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Jeep's Florida Adventure in the Ocala National Forest

Front View Car In Water
Ken Brubaker
| Senior Editor, Four Wheeler
Posted June 1, 2002

Exploring the backroads of Ocala National Forest with the Ocala Jeep Club.

Step By Step

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  • Greg McCracken’s ’99 TJ is stuffed with upgrades that make it capable and durable in the Florida goo. The list includes a rear Dana 60, a Gearless Locker in front and a Detroit Locker in the rear, a 6-inch Rubicon Express long arm suspension kit, and 37-inch Boggers.

  • Edward Webb hit the trail in his ’97 TJ, which sports a conservative, yet adequate, 2-inch suspension lift and 31-inch tires. Engine mods include a Pacesetter header and K&N air filter, and an electric fan helps keep the whole works cool while decreasing the amount of water thrown around the engine compartment during deep-water crossings.

  • A significant amount of rain had inundated Central Florida prior to our ride, and this left a substantial amount of standing water on some of the trails. Our trail leader, Ernie Prevedel, was often the one to check the depth of the water with his YJ. During this test, his right-rear tire dropped into an unseen hole, which created some tense moments as the Jeep listed to the passenger side. Quick recovery efforts on the part of the Club kept Ernie and his wide-eyed passenger from getting wet.

  • This is but a fraction of the membership of the Ocala Jeep Club of Florida. The membership includes a wide range of occupations, including a physician, a four-wheel-drive shop owner, even a Jeep dealership owner. Members of the club are United States Forest Service volunteers and members of the Blue Ribbon Coalition and the Florida Four-Wheel Drive Association.

  • Jon Lin’s TJ sports a 2 1/2-inch Pro Comp suspension lift, steering skidplate, 33-inch BFG Mud-Terrains and a homemade hand throttle.

  • Ray and Kaylene Woo’s ’83 Cherokee Chief spent some time high-centered on a tree root shortly after we began our run into the Ocala National Forest. The root was jammed into a frame crossmember, and the way it was wedged negated a rearward recovery, so Ernie Prevedel (who isn’t afraid of the critters that live in the dark swamp water) volunteered to wade into the water and spool out the winch cable.

  • Common throughout Ocala National Forest are potholes, or sinks, which are holes formed when an underground layer of limestone crumbles and falls to a lower level. The resulting hole often collects water, creating an obstacle. This one challenged Troy McCall and his ’95 YJ, which features a 360ci fuel-injected engine, NP435 tranny, NP208 transfer case, and Dana 44s front and rear with EZ Lockers.

  • This type of rutted, slippery obstacle is common in Ocala National Forest, and it’s the main reason why vehicles need decent ground clearance and some sort of locker. This YJ got hung up on its axles and required a tug from a fellow club member.

  • One of the many good things about ’wheeling with the locals is that they know where the roads are, even when they’re under water, like this one being traversed by Walter Krum in his CJ-5.

Jeeps rule. Just ask any member of the Ocala Jeep Club of Florida, and they’ll tell you that. They’ll also elaborate on it if you wish, because after all, they are a Jeep club, and the vehicle they’re loyal to is no secret.

The seven-year-old club was formed in December of 1995 when Steve and Tammy Felder gathered a handful of Jeeps for the purpose of viewing the Christmas lights around Ocala, Florida. From this modest beginning, the Ocala Jeep Club of Florida was formed. The club now includes more than 100 members, and prides itself on being extremely active with trailrides, camping trips, show-and-shines, and even simple trips to the beach. They’re United States Forest Service Volunteer Rangers, founding members of the Florida Four-Wheel Drive Association, and United Four-Wheel Drive Association and Blue Ribbon Coalition members. They make it very clear that theirs is a family-oriented club. We witnessed that when we visited one of their club meetings and saw all the kids in attendance and how things were geared to include all of the members of the family. Make no mistake though, they take their Jeeping very seriously, and the collection of member vehicles includes a vast variety of models, vintages, and build levels.

It was a warm, humid morning when we met up with the group on club member Ernie Prevedel’s heavily wooded land outside of Ocala. Even for December it was unusually warm, according to locals, and judging by the aggressive activity of the mosquitoes, they felt the same way. As club members began to arrive for our day-long run, we were treated to Jeeps On Parade, and it was something to see as Jeeps of all varieties filled the parking area. After club President Ray Woo made his arrival in his meticulously restored ’83 Cherokee Chief, our group took a bearing on the Ocala National Forest for a day of trailriding.

Ocala National Forest is a stunning expanse of land that covers 383,220 acres and features a stunning array of highlands, coastal lowlands, swamps, springs, lakes, and ponds. Vegetation ranges from lush subtropical to prairie. There are towering palms, large live oaks, a dizzying number of palmettos, and many varieties of pine, including longleaf, slash, and sand. All this combines to create trailriding that is absolutely gorgeous, with corresponding aromas for a truly great experience (preferably enjoyed with the top down). Our trail leader was the aforementioned Ernie Prevedel, who is a life-long resident of the area. He knows every nook and cranny of Central Florida, including Ocala National Forest, so he was the obvious best choice to lead our group through the intertwining (and often confusing) old logging roads of the Forest. For the next seven hours we encountered a phenomenal amount of water, sand, and mud. Heavy rain had created a significant amount of standing water in some areas, so much so that even our group of heavily modified Jeeps didn’t dare test the depths.

Speaking of high water, we asked the Floridians how they handle high water crossings with their Jeeps, and interestingly, they said they avoid them as much as possible, but if one must traverse deep water, they say a snorkel and a waterproofed engine are essentials. Ground clearance and aggressive tires are key, and both items work together to allow vehicles to continue forward motion. After a number of muddy obstacles, a couple of members’ Jeeps began to run hot as their radiators clogged with mud. This is to be expected, and the remedy was a simple rinse with clean water to return them to normal operating temperature.

Riding with the Ocala Jeep Club of Florida was a blast, the scenery awesome, and the people friendly. If you own a Jeep and want more info on this growing, active club and its many trailrides, visit the club’s Web site at