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***The Garden of Eden Trail at Apalachicola Bluffs has reopened.***
Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve protects one of the rarest of habitats: steephead ravines and streams. The Apalachicola River and Bay region is a biological hotspot, unique to Florida and home to a disproportionate number of imperiled species. The preserve is well on its way to full restoration and the uplands are being transformed into a classic, intact sandhill habitat.
Bristol, Florida (about one hour west of Tallahassee in northern Liberty County).
The preserve trail is open to the public from dawn to dusk, year-round.
A 3.75-mile, round-trip, self-guided trail takes you through an enchanting area that local legend claims is the original Garden of Eden. Beginning in longleaf pine/wiregrass uplands, the trail soon skirts the top of a dramatic steephead ravine, descends steeply through the slope forest to cross a seepage stream and then ascends the slope forest back to sandhills.The trail eventually opens to a spectacular view at Alum Bluff. At 135 feet above the Apalachicola River, Alum Bluff is the largest natural geological exposure in Florida!
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Steephead ravines and associated seepage streams are among the rarest of freshwater habitats. These unusual geologic features provide refuge for a number of Florida’s plants and animals—some found nowhere else on Earth– including two of the world’s rarest evergreens, the Florida torreya and Florida yew. Other species more common in the Appalachians, such as mountain laurel and ash magnolia are at the southern end of their range here. The preserve also protects longleaf pine sandhill uplands, breathtaking river bluffs and million year-old fossils.
What the Conservancy Has Done to Restore the Site
We undertook a massive project in 1985 to restore the property. Years of management for industrial timber production had left little of the once-vibrant sandhill community. Now, after 25 years of restoration, the sandhill community is returning to its former glory and again boasts healthy populations of wild turkey, bobwhite quail, Bachman’s sparrow, Florida pine snake and gopher tortoise. The preserve is a model of vibrant landscapes in all stages of rebirth.
Prescribed fire has been returned to this fire-dependent landscape so that native plants and animals will thrive. Meet some of these species. Regular fire supports longleaf pine habitat, stimulates the growth and flowering of critical groundcover species such as wiregrass, and keeps hardwood species in check.
Staff and volunteers have hand-planted millions of longleaf pine seedlings and wiregrass plugs. All groundcover species are started from seed collected on the preserve. Currently we direct seed 200 acres per year in order to restore the natural sandhill habitiat.
Conservancy staff has developed a process here that takes prepared, bare sand to an intact, fire-ready wiregrass habitat in 40 months. These and other techniques are now being shared with land managers all over the southeastern United States.
Other Innovative Projects
- Dam removal at the preserve’s Kelley Branch and at a nearby state park. The Conservancy pioneered these successful dam removal and stream restorations that are setting a standard for similar projects in the Southeast. Watch a video.
- Restoring fish passage and river connectivity. The Conservancy is working with three states and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to modify their dam operations, allowing threatened imperiled Alabama shad, striped bass and other important species to swim up the Apalachicola and other rivers to historic spawning grounds.
- Reintroduction of the indigo snake. The Conservancy is working with The Orianne Society, a non-profit foundation dedicated to the conservation, management and study of the eastern indigo snake, in the hope of returning this magnificent species to restored habitat where it once thrived.
- Groundcover restoration. The fine art of groundcover restoration in the southeastern United States started right here. Over the past 25 years, staff has developed techniques that are practical, economical and can be applied on a large scale.
- Providing land management at neighboring Torreya State Park. Across a shared boundary line from the preserve lie significant steephead ravines. The Conservancy has been helping the state park to protect these ravines, and together they will restore thousands of acres of critical habitat over the next decade.
- Controlling invasive, non-native species. The Conservancy is leading an effort to coordinate invasive species management and control throughout the Apalachicola River and Bay region, joining with more than 24 public and private partners.
- An Ecosystem Restoration Team has been created to provide prescribed fire assistance, invasive species removal and other land management assistance to all of the state and federal conservation partners within the Apalachicola region. Recently, $800,000 in state and federal funds was dedicated to the project.
What to See: Plants
The preserve protects two of the world’s rarest evergreens, the Florida torreya and Florida yew. Yews are seen along the botanical loop trail, but live torreyas are no longer visible along the trail. Other plants of interest include the large-leaved, large-flowered Ashe’s magnolia; pyramid magnolia; Florida anise; mountain laurel; oak leaf hydrangea; spring ephemerals such as trillium and wild ginger; Gholson's blazing star; numerous ferns; and an array of fall-blooming sandhill wildflowers and grasses including toothed basil and lopsided Indiangrass.
What to See: Animals
The preserve is home to several rare species of resident and migrating birds including the bald eagle, Mississippi kite, swallow-tailed kite, wild turkey, worm-eating warbler, hooded warbler, Bachman’s sparrow, Louisiana water thrush and Swainson’s warbler.
Only foot travel is allowed on the trail. To protect the preserve's rare plants, animals, and cultural and geologic features, the following are not allowed: pets, smoking, littering, camping, climbing on the bluffs, collecting, firearms, fires, hunting and radios.
Visitors should plan on a 3-hour hike, bring 1 – 2 quarts of water per person, and may wish to bring a hiking stick to assist with the steep climbs and descents. Please keep in mind that the trail is steep and the climbs are arduous.
For your safety, please observe trail signs at Alum Bluff and stay well back from the edge as you follow the orange-blazed trail along the river bluff. The bluff is an active slide area and abandoned sections of trail are badly undercut and prone to collapse.
Please leave dogs at home. Dogs are not allowed on the trail.
For more information about visiting or volunteering, or if you are a researcher and would like access to the preserve, email Lara Rainbolt, Conservation Program Specialist or call (352) 405-1036.
The preserve is located at 10394 NW Longleaf Drive, Bristol, FL 32321.
- From State Road 20 in Bristol, take State Road 12 east (toward Greensboro) 1.6 miles to Garden of Eden Road, a dirt road to the left. There is a large "Apalachicola Bluffs — Garden of Eden Trail" sign on the left.
- Turn left on Garden of Eden Road. Go 0.4 miles to the trailhead.
- Take I-10 west to exit 174.
- Turn left on State Road 12 and continue for 20.3 miles (turning left at the blinking light in Greensboro). As you near Bristol, look for at large "Apalachicola Bluffs — Garden of Eden Trail" sign on your right.
- Turn right on Garden of Eden Road. Go 0.4 miles to the trailhead.