St. Marks Rail-Trail ( 1990)

Just south of Tallahassee, this path was recently extended into downtown and the Florida State University campus. It features a trail head with parking for cars, and a concession for renting bicycles and rollerblades. The Trail is Florida's first designated state trail, and follows the historic Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad. I have bicycled this popular 8-foot wide paved rail-trail several times.

Sixteen miles in length, the trail ends in the small town of St. Marks at the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla rivers. At this spot, one can eat lunch or dinner at the famous "Posey's Oyster Bar", which has been serving up raw oysters to locals for years. Also nearby is the San Marcos de Apalache State Historic Site and the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. The railroad was the first under construction in Florida. Completed in 1837, the 20-mile line connected the Capital with the Gulf port of St. Marks. The railroad transported the prosperous cotton crop for shipment to East Coast markets. It was Florida's longest operating line, serving for 147 years. In 1984, the Florida Department of Transportation purchased 16 miles of the corridor to preserve the right-of-way. The recreational trail was constructed and is maintained by the Florida Park Service. Today, people of all ages, abilities, and incomes enjoy using the trail. The southern two miles of the trail has been designated a segment of the Florida National Scenic Trail. This national trail continues across the St. Marks River to historic Port Leon and beyond.

Just south of the trailhead is the Munson single-track dirt trail, which is a fairly technical (for Florida) mountain bike ride. I have ridden this lengthy dirt trail twice, and have gotten lost both times.

More about the St. Marks Rail-Trail

The 16-mile long St. Marks Rail-Trail is the first designated state trail in Florida. It follows the abandoned railbed of the historic Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad. The trail originates in Tallahassee and runs due south to the town of St. Marks, terminating at the famous "Posey's Oyster Bar," a popular place to stop and enjoy the authentic charm of a Gulf Coast bar that serves fresh, raw oysters on a half-shell, smoked mullet, beer, and broiled shrimp. The bar ("Home of the Topless Oyster") was formerly frequented by leather-clad motorcyclists but now most commonly hosts bicyclists clad in spandex.

The historic railroad was the first rail line built in Florida and was completed in 1837. Conceptualized and financed by prominent planters and merchants of the day, the railroad was used to move the lucrative cotton crop from the area to East Coast markets.

At first, mules were used to pull freight and passenger cars, which prompted one user to call it "the worst that has yet been built in the entire world." The railroad was improved in the 1850s, and served for 147 years-making it the longest serving rail in Florida.

In 1984, 16 of the original 20 miles was purchased by the Florida Department of Transportation to preserve the rail right-of-way for public use. Soon, the Florida Park Service constructed an 8-foot wide asphalt trail on the railbed.

Activities allowed on the trail include bicycling, jogging, strolling, in-line skating, and horseback riding.

Because the trail runs across a coastal plain, it is flat as a pancake. Mostly, it passes through pine flatwood forest. Near the town of Woodville, large oak trees canopy over the trail.

The history of the trail is a common one for trail advocates. At first, a number of residents of Woodville opposed the idea as they feared trespassing, vandalism and other crimes in their neighborhoods. Today the community is quite proud of the trail as it has proved to be quite an obvious and success amenity. Residents along the trail commonly use it, and many of the properties along the trail have been beautified.

Near Woodville, six miles east of the trail, one can find the Natural Bridge Battlefield State Historic Site. At this location, the St. Marks river "disappears" underground and reappears a few hundred feet away.

Near Wakulla, five miles west of the trail, the Wakulla Springs State Park can be visited. At the spring is swimming in the crystal-clear water, riding a narrated jungle cruise boat (which provides lots of glimpses of the native bird and mammal life along the river).

At the end of the trail, adventurous trail users can bicycle 15 miles south from Wakulla to the Sts. Marks Lighthouse (first built in 1829) in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge contains is a spectacular paradise for bird-watchers-particularly during migratory season. At times, large flocks of white pelicans and monarch butterflies take refuge here. Also found here is a large population of alligators, possum, deer, armadillo and wild boar. There are seemingly countless dikes and dirt roads leading off the paved refuge access road for those who would like to explore more fully.


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