The other day I woke before dawn and decided to take a bike ride.
My first thought was the Legacy Trail or maybe a long loop through Casey Key. Then I started thinking about morning light and the best place to watch the sun peeking through the trees. That’s what led me to Rothenbach Park.
It’s a short loop trail — just 2.75 miles — but more than half of it is shaded by a spectacular strand of live oaks draped with Spanish moss. The paved path winds through the woods, so it’s not built for speed, but that’s sort of the point.
After loading my bike, I headed up I-75 and turned east on Bee Ridge Road. The sky was just turning pink when I stopped driving and started pedaling.
It feel cool, almost chilly, as I started riding through the park. That alone made it worth getting out of bed. The Hammock Loop Trail was just as beautiful as I remembered it. The woods were pierced with shafts of light. Dark oak limbs above and bright palmetto fronds below. A filter of moss.
Every half-mile or so, I had to stop and take pictures. Who could resist? I fooled around trying to shoot the woods in shade and silhouette.
Even with an iPhone, and even if you’re not much of a photographer, it’s possible to capture some of the scenery. Inspiration should not be a problem.
Read the signs
Did I mention that Rothenbach Park used to be a landfill?
This is freaky, because there’s still a huge mound in the middle with methane vents poking out it. It’s also clever, because someone had the vision to run a recreational path through the woods around that mound.
The park was named for Walt Rothenbach, the former recreation director for Sarasota County. It opened in 2009.
Since then, the county has added some of those “World Trail” exercise bars and fitness rails at different points along the loop. These things are harmless enough, though I don’t think that I have ever seen anyone using any of this equipment on any trail I have ever visited.
Far more successful, to my mind, are the metal plaques that explain flora and fauna along the way.
“Epiphytes: Life in the Trees” offers a primer on air plants such as ferns, moss and bromeliads. They absorb water and nutrients through specialized roots and scales.
You have to admire a trail with beauty and brains.
Turkey trail, too
If you’re lucky, you’ll spot deer along the trail or an alligator in one of the ponds. I wasn’t so fortunate, though I did meet a few walkers and joggers.
A woman named Jordan didn’t want to share her last name, probably because she thought I was some kind of sweaty stalker. Fair enough. She does enjoy walking and running through the shade of the park.
Near the entrance to Rothenbach is the Turkey Trail, which is just a quarter-mile long, but it tends to flood during the summer.
“That’s where all the water pools,” Jordan said. “When it rains a lot, you don’t want to go there.”