Tuesday, February 9, 2016

George T. Bagby State Park: Chattahoochee and Lake Trails (Blog Hike #563)

Trails: Chattahoochee and Lake Trails
Hike Location: George T. Bagby State Park
Geographic Location: north of Fort Gaines, GA
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2016
Overview: A short loop hike featuring wetland areas.

Directions to the trailhead: The entrance to George T. Bagby State Park is located on the west side of SR 39 4.2 miles north of Fort Gaines or 17.8 miles south of Georgetown.  Enter the park and drive to the large blacktop parking lot in front of the state park lodge where the park road ends.  Park here.

The hike: Built in 1963, the Walter F. George Dam on the Chattahoochee River creates its namesake lake that straddles the Georgia/Alabama state line.  Walter F. George was a U.S. Senator from Georgia who served from 1922 to 1957, so the State of Alabama prefers to call this impoundment Lake Eufaula after the Alabama city on its western shore.  Whichever name you use, the reservoir is a major destination for boaters and anglers.
            The reservoir’s shores host many recreational facilities, but among the best of them is Georgia’s George T. Bagby State Park.  Presently located 4 miles north of the dam, the park has actually had two incarnations.  The original George T. Bagby State Park was built in 1972 along the Pataula Creek inlet 10 miles north of the current site.  In 1989, the park expanded and moved to its current 444-acre location.  The facility today features a 60-room lodge, 5 cottages, 2 picnic shelters, and a marina and beach on the lake.
            For hikers, the park offers two short nature trails: the white-blazed Lake Trail located west of the main park road and the blue-blazed Chattahoochee Trail located east of the main park road.  Combining parts of the two trails forms the 1.7 mile loop described here, which goes out on the Chattahoochee Trail and comes back on the Lake Trail.  Slightly outdated interpretive guides for both trails can be downloaded from the park’s website.
Start of hike on bike path
            The start of the Chattahoochee Trail is harder to find than it used to be.  The dirt Chattahoochee Trail used to start across the parking lot from the lodge, but the Army Corps of Engineers paved over part of the Chattahoochee Trail in 2015 by building a bike path that connects the lodge to the dam.  Thus, this hike now starts on an asphalt bike path that heads east into loblolly pines, a common resident of previously logged and farmed land.  Ignore trails exiting left that are marked as the Chattahoochee Trail; they lead to the return portion of this loop.  Soon you pass a water tower visible through the trees on the left.
Trail pavilion
            After 0.5 miles of walking on asphalt, you reach a wooden trail pavilion located beside the bike path.  Here is where you leave the pavement.  Walk through the pavilion and pick up a blue-blazed path that leaves from the rear of the shelter.  This path is the Chattahoochee Trail, and it used to look like it does here for its entire distance before the bike path was built.
            The trail descends slightly to enter a wetter area that features some water oak trees.  The wettest area is crossed on a short boardwalk, but a couple of other areas were somewhat submerged when I hiked here the day after a good rain.  The park entrance road comes within earshot on the right, but otherwise this is a nice quiet area.
            After climbing slightly to reach a low sandy ridge, ignore two spur trails that exit right toward the park road and other sections of the park.  1 mile into the hike, a small wetland area comes into view on the left.  The trail comes very close to the park road here as it crosses the outflow of the wetland on a small wooden footbridge.  Stay left as the Chattahoochee Trail angles around the wetland.
Hiking the Chattahoochee Trail
            At 1.2 miles, the wooden trail pavilion you walked through earlier comes into view on the left.  Instead of heading toward the pavilion, angle right to stay on the western half of the Chattahoochee Trail.  In another 300 feet, the trail splits at an unmarked intersection.  Turning left would take you back to the asphalt bike path, but this hike turns right to leave the Chattahoochee Trail and head for the Lake Trail.
            Very quickly you cross the paved park road, and at 1.4 miles you reach the Lake Trail, which is marked with white paint blazes.  The section of the Lake Trail going right leads to the park’s cottage area, so you need to turn left to head back to the lodge.  The reservoir can be seen through the trees ahead and to the right here.
            The easy-going Lake Trail heads south parallel to the park road, which lies just to the left.  The park map shows some trails leaving right that go behind the lodge, but I could not find them on my visit.  At 1.6 miles, the trail climbs gently to reach the shoulder of the park road.  You could continue across the road back to the Chattahoochee Trail and the bike path, or you could turn right and walk a short distance on the road to return to the lodge parking lot and complete the hike.

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