JASPER, FLA. -- Trail riders from as far away as Maryland and Colorado will enjoy a three-day trail ride, camping, live entertainment, food and good old-fashioned Southern hospitality from March 15-17.

These events are part of the Withlacoochee Trail Ride and Jam that begins on the Jasper, Fla. farm of T.C. McCulley and his son Richard. "The trail head begins here," said T.C., 71, a lifelong Jasper farmer. "We started it up about three years ago, with the first ride being in October 1999. We have two rides a year in March and October."

Richard, 41, said the trail rides take place over a three-day period twice a year during the spring and fall. There are three rides scheduled, one for each day. The Friday ride takes about two hours. The longest ride is on Saturday, and a majority of it takes place along the banks of the Withlacoochee River. The Sunday ride lasts about three hours.

"We've had people come from Maryland, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia and Hollywood, Fla.," Richard said. "We're estimating about 100 riders and already have 80 riders signed up."

The first ride in 1999 had 31 riders and was a good start. It was also a learning process, Richard said.

"The riders went back and told their friends about it," T.C. said. "We've had a good majority of the original 31 come back. A lot of people have said, 'I ain't heard nothing but good about it.'"

"We've had several riders say that it was the prettiest ride they've ever been on," Richard added.

The reason for starting the ride was to help raise funds to save a log cabin on the McCulley farm that was built by Alex Wells about 1870. In addition to saving the cabin, there is Well's Cemetery, a pioneer cemetery with at least 60 graves, many of them unmarked. Some graves bear crude flint stone markers with no names, and the oldest marked grave has a birth date of 1819. The last burial took place when Joseph W. Driggers died in 1944, T.C. said.

It was during the 1960s the cemetery fell into disrepair. The father and son, with the help of high school students from Hamilton County, started repairing and cleaning this part of Hamilton County's history in July 1999. The funds raised from the first three rides were used to repair the log cabin

The trail riders have more to look forward to than just the scenic rides. Friday night there will be hamburgers and refreshments served to the riders, and it will be open to the public with no gate fee. In addition, there will be live entertainment by the Tri-County Blue Grass Band.

Saturday night there will be more live entertainment with music provided by a country and western band, Next of Kin, and a barbecue chicken cookout. The cookout will be open to the public with a $7 gate fee. Tours of Well's Cabin and the pioneer cemetery will also be conducted.

Richard said the reason for the ride's success is its historical connection, being on a horse away from civilization and riding along the pristine river. The Southern Trail Rider Association has also promoted the event, he said.

"Hopefully, this is here to stay," Richard said. "It's a cross between a family reunion and a trail ride."

The cost of the three-day ride is $85, which includes food, bathrooms and showers. Rental stalls are available on a first come, first serve basis at $10 per night. For information, call (386) 938-3011 or (386) 938-1147.

To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.

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