Gopher Frog and Alligator Trail

Herb Wills, July 30, 2008

For years I've been hearing about the GFA Rail Trail, to be built on the bed of the old Georgia, Florida, and Alabama (aka Gopher, Frog, and Alligator) Railroad between Tallahassee and Carrabelle. Never mind that some of the railbed is in people's yards or beneath city streets or under a runway of the Tallahassee Municipal Airport. Don't worry about the hostility of hunting interests to a trail in the Apalachicola National Forest. Forget about the problem of bridging the Ochlockonee River. One Day the trail would be built, all 53 miles of it. Run a marathon on the St. Marks Trail? You would be able to run two marathons back-to-back, on the GFA Trail and never re-trace a single step. And it would indeed happen One Day. After all, the Florida Department of Transportation had added a ten-foot bike lane to the bridge over Fisher Creek on Springhill Road. A mile to the north,the United States Forestry Service had added the legend "GFA Trailhead" to the sign for the Trout Pond Recreation Area (and only those of little faith would point out that the USFS had also added "CLOSED" to the same sign).

This past week I heard that construction on the trail had actually been spotted along Springhill Road. I wanted to see it. I have faith and hope in this project, but I still wanted to see it. So Saturday (2008 July 26) I went to take a look.

You have to drive a long way south of town on Springhill Road before you spot the first construction a bit south of the Trout Pond Recreation Area. The farthest south the current stage of the project goes is Helen Guard Station Road, just north of the Wakulla County line. North of Helen, the railbed has been graded and a layer of crushed lime laid down. Or maybe sand mixed with gravel. Anyway,something to serve as a foundation for the first layer of pavement.

At Fisher Creek, the trail veers east of the old railbed to cross the creek on the bicycle lane that has been added to the Springhill Road bridge. After the bridge the trail jogs back to the west to rejoin the railbed. The railbed is a bit higher than Springhill Road here,so you get something you seldom see on a rail-trail: a hill.

A bit north of Fisher Creek, the trail suddenly makes a hard turn to the east, leaves the old railbed, and crosses Springhill Road. After crossing Springhill Road, the trail turns gently to the north, apparently towards Trout Pond Recreation Area, which is on the opposite side of Springhill Road from the old railbed. On this side of Springhill Road, a layer of blacktop has already been added to the trail.

That's how things stood the day of my visit. This part of the project should be done soon, but you won't be able to run a marathon on it--it's only around two miles long. You could run an out-and-back 5K on the trail, but I wouldn't advise it because of the Springhill Road crossing. It could be very important as a segment of the longer trail, but I don't know when that's going to happen.

Bill Crooks once told me that there was a running track inside of the Federal Correctional Institute off of Capital Circle. That was interesting information, but not immediately useful. In fact, I'm inclined to hope that it never becomes useful. I have to put this news about the GFA Trail in a similar category of interesting but not immediately useful. The difference is that I remain hopeful that this GFA information will be useful one day.