron which was very patient with me. I really enjoyed the opportunity to get up close with my telephoto and have a chance to embrace the photograph. Usually wild birds in the Keys are very skittish if anything less than a long way away! This guy let me watch her/him for several minutes before I strolled on.
The sort of standards embraced by this university says this boardwalk isn't wheelchair accessible and it would take a steady hand not to slip off...but you could roll down it with nerves of steel...
Beauty everywhere.
Even when the boardwalk ran out completely the trail had a few roots but it was an easy walk. Properly not wheelchair accessible though.
Naturally a mere walk is not enough for everybody. It is for me though. An exercise stop that doesn't double as a bench to sit on...??
Reflections of course.
The kayaks are for the use of students and employees who can paddle around the lake. I walked as that is always my preferred means of locomotion.
Remember this is a university trail so there is information to keep your mind active. I liked this one, and coming from the Keys I thought this information might benefit others who come to the Keys and get eaten alive...
I called them Daleks because they were running all over campus all the time on the sidewalks buzzing hither and yon incessantly. I said good bye to the golf carts, glad to have public sidewalks to myself on the uphill trek to Publix where I shopped for lunch and dinner followed by the blessed relief of my hotel room and a nap.

The Robert W. Loftin Nature Trails

Named for the Distinguished UNF Professor Robert W. Loftin, the trails at UNF continue to foster his memory while protecting over 500 acres of natural habitat. Today three main trails and two loop connector trails are open to the public daily from sunrise to sunset. Encouraged by campus planner Hilton Meadows, the first President of UNF, Thomas G. Carpenter applied to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for campus designation as a state protected Bird Sanctuary to control hunting around campus. This designation continues to protect hundreds of acres and millions of organisms on UNF campus Robert Loftin along with the Sawmill Slough Conservation Club, UNF faculty, staff and community members established our original 12 mile nature trail system on campus. In early 1973 they were opened to the public and by 1977 were recognized as National Recreation Trails, listed by the Department of the Interior. Today the remaining 5 miles of trails are complemented with interpretive education signs and are maintained for environmental education, research and low impact recreation. The University of North Florida has one of the best natural assets of any Florida university. All policies and regulations are designed to protect the integrity of this site.

The Sawmill Slough Preserve

A three-hundred acre natural area on campus was designated as a preserve in May 2006 by UNF President John Delaney. The Sawmill Slough Preserve includes the original Sawmill Slough, a wetland habitat stretching through the western portion of the campus from Central Parkway to J Turner Butler Boulevard. In addition to the wetland, small areas of drier habitat including some longleaf pine-turkey oak woodlands may be found in the Preserve.


The stated purpose of the Preserve is to "assure that the Sawmill Slough Preserve will persist in a natural condition." The Preserve will protect the natural water drainage of the slough through campus as well as the native plants and animals associated with this habitat. The Preserve is a great place for a quiet hike or to view wildlife.


The curator of the Sawmill Slough Preserve is responsible for overseeing the maintenance of natural habitats in the Preserve and restoration of natural habitats where required. The Curator coordinates activities in the Preserve and represents the Natural Assets Management Plan in the Preserve. The position reports to the UNF Environmental Advisory Council. For more information please contact the Curator at or (904) 620-4261.

Visitor Information

Leave only your cares, Take only memories


Even after 35 years of growth, UNF continues to protect hundreds of acres of Wild Florida. All regulations are designed to protect the integrity of the habitat. Remember you are a visitor here; help us protect this place for future generations of plants, animals and people. Low-impact recreation, education, research and exploration continue as our guiding principles.

Visitor Regulations

  • Not Permitted: animals (except service animals), bicycles, motor vehicles, alcohol,weapons, camping, fires, plant or animal collection/release/harassment
  • Open during daylight hours only, 365 days per year
  • Nature Trails & Picnic Areas
    • Groups are welcome but must be registered with and have a contract prior to their arrival.
    • Picnic areas are first come first serve
    • Enjoy natural areas at your own risk; follow all posted signs
    • For your safety, walk or run in pairs; note red numbered posts
    • Campfires are not allowed on ground; grills for cooking are okay
    • Report interesting visitors or wildlife
  • Campus Water Bodies
    • Call UNF Police Department at (904) 620-2800 to check-in
    • No swimming or diving
    • No harassing wildlife
    • No plant or animal collection or releasing
  • Fishing
    • Catch and release only
    • No live fish as bait -- shiners, etc.
    • Dispose of fishing line in trash receptacles appropriately
    • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission license regulations apply
  • Boating
    • Vessels available through Gear Checkout may be used on the lake; unauthorized vessels not permitted.
    • Personal flotation device required for every person
    • Be prepared and watch the weather

Sponsorship Opportunities

Donations to the Trails Foundation Account are used to maintain and improve our trails as well as address large initiatives like boardwalk repairs. All donations are tax deductible.


Leave your legacy at the UNF trails through an endowment, or by sponsoring a bench, lookout area or gazebo in your name.