Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Azalea City Trail, Valdosta, Georgia

Valdosta's promotional literature is fond of reminding us that it's the tenth largest city in Georgia. Surely, such a swelling metropolis must have an extensive network of trails, right?

Well, no. That may come later, but for now Valdosta has the Azalea City Trail.

trail photoThe Azalea City Trail is a paved, urban trail that runs 2.63 miles from the Vallotton Youth Complex (700 Woodlawn Drive) to the Craig Center (1104 W Gordon St). The east end of the trail at the Vallotton Youth Complex looks encouraging. Starting next to a good-sized parking lot, the trailhead is well-marked by signs and a detailed map of the route. The trail itself is a twelve-foot wide concrete strip that curves away to the south. So far, so good.

Bridge PhotoLess than 200 yards later "STOP" signs on the trail mark the crossing of Vallotton Drive. Once across the road, the trail curves through Vallotton Park, reaching the banks of One Mile Branch Creek. Then it's time to cross North Lee Street. This takes you into a wooded area around a stormwater retention pond, home to Canadian geese who have almost certainly never seen Canada. The trail rounds the pond, crossing a small bridge. Then, after just over half a mile, the trail dumps you onto a sidewalk on Marion Street. It's a nice sidewalk, but it's just a sidewalk.

For Drexel Park photohalf a mile the trail follows sidewalks, south on Marion Street, west on East Ann Street, and north alongside Bazemore-Hyder Stadium on William Street. Past the stadium, you cross East Brookwood Drive into Drexel Park and return to something that is indisputably a trail. This takes you through the park and across North Patterson Street onto the campus of Valdosta State University. Once on campus, the trail winds pleasantly along One Mile Branch for almost a quarter mile before returning to sidewalk briefly to cross North Oak Street. The trail isn't particularly well marked at Oak Street, and it isn't clear whether you're supposed to use the pedestrian bridge or go south to the crosswalk (it's the crosswalk).

trail photoAcross North Oak Street, the trail runs between Sunset Hill Cemetery on the south and Valdosta State on the north to Sustella Avenue. After crossing Sustella Avenue you come to the best part of the trail, a 0.4-mile wooded stretch along One Mile Branch. Owls call from the trees. One Mile Branch may be mostly a drainage canal, but its water chatters just as merrily as if it were a mountain stream. There are lights, even though the posted "Rules of the Trail" indicate that this part of the trail is closed after sundown.

Photo of trail at Craig CenterThis sylvan portion of trail ends at Wainwright Drive, where the trail turns south, away from One Mile Branch, up a hill, on a sidewalk. For a quarter mile, along Wainwright, Brookhaven Drive, and Rosewood Drive, narrow sidewalks are passed off as "trail." Finally, at west end of Rosewood, you're back on a twelve-foot wide paved path. This takes you a few hundred yards to the Craig Center and the west end of the Azalea City Trail.

As Creek photopaved trails go, the Azalea City Trail is on the short side, and almost a mile of it is on relatively un-trail-like sidewalks. Considering the amount of development in the area, it's probably remarkable that Valdosta was this successful in coming up with a nearly continuous trail route. Indications are that the west end of the trail will eventually link to a project called the Withlacoochee River Greenway, but neither the link nor the greenway yet exist. As it stands, the Azalea City Trail is useful locally for fitness and "alternative transportation," and some of it could be used as part of a road-race course. It's worth checking out if you're in Valdosta, but don't make a special trip.


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