Munson Hills South – “Twilight Zone” Trail

Clark Evans, March 9, 2008

The “Twilight Zone” trail, or “Munson Hills South” as it may eventually come to be known, is a new 9.7 mile singletrack trail through the Apalachicola National Forest south of Tallahassee. While primarily designed for bicycle use, like the main Munson Hills trail, the Twilight Zone trail also accommodates runners, walkers, and hikers. To get there, take Woodville Highway south of town until you come across J. Lewis Hall Park Dr. about 3 miles south of Capital Circle. Turn right and follow the road into J. Lewis Hall Park. Alternatively, you can also start at the main St. Marks Trail trailhead on Woodville Highway just south of Capital Circle and follow the paved trail 2.5 miles south to J. Lewis Hall Park. The trailhead is located behind the northwestern most baseball fields on the north end of the park, near the restroom facilities.  This map gives on overview.

Terrain along the trail is much like that along the main Munson Hills trail: sandy with the occasional tree root or such to cause you to watch your footing. One notable difference, however, is that this trail is a bit bumpier primarily due to a number of very small sand moguls. Otherwise, you’ll be passing through the slash and longleaf pine forests found throughout the Munson Hills area. It is quite the pleasant experience, particularly when the wind is blowing or on a cool spring or fall day in the region. Ample amounts of shade except through a couple of clear-cut areas help keep things a tad cooler than elsewhere, particularly into the summer months. I could go on about describing running in the forest, but Gordon Cherr already did so in a much better fashion than I could ever hope. Check out his description of the Munson Hills trail to see what I mean as well as to get a feel for running on this trail.

Setting out clockwise along the trail from the trailhead, you’ll come across a couple of clear-cut areas in the first couple of miles. These should eventually be replaced with natural longleaf pine plantings, much as has taken place in other areas of the forest. The trail is well-worn and easy to follow through these regions in the interim, however. About halfway through, or five miles in, a white-blazed trail will cut off to your left, connecting you to the southwest side of the main Munson Hills trail if you so desire. A short time thereafter, another white-blazed trail on your right provides a short-cut back to the southern end of the trail. An additional off-road connector to the main Munson Hills development is under development for the last half-mile of the trail. The aforementioned small sand moguls are most common to the first and last couple miles of the trail; the middle portions are a tad hillier overall but with fewer moguls.

A couple of quick notes: first, there is still some work ongoing along the trail as of March 2008 with a projected opening date of April 2008. While most of the major work is done in terms of final trail routing and layout, trail workers are still hard at work painting blazes and ensuring that the path is easy to follow for years to come. In the interim, you’ll be following pink flags and flagging tape along the trail in a few areas where blue blazes are still in the process of being painted. Secondly, on the southwestern edge of the trail, you may hear the occasional gun shot as the trail passes near the shooting range along Oak Ridge Road. A large earthen mound is present to keep ammunition confined within the range, so there’s little need to worry about any danger from the shots.

As with the main Munson Hills trail, there are no facilities located in the forest, so be sure to bring along anything you may need with you as you set out on the trail. Full facilities are available at the trailhead in J. Lewis Hall Park, however. Due to its isolated nature, it can’t hurt to have a partner along for the run or ride, particularly someone familiar with the trails while they are still in their formative stages. All in all, though, the Twilight Zone trail is shaping up to be a fine addition to the hundreds of miles of trails located in or near Tallahassee and perfect for a long run and escape from the heat. Look for the “official” opening sometime in April.