and Gopher Loop Trails West River
Geographic Location: east of
Length: 4.3 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: December 2013
Overview: A lollipop loop featuring a river swamp and a sand hill.
Park Information: http://gastateparks.org/GeneralCoffee
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=240351
Directions to the trailhead: From downtown
Douglas, take SR 32 east
5.9 miles to the state park entrance on the left. Turn left to enter the park. Drive 0.4 miles past the park entrance station
and turn right on the access road for picnic shelters #1-4. Park in the first parking area on the left.
The hike: Located in south-central
four counties north of the Florida
line, consists of 1511 acres
of river swamp and sand hills. The park
and surrounding General Coffee
are named for John E. Coffee, a general in the Georgia State Militia in the
early 1800’s (not to be confused with his more famous cousin General John
Coffee, a Coffee County Tennessee state militia
general during the War of 1812). The Georgia
general’s most famous accomplishment was the construction of Old
Coffee Road, which ran from to Jacksonville,
Designed to carry munitions to Tallahassee,
during the Creek War, General Coffee’s road no longer exists today, but you
drove across its route if you drove to this park from I-75.
|South trailhead: West River Swamp Trail|
|Boardwalk view of river swamp|
|Intersection with Gopher Loop|
The trail heads northwest with the sand hill rising to your left and the river swamp out of sight to your right. Green metal posts mark the Gopher Loop, but some green paint blazes appear as well. At 1.6 miles, you cross a dirt park maintenance road just before the trail curves left to climb the sand hill. This sand hill is no Brasstown Bald, but the trail gains 50 feet of elevation in the next 0.4 miles, a large elevation change for this part of the state.
The Gopher Loop is named for the gopher tortoise, a common reptile that lives in sand hill burrows. The top of the sand hill is much drier than the area beside the river swamp, and therefore the forest has shorter trees with less dense understory. This area is also a longleaf pine restoration area. Longleaf pines used to cover large areas of the southeast, but most of them were commercially harvested for their long, straight trunks. This area is still in the early stages of restoration, as most of the longleaf pine trees here are only 10-15 feet tall. Longleaf pines are highly resistant to fire, so controlled burns are conducted up here on a periodic basis to destroy the invasive species and allow the longleaf pines to thrive. You may see black marks on the ground from a recent burn.
|Hiking atop the sand hill|
Before leaving the park, there is one more place that is worth a visit. Whereas this hike left the north side of the picnic area, directly south of the picnic area lies the park’s award-winning heritage farm. The heritage farm exhibits agriculture history via cabins, a corn crib, a tobacco barn, and other structures. The farm also has the requisite farm animals, and the farm’s ponds are known to attract wildlife. The farm makes an interesting end to an excellent half-day of hiking.