Monday, March 9, 2009

Lake Elberta Park, Tallahassee, Florida

Park pictureIn 1922 the Elberta Crate & Box Company expanded their operations by building a factory in Tallahassee between the Florida, Georgia, and Alabama railroad tracks and Lake Bradford Road. The factory was Tallahassee's largest industrial employer until it shut its doors in 1977, combining operations with an existing Elberta facility in Bainbridge, Georgia. The site was empty for many years until it was converted into a stormwater retention pond. The maintenance road around the rim of the pond was not a bad place to run, if a bit rugged. Rather than fencing off the site, the city of Tallahassee put up a sign declaring that it was Lake Elberta Park, and began developing it.

Trail photoLake Elberta Park is located behind a row of young live oaks at 1339 Lake Bradford Road, with a parking area opposite the intersection of Daniel Street and Lake Bradford Road. The parking area is small, with room for maybe ten cars. There is a portable toilet on site, but no drinking water. There's a small but attractive picnic pavillion next to the parking area, but the jewel of the park facilities is the Lake Elberta Park trail.

GeeseThe trail makes a complete circuit of the lake shore, and consists of two ten-foot wide "lanes." The inner "lane" is a ten-foot wide asphalt strip a bit less than 3800 feet long, while the outer "lane" is a ten-foot wide dirt strip a bit more than 3800 feet long. At the time of my last visit (7 March 2009), the unpaved strip was graded smooth and excellent for walking or running, but one rainstorm could change that. The entire trail gives you a view of the lake and the bird life it hosts--just casually glancing around, I saw american egrets, mallards, turkey vultures, herring gulls, red-winged blackbirds, american coots, and several other species. Oh, and some aggressive canadian geese. Aggressive and noisy. Aggressive, noisy, and messy--watch where you're stepping. On the east side of the loop some construction activity was visible along an old rail grade, perhaps work on an additional park entrance, a connection with the St Marks Trail, or a connection with the FSU campus and the Stadium Drive Bike Path.

Campbell Stadium PhotoYou won't mistake the trail for a path in the wilderness, however. The lake, after all, is really a holding pond. Commercial property is visible all around you. Freight trains regularly rumble by the southern boundary of the park, and the bulk of FSU's Campbell Stadium and the University Center loom to the north. Still, this is good use of open space in an urban area. There is no reason that Lake Elberta couldn't become as popular as Lake Ella, as the city of Tallahassee seems to be hoping.

The Tallahassee running community is already making some use of Lake Elberta Park. Runners from FSU head south from campus to do a few laps around the park, and Godby High School coach Chris Sumner has hosted some 3 km time trials on the trail around the lake. As long as the path isn't crowded, it's a good length for interval-type workouts, and I'd be surprised if no one has used it for that yet. The Tallahassee Marathon currently runs by the Lake Elberta Park on its way to and from the St Marks Trail, future expansion of the trail may see the course tweaked to run through the park.