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Bread-N-Butter Trails: Willie Browne Nature Preserve

Bread-N-Butter Trails: Willie Browne Nature Preserve

Navigating the Heart of Jacksonville: Willie Browne Nature Preserve

Welcome to the Bread-N-Butter Trails series, where we explore the world's most awesome running routes through the lens of the Speedgoat Trail Running Company. Today, I'm taking you to my backyard in Florida, specifically to the Willie Browne Nature Preserve in Jacksonville. While it might not boast the towering peaks of distant mountain ranges, it offers a unique and captivating trail running experience.

First, a little history: Willie Browne, the man behind the name, had a vision. He saw the potential to preserve the natural beauty of his 600-acre property for generations to come. His legacy lives on in the lush landscape of dense hardwood forests and tranquil, low-lying marshy areas. Remnants of the Browne family are visible along sections of the 4.6 mile balloon loop, including the Browne family cemetery and the ruins of Willie's cabin.

Speedgoat is about more than just running; it's about forging a connection with the land, honoring the pioneers who came before us, and challenging ourselves to be better with every step. That's why we're drawn to places like the Willie Browne Nature Preserve and its unique history. 

As summer slowly loosens its grip and the first cold snap graces us with its presence, and the bugs and critters that thrive in our sweltering summer heat begin their retreat, my thoughts invariably turn to these trails. The Willie Browne Nature Preserve offers a unique challenge in our predominantly flat terrain. The key to maximizing my vertical gain and honing my trail running skills lies in tackling the technical sections.

Picture this: narrow single track climbing to the peak of an ancient sand dune with gnarled roots crisscrossing the oyster shell covered path. The Preserve's short technical sections demand focus and finesse. They're a far cry from the typical terrain you'd expect in Florida, and falling here can certainly ruin your day, but as long as you're focused and aware of every footfall you'll be fine.

Repeating these technical sections has become a sort of ritual for me. Each run, I strive to improve my finesse, balance, and agility. It's a bit like dancing with nature. The more you repeat the steps, the smoother your moves become. The gnarled roots that once seemed like obstacles evolve into opportunities to showcase your trail-running prowess.

And the reward? It's not just in the physical accomplishment, but in the connection you forge with this unique ecosystem. It's in the sense of being part of something larger than yourself, a history that dates back long before our running shoes ever touched these trails.

So, as I eagerly await that first chill in the air, I know that the Willie Browne Nature Preserve will be there, waiting for me to tackle those technical sections once more. Because every run here is a chance to grow, to connect, and to experience the unparalleled beauty of this Jacksonville gem.


How to access: There are two parking lots at the trailheads, one adjacent to the National Park Service headquarters located at 13165 Mt Pleasant Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32225 and the other at Spanish Pond 13030 Fort Caroline Rd, Jacksonville, FL 32225. 

The trails: From the Spanish Pond access you'll encounter a board walk that gives way to a flat and rooty meandering trail that eventually leads to a gradual incline and a live oak canopy. Stay left at the fork to climb Sandy Slide and descend the technical single track. You'll make your way over gnarled roots and oyster shells down to the marsh observation deck. Return or take some of the intersecting trails that will take you to the Browne family cemetery and remnants of Willie's cabin. The trails are well marked and there are signs at intersections that will guide you back to the Spanish Pond parking lot.

From the parking lot adjacent to the NPS headquarters you'll find standard Park Services restrooms, a picnic table and trash cans. Finding the trailhead is easy and from here you'll start on wide sandy trail under the canopy of the hardwood forest. Gentle climbing and descending for a half mile will take you to a fork, stay to the right until you find yourself at the marsh. From here, head to the the observation deck for amazing views of Chicopit Bay and Colorinda Creek. Then you can tackle the technical single track by taking the trail that hugs the creek. This is my favorite section and the one I love to repeat.

Image provide by Caltopo

Map by Caltopo

Elevation/Distance: Out and back from either parking lot utilizing the Timuquan Trail to Spanish Pond Trail will yield 138 ft. of gain/loss and around 4.5 miles

Best Time to Visit: October-April

Be on alert: Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes and Cottonmouths (Tics & Biting Flies in the warmer months) have been seen on trails, so give them wide berth if you encounter one.

*Dogs are allowed on leashes and bikes are allowed on marked trails. No bikes on the Black trails.


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