Bradford County, FL
Bradford County is bisected by U.S. Highway 301, which connects Gainesville, the largest city in Natural North Florida, to Jacksonville. Constructed in the late 1940s, U.S. Highway 301 was and is still the quickest and most direct route between these two cities. As such, it is the life blood of Bradford County. However, the county has more to offer visitors than the quickest route between Jacksonville and Gainesville.
Starke, the county seat, has a population of approximately 5,500 and is located in the center of the County. Just a few blocks east of U.S. Highway 301 in central Starke is the Call Street Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Get out of the car, take a short stroll along Call Street and discover several nice restaurants and antique stores.
Several thousand acres of Bradford County is classified as “Prime Farmland” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This soil is ideally suited for growing Strawberries. The county celebrates the harvest with its popular Strawberry Festival, which is typically held during the first weekend in April. The Starke Bike Festival with its motorcycle-related games, swap meet, live music, food, and contests occurs a few months later in August.
Bradford County has several lakes of note. Santa Fe Lake is the largest and borders Alachua County to the south. Three lakes, Sampson, Rowell and Crosby, are located a few miles west of Starke. Two of the lakes, Sampson and Rowell, are connected by a canal which is passable by small boat. The three lakes are excellent for fishing (bring your own boat).
Bradford County has evolved over the years into a bedroom community of both Gainesville and Jacksonville. County residents can take advantage of the job market in both communities without moving to either. Tourists can also exploit this locational advantage by staying in the county while visiting both areas. Consider the Hampton Lake Bed and Breakfast. RV enthusiasts may wish to consider the Starke KOA. The county has other lodging choices as well.
Two bicycle routes exist in the County. The 61-mile Starke-Lake Butler Loop passes through Starke as well as the small Bradford County communities of Hampton and Brooker on its way to Lake Butler and back again. Starting in Hampton, the 32-mile Santa Fe Lake Loop takes riders through the southern part of the County past the Santa Fe Swamp Conservation Area, the town of Melrose as well as Santa Fe Lake.
Finally, if you prefer breaking the speed limit in an entirely legal way, be sure to check out the FIRM, the Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park. Located near Keystone Heights on over 400 acres, the FIRM is a European-style rally and road racing driver training facility.