Interesting outdoor walking trails are nearby

By Joy Carey

If you enjoy walking for exercise and are bored with your neighborhood walks, try one of the numerous trails in Bainbridge and the surrounding area.

One of the most popular is the City of Bainbridge Nature Trail, which starts at the Earle May Boat Basin. It is a 3.4-mile paved trail. There is also a shorter loop that is 2.6 miles. It can be used by walkers, runners or non-motorized vehicles such as bicycles. The trail was made possible in part by the Kirbo Charitable Trust.

The trail goes through a mostly wooded area. On numerous occasions, I have had the pleasure of watching deer scamper through the woods. The city has received partial government funding to extend the trail down Hatcher Road to Cheney Griffin Park. This is expected to begin in July 2012.

Another local trail is located within Seminole State Park. The Gopher Tortoise trail is 2.2 miles long. If you are camping or picnicking in the park, it is a great way to get some exercise and enjoy nature. The trail is wide, mostly flat and easy to walk.

A portion of the trail is along a wetland boardwalk. The habitat is predominantly a sandhill habitat, with an open canopy of longleaf pine, turkey oak, sand post oak and groundcover dominated by wiregrass. Gopher tortoises and their burrows are numerous along this trail. Visitors may also see alligators, osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife.

Seminole State Park encompasses 604 acres and is located on Lake Seminole, a 37,500-acre reservoir. It provides boating, fishing, hunting and birding opportunities. Within the park are 14 cottages, 50 campsites, a group shelter that seats 75, five picnic shelters, mini-golf, three fishing docks, canoe rentals and a sand beach.

The recently acquired Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area contains 3,900 acres of mature longleaf habitat, hardwood hammocks and loblolly pines. Some of the longleaf stands date back to the early 1900s. There are numerous red-cockaded woodpecker families here as well as quail, turkey and whitetail deer. Other wildlife you may encounter are the Florida pine snake, gopher tortoises and eastern indigo snakes.

There are numerous roads and trails on this tract; however, the trails are not marked. You will need to pick up a map and also a calendar of the hunting seasons if you plan to hike. A map of the WMA can be found at: www.gofishgeorgia.com.

There are also numerous wetland ponds on the property, as well as the 350-acre Silver Lake. Here you may see osprey, bald eagles, wading birds and waterfowl. I had the pleasure of hiking some of these trails with the Florida Native Plant Society.

Another great hiking area, just south of Bainbridge, in Chatahoochee, Fla., is the Angus Gholson Nature Park, named for Chatahoochee’s world renowned botanist. Gholson has spent his life exploring the rugged ravines of the Apalachicola River in search of unusual plants. He has received national and statewide recognition by the Nature Conservancy, the Florida Native Plant Society and Tall Timbers Research Station.

Angus Gholson Nature Park is a short hike and leads you through various terrains. The trail begins at Chattahoochee Spring, where residents used to swim in a pool that was created from the overflow from the spring. This pool is no longer in use.

The park has some deep ravines leading down to the Apalachicola River. Starting in February, you will find trout lilies and trillium. While walking the trail in April, I saw many red Indian Pink flowers lining the trail. Other flowers you may see are the fringed campion in early spring, bloodroot in February and March, Florida violet in March, Florida flame azalea in March and April and rain lily in December and January.

The park has a number of young Torreya trees. Torreya trees were subject to a blight, so there are not very many mature trees in Florida. Other trees that form a beautiful canopy on the trail are yellow poplar, sycamore, hickory and Southern magnolia. Farther along, the trail flattens out with spruce pines overhead.

There are three marked trails: the Muscogee Trail is 1.2 miles, the Angus Gholson Trail is 0.5 miles and the Fitness Trail is 0.9 miles. The trails are considered moderately difficult. There are a number of wooden bridges and benches along the trail where you can stop and enjoy all the nature around you.

From U.S. Highway 90 in downtown Chattahoochee, take Morgan Avenue south. It goes down a steep hill and makes a long curve. Park Street is to your right along the curve, with a sign for the nature park. At the parking area are restrooms and picnic tables that are under a covered pavilion. There are no fees to use the park.

If you enjoy peaceful nature walks, be sure to visit Birdsong Nature Center, between Thomasville and Tallahassee, Fla., on Meridian Road. At Birdsong, there are 565 acres of wildflower meadow, pine and hardwood forest, as well as ponds and swamps.

There are 12 miles of trails on the property for birding and walking. A series of 40 bluebird boxes attract more than 100 bluebirds every year. Volunteers monitor their activity from March through August. There are also purple martin houses, where you can view the courting and nesting activities from January through July.

Along one of the trails is a screened pavilion called the Listening Place, where you can sit and overlook the Big Bay Swamp and its inhabitants such as alligators, turtles, snakes, frogs, anhingas and wood ducks. I had the pleasure of attending a yoga class at the Listening Place one cool morning last summer. What a place to relax!

After enjoying the birds and nature on the trails, stop by the Butterfly Garden to relax and enjoy the butterflies that arrive from April to November.

Ed and Betty Komarek purchased the plantation in 1938. The Komareks introduced the practice of prescribed burns and wildlife management to the land. The Birdsong Nature Center continues these practices, as well as wetland management. In 1986, Birdsong was incorporated as a nonprofit organization, to offer public educational opportunities in natural history and sciences.

Within the former Komarek home is a gift shop and a “bird window,” where you can sit in front of a large plate-glass window and experience some of the 130 species of birds that are attracted to the gardens and pools.

Birdsong provides many programs for the public, including school field trips, guided walks and teacher workshops. It is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The fee is $5 for adults, $2.50 for children 4 to 12, and is free to members. There are various membership levels from $25 up to $1,000. There are also numerous volunteer opportunities. The website is www.birdsongnaturecenter.org and the phone number is 1-800-953-2473.

Photos by Joy Carey

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