ULTIMATE SUMMER GUIDE

PEDAL PUSHERS

Two-wheeling on Amelia Island

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In car-clogged communities, the cry of the cyclist is being heard. Travelers who want to hop out of their vehicle and onto a bicycle have serious options to choose from in Northeast Florida, ranging from family-friendly paved pathways to gnarly forest trails.

On Amelia Island, riders can reach picturesque parks, coastal maritime forests and sandy beaches along the Amelia Island Trail. The six-mile route stretches from Peters Point Park at the northern trailhead to the Nassau Sound at the island’s southern tip. The path, which runs along Amelia Island Parkway, and merges with First Coast Highway, features a variety of glorious leafy trees and soothing ocean breezes this time of year. It’s a smooth, flat ride on asphalt and the premier trail for casual riders and full-throttle racers. The route is, for the most part, rather quiet and easily accommodates travelers seeking an up-close look at botany, birds and wildlife. There’s a connection to Big Talbot Island that lengthens the trail to a 12-mile route of off-road riding.

Jonathan Page, an engineer who spends his days assessing and planning roadways for Nassau County, frequently ditches the car for a ride on the trail. “The scenery is stunning and there’s a lot of shade,” said Page. “On hot days — and there are a lot of them — that’s important.”

Page, 45, said he began riding three years ago when running began to take too much of a toll on his body. “Like everyone else, I’m a victim of age,” he said.

Page purchased a $500 bicycle from a friend, then he joined the North Florida Bicycle Club. The organization’s website (nfbc.us) includes information on local trails and group rides — there’s at least one ride scheduled every day, through July Fourth, with new ones posting constantly. “They have a generous policy of leaving no one behind and, for someone like me who was new to riding, that was very kind,” said Page.

Page is now an intrepid rider who comfortably stitches together trails and roadways for longer journeys, including a favored 65-mile route that winds from Yulee to Mayport and back again. The course meanders south along oceanside trails, then connects with roadways to a north leg along U.S. 17. Page said his three-hour journey takes him through parks, quiet communities and rural areas “where there’s nothing around.”

Desolate locales can be trouble for riders with flat tires or broken chains. Those cyclists who stick to the trail, however, have a new go-to bike shop that offers same-day repair service as well as water-bottle refills and bike rentals. SuperCorsa Cycles opened in early May at 4925 First Coast Highway, steps away from the trail. Owner Drew Carver (310-0003) claims to be able to fix any trouble with any bike. His background includes top-level racing; his advanced technical skills even earned him a spot on the mechanics crew for the 2000 Olympic racing team. Don’t be intimidated, though. Carver is a laid-back proprietor who brings his aging dog Waffles to the shop. His goal is to encourage people of all ages to take up cycling.

“You don’t have to get all Spandexed-up,” said Carver. “Come as you are. Get on a bike. Have fun.”

Island resident Tom Herlihy, 68, says the Amelia Island Trail is a favorite ride but he also recommends Ft. Clinch State Park, which encompasses most of the northern end of Amelia Island in Fernandina Beach (floridastateparks.org).

“I’ve been riding for 12 years, and the park has some of the most beautiful scenery that you’ll find in this part of Florida,” said Herlihy.

At Ft. Clinch, riders can traverse through 3.3 miles of paved road beneath a shady oak canopy, and a six-mile off-road multi-use trail that winds through the dunes, changing elevations, and offers twists and turns for an adventurous ride for intermediate-level cyclists. There are also several miles of beach trails with hard-packed sand that are ideal for riders who prefer fat-tire bicycles. The shoreline trails offer sweeping vistas of Cumberland Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Head out to the half-mile-long pier, but be sure to hop off and walk your bike — cycling is not allowed on the boardwalk. The park’s Visitor Center stocks a variety of rental bicycles and helmets.

In Fernandina Beach, the best place for a quiet ride is Egans Creek Greenway, a stunning 300-acre nature preserve with grass-covered trails that follow the creek and travel around ponds filled with turtles, snakes and alligators, though most visitors are more likely to see rabbits instead of slithery reptiles and amphibians. This spring, the bunnies have been crowding the pathways.

Earlier this month, city resident Julie Ferreira rode her old bicycle (purchased, she said, on Craigslist for $80) through the Greenway on her way to the beach. “My New Year’s resolution was to ride my bike every day,” said Ferreira.

How’s it going?

“This is my first day,” said Ferreira, an environmentalist who leads the local chapter of the Sierra Club. “The weather is so beautiful that I figured it was time to crawl out from under my rock.”

With all of the opportunities to pedal around the historic island, would-be bike riders can take inspiration from Ferreira, who wiped the dust from her bike and pushed off for a tour through a profusion of enchanting, diverse natural surroundings. It’s time to get back in the saddle.

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