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.



  1. An interesting piece Herb.
    But, I wonder about the water quality.
    Did you see any fish?
    Are there shoreline plants?

  2. Don't drink the water.

    No, really. This is storm-water run-off, downstream from the parking lots of Florida State University. I don't know about bacteria, but there has to be petroleum and heavy metals.

    I didn't see fish or turtles, but those are found upstream in FSU's drainage creeks, so they must have found their way into Lake Elberta.

    A lot of trees have been planted on the banks since lake was excavated. You can read more about that here:

  3. The local bicyclists are using the track on Friday nights for cyclo-cross racing (Cyclo-cross bikes are kind of a hybrid between mountain bikes and road bikes.) Nice to have a park in Tally being used for such activities!

  4. It seems a little bit odd to be using a track for cyclo-cross, but I first heard of cyclo-cross less than six months ago, so I'm hardly an expert.

    The park still needs an east-side entrance, but it's getting a fair amount of use anyway. I've made several visits now, and altho' the park has never been crowded, I've never been alone out there, either.

  5. This park is on a lot that was once a large industrial operation; the Elberta Crate and Box factory. I suspect that there are some chemical leftovers from those days in the soil and water.

    This park is just a block away from the start of the St. Marks rail trail extension.