Lafayette Heritage Trail City Park
By John Harvey
Directions: From the junction of Park Avenue and Capital Circle East (US 319), head east on Conner Boulevard. Turn left on Heritage Park Drive. The park is at the dead-end.
At first glance, the new Lafayette Heritage Trail City Park in Tallahassee looks like a quaint neighborhood park with a lake view and a small kiddy playground. In reality, it is a premier North Florida trailhead at the center point of a new mixed use trail system that branches out over 10 miles in both directions covering nearly 2,000 acres of contiguous parklands and conservation easements. The new park has an ADA accessible pier, a canoe/kayak launch, plus miles of shoreline and dikes available for fishing and birding. The parking lot has a nice view of Lake Piney Z under a live oak canopy. There are restrooms and drinking water. The far shore is lined with cypress trees and trains frequently travel 140 year old tracks in good view behind them. The new park consists of the buffer zone between the new Piney Z single family development and Lake Lafayette. It's not completely finished but the gates are now open.
The new park provides very convenient lake access for fisherman and birders. The trailhead is at the mid-point of the Cadillac and Lafayette Heritage Multi-Use Trails. The trails merge on the old shoreline road on either side of the parking lot area. This trail section is being re routed around the front of the park in order to avoid the heavy pedestrian area and children's playground next to the lake. The park is also linked to the Goose Pond Trail with a paved pathway paralleling the Piney Z road system.
Many locals are familiar with the 7 mile long Cadillac Bike Trail which resides within the now opened Lafayette Heritage Trail Park. What many people don't realize is that land managers were making plans to build both a multi-use trail and a single-track trail for this corridor long before the Cadillac was secretly installed. As part of those plans, a new pedestrian bridge was built over Conner Creek this January to connect Tom Brown Park (near the dog training area) to Lafayette Heritage Trail Park. The bridge marks the western trailhead of both the Cadillac Trail and the new section of the Lafayette Heritage multi-use trail. The most southerly section of the multi-use trail traverses an outstanding designated old growth forest in the Conner Creek basin and contains bluff top vistas of the main sinkhole on the north shore of Upper Lake Lafayette. At 6' wide with gentle grades, the new trail is perfect for casual strollers, joggers and novice bikers. It also makes for a round trip return for Cadillac riders.
In an effort to make the Cadillac more sustainable and also more fun and scenic, some routes have been designed. A consultant from the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) was here in January working with staff and volunteers to start implementing the revised routes. A number of full-bench sections and a few structures were built as a result. The new segments reflect current best trail practices and are good examples of how trails can be built on steep slopes with minimal long-term impact and nominal maintenance needs.
Other Lake Lafayette Basin Trailheads:
- Tom Brown City Park. This remains the major starting point and race venue for area mountain bikers with the Magnolia Course and south trailhead to the Cadillac Trail.
- Alford Arm County Park in the northeast off Bucklake Road. Until the planned pedestrian bridge is built over the RR tracks, the connection from Alford Arm to the south shore is not officially open. Equestrians are accommodated at this trailhead. The official trail system in Alford Arm Park is still in planning and development though some single-track has already been installed. There is a network of old farm roads that can get you to the far east or north parts of the park. These old farm fields are on a large peninsula whose far reaches account for the most remote, and most easterly point of a trail system that starts fifteen miles and four parks away, within a couple miles of the state capital building. This park will eventually have a good link to the Miccosukee Greenway in the northeast.
It has been proposed to establish a single track trail in the lake basin that would link Governors Park (Fern Trail), Tom Brown Park (new single-track paralleling the Goose Pond paved trail), Lafayette Heritage Trail Park (Cadillac Trail) and Alford Arm Park (planned single track paralleling the RR). The trail could have a consistent feel, flow and signage so that it seemed as one continuous, moderately difficult, single-track trail. Locals have no problem making these links now but it would be good for locals and visitors alike to officially establish and manage the trail system as one entity. The trail would be unique for its urban setting, length and quality. For most of the corridor, a paralleling multi-use trail is, or could be, established as well. That makes for some significantly long round trips, no matter if you access the trail near downtown or in eastern Leon County or anywhere in between.
Congratulations to the Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Department for developing such an excellent new community park and trailhead and for their efforts to build high quality sustainable trails. Also thanks to other land managers and agencies including Leon County Parks Department, Tallahassee-Leon County Greenway Planners, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Trust for Public Land and Florida Department of Environmental Protection.