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Croom Motorcycle Area ATV Park:

Greeted at the front gate by a friendly park ranger, I bought a permit sticker for each of our pair of quads and continued down a hardpacked sand road into the park. I wondered how this road would be during a thorough Sunshine-State drenching.

Croom Motorcycle Area, Florida's only state-run off-road park, is located 40 miles north of Tampa along I-75 at exit 301 at SR50. Nestled in the Withlacoochee State Forest, this 2600-acre riding area features a campground, two day-use parking areas and enough variety of terrain for all skill levels.

The park is open to motorcycles and ATVs. All vehicles are required to have mufflers in accordance with Florida regulations, and all riders must wear helmets. Riders under the age of 16 must have direct adult supervision. Off-road vehicles must be transported into the park.

The first day-use parking area is on the left; this area opens up to a large sand pit and seems to be a favorite spot for motorcycle riders. The second is about four miles down on the right-hand side of the road. It seems more favorable with the ATV crowd and has restrooms and showers. The park is open from sunrise to sunset.

During our exploration of the area, we were rewarded with a unique and interesting site called "The Shrine." The history of how this got started is a bit of a mystery. It is a collection of lost parts, broken plastic and other junk that might be found on a trail. A helmet, an awards plaque and numerous undergarments round out the collage.

No campground reservations are needed so it's first-come, first-served. The fees are on the honor system, and a ranger will come around to check your "honor." Each of the 51 sites has water and electric hookups. The restrooms and showers, however, are slightly primitive. A private campground is available at the same exit, but we did not wander over there.

Our visit was late in February; plans were to get in some ATV riding before heading to Daytona Beach for Bike Week. We met people from Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. Most were getting ready for the upcoming GNCC racing season.

We headed out for a day of exploring the following morning. Within sight of the campground an innocent-looking water hole swallowed my Kawasaki Lakota up to the handlebar. Looking to make sure I wasn't sharing the water hole with an alligator, I turned around to ask my wife for a tow strap; she had fallen off her machine ... laughing.

Starting out again, we made our way to one of the many pits left over from mining operations. These pits can be fun, but caution should be used. Some of the adjacent trails drop off cliffs or become single-track that are next to impassable on a quad. Of course, if there were water in the bottom, I would avoid that, too.

Some riding areas we've visited have marked trails that you must follow; here at Croom there are no marked trails. The terrain is mostly flat, and every few yards there could be a new trail leading in another direction. The most used trails get whooped out in the soft Florida sand. We were able to find our way around by staying in the general direction we wanted to travel.

The golden Florida sunshine shone through the cypress trees while we ate lunch on our last day. The tranquil setting made me glad we ventured here. In our short stay, we found Croom to be another reason we love to ride our ATVs. With a campground to park our RV and enough trails to keep things interesting, this is a great riding area.

Info: Croom Motorcycle Area Recreation/Visitors Center: 15003 Broad St., Brooksville, FL 34601; 352/797-5759 (Croom office). Fees are $35 per year (July through June) per ATV or motorcycle and are prorated throughout the year. VIN number required; Florida residents must have title. Visit www.atvflorida.com for pictures and information on Florida riding areas.

      David Wilmot

      Keeping it NTHEWIND Photography

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