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Southern Gateway – SR 19 from Umatilla

Southern Gateway

If you’re entering the byway from the south through the Gateway City of Umatilla in Lake County, you’ll be heading north on SR 19. This entry way is one of the quickest access routes to the heart of some of the byway’s highlights.

Highlights

    • Alexander Springs Recreation Area – CR 445
    • Disney Connection in Paisley
    • Florida Trailhead – SR19

Pittman Visitor Center (SR 19)

     

This visitor center is near the start of the byway on the west side of SR 19. Stop in to get some brochures, maps, and a general orientation. The visitor center is in a historic house and has displays and interpretive material.

Links: Pittman Visitor Center

         

The Disney Connection

     

Just a few miles east of Umatilla and Altoona is the quiet town of Paisley. Walt Disney’s family connections here go all the way back to the 1880s. Walt’s parents, Flora Call and Elias Disney, were married here in Lake County in 1888 in the tiny Kismet church in the Paisley area. They moved on from Florida before Walt was born, but Walt retained his connection with the area.

His maternal grandparents, Charles and Henrietta Call, moved to what’s now Lake County and became Florida pioneers. Walt’s uncle Albert Perkins became the postmaster of Paisley in 1902 and served until 1935. His aunt, Jessie Call Perkins, taught in several Lake County schools and eventually served as principal of Eustis High School.

The story goes that Walt and his brother Roy often visited Jessie and Albert in Florida during their summer vacations from school. Walt probably saw a lot of this area: its springs, rivers, forests and natural beauty. It must have made quite an impression on him.

As it turns out, Walt had originally thought of building Disney World in the area between Paisley and Umatilla. Strange to think how things would have turned out differently had he followed through on that. The Ocala National Forest would have butted right up to Fantasy Land. This byway might have been named after a mouse instead of a bear. As it is, the natural glories of the Florida Black Bear Scenic byway are all at the very least an hour away from Mickey’s domain.

       
         

Florida Trail Trailhead (SR 19)

     

If you are looking to hike one of the longest trails in the U.S., or just a portion of it, the Florida Trail Trailhead is a good place to start. This trail extends over 600 miles through Florida and a good portion of it is here in the Ocala National Forest. This is one of the few access points with a parking area. The trail heads north toward Juniper Springs Recreation Area. If you are planning to hike a portion for a day, you could use two cars and park one at Juniper Springs to avoid backtracking.

Links: Florida Trail – Google Maps, SR 19 Trailhead to Buck Lake

       
         

Alexander Springs Recreation Area (CR 445)

     

Alexander Springs is one of the more popular natural springs on the Byway. To reach the park entrance: turn east off SR 19 onto CR 445 (or south on CR 445A from SR 40).

Alexander Springs (along with Silver Glen Springs) is one of the more naturally maintained springs. One side is has a sandy beach for easy access to the water, and the opposite side of the spring is natural forest, giving the area a peaceful atmosphere. This spring area does have an occasional gator due to its natural setting, so be alert. There are swimmers here, but they are smart swimmers aware of the surroundings.

This park is a great place to spend the day with the family and/or friends. The park has concessions, picnic tables, outdoor grills, and interpretive information. The spring flows to form Alexander Creek; canoes are available for rent. The half-day run along the river takes you south into the forest; the Park Service provides pick-up and portage back to the park.

Links: Alexander Springs Recreation Area