With Earth Day Savannah coming up I’ve been asked to hold a trail running workshop at Forsyth Park during the festivities there on Saturday, April 19th. Before I gave it much thought I went ahead and agreed to do this. The story of my life…jump in without thinking.
So, now that I have accepted this task I’ve been thinking a bit about our small and fragmented trail system in the Savannah area. Yeah, believe it or not, we do have trails! Not many, but we do have some. I hope that in the near future we’ll have a lot more to choose from but in the mean time what trails we do have are worth checking out.
McQueen’s Island Trail – This is probably the crown jewel of our trails in the Savannah area. It was an railroad bed dating back to the mid-to-late 1800′s. After trains lost their luster and became so 1930′s, the old railroad was abandoned and wasted away until the 1990′s when some Rails to Trails enthusiasts fixed up the trail and introduced to Georgia it’s first Rails to Trails. By 2008, the trail was in a miserable state of erosion and Chatham County poured several hundred thousand dollars in restoring it by mid 2009. By 2012, the trail was again in dire straits and the local running community stood up and started the efforts in getting it restored. In 2014, the county patched up a couple of the really bad sections and abandoned the very last section of trail on the western end of it. So, instead of the the trail being 6 miles, it’s actually 5.6 miles. The trail, though, is a beautiful coastal trail that runs parallel to highway 80 and along the Savannah river. The trail offers tremendous solitude and, wildlife viewing opportunities that most would not expect. At the McQueen’s Island trail I’ve seen a bald eagle, a peregrine falcon, minks, river otters, dolphins (in the water, not on the trail), fiddler crabs by the gazillions, raccoons, possums, rat snakes, cardinals, seagulls, cormorants, pelicans, egrets, green herons, great blue herons. No Shiz! I’ve seen all of these! One person I know claims to have actually seen an alligator there. I haven’t, though, but would not be surprised if the rumors proved true. The trail is unpaved, pebbly, sandy-bottomed and flat. In the winter time it can be insanely cold with gusts of wind getting funneled through the narrow trail. In the summer time, the trail can be horrendously hot with the white sandy bottom bouncing sunlight off the trail and onto you that run or walk it. If you are interested in running Lowcountry Ultras’ Cremator, this is a great training trail for that race! Mapmyrun course: 15.2 miles
Ft. Pulaski National Monument – has several beautiful trails to run. My favorite running in Ft. Pulaski is to enter the woods on the north western section of the island on a trail that is wide enough to drive a car through. It cuts through a palm forest, exits by a small man-made grassy mound that deer like to frequent. It then follows a wide grassy trail that opens up to an expansive marshland with the old fortress off on your right. Here, the trail is actually an elaborate set of levees built back in the 1800s to keep the rising tide from reaching the old fortress. These set of levees are amazing to run on especially at dusk as you are sure to see deer, raccoons, possums, armadillos, crap-load of coastal bird species. In the winter, though, these levees (or dykes) can be brutally cold with nothing to hold back the incoming Atlantic ocean breezes. In the summer, they can be equally brutal as there is no shade to comfort you along this path (another Cremator training ground!). One of the great things about running Ft. Pulaski is that you can make a long run of it by starting your run in the park and continuing the run out of the park and into the McQueen’s Island trail. Here’s another cool thing, you can buy an annual pass to Ft. Pulaski National monument for only $10. That’s a pretty darn good deal.
Whitemarsh Island Preserve - This is a great chunk of beautiful green space on Whitemarsh Island sandwiched between the Island’s Ymca and Byran Woods Rd. This small forest is made up primarily of super tall pine trees with a scattering here and there of beautifully long gangly, tentacled live oak trees. I love this little piece of wilderness so much that I hold Chase the Sun Ultra and Relay there. The only paved trail on the Preserve is roughly a mile long, skirting the edge of the woods and running parallel to Bryan Woods Rd. The interior of the Preserve is riddled with short trails that are a mishmash of rooty, sandy, boggy, pine needle carpeted trails. The middle of the Preserve is wide open like a typical male pattern baldness. The trails at the Whitemarsh Preserve are popular for people with dogs, hikers, runners and walkers (not the zombie type walkers!). Runtastic course: 1.84 miles
Skidaway Island Priests landing - There are so many trails criss-crossing in this place it’ll make your head spin if you try to keep up with them. The best remedy for me is to blindly run them, always taking the first right. Seriously, there are some pretty cool trails back here but they do seem a bit disorganized to me. Mountain bikers, fishermen and runners have been carving out trails back here since the dawn of civilization, literally! I mean, when running the Priest Landing trails you are bound to run across an old moonshine still, farm animal trough, and other old rusting metallic thingamajobs anywhere along this forested trail system. You may even run into old house foundations, decrepit homes built way back before indoor plumbing existed. It’s a cool area to explore when running and, its a very beautiful area as well! Some of the trails run dangerously close along the edges of highly eroded river banks. You can see all kinds of wildlife while running Priests Landing – deer, hogs, box turtles, mosquitoes, snakes, possums, raccoons, gnats, horse flies and, did I mention mosquitoes? I love the Priest Landing trails but I would love it more if the trails were actually designated with names and seemed to follow a more deliberate path than the helter-skelter pattern they follow. Your best bet for running these trails would be to park at the UGA Aquarium parking which is at the end of McWhorter rd on Skidaway Island. While there, check out the aquarium which is pretty nice and costs only $6 admission. Exploring the trails is free, though! Any way, from the aquarium parking lot venture into the swampy woods there and have a blast tearing through trails – just watch for mountain bikers! They like to zip through these trails at break-neck speeds.
Skidaway Island State Park – This little gem of a park has a couple of trails to offer and some amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. The two “official” trails are short – one is 1 mile, the other 3 miles. The trails are short but this park is so nice and worth exploring! There’s a great observation tower on the longer trail.
Roberd’s Dairy Farm and Bonaventure cemetery – I’ve grouped these two together because they are next to each, sharing a boundary fence. The Roberd’s DF is one of my favorite places in all of the Savannah area. Two of my late dogs loved that place so much that I got permission to bury them there. There are several unpaved jeep trails at the RDF that if run together cover approximately 2.5 miles. Recently, I was given the green light to carve out a trail through the fragmented forest and pastures of the RDF by the owner of the land. So, this summer I will be carving out a 3 to 4 mile trail there. I will need some help for this task. So, shoot me an email if interested. I like to run from my house to the dairy farm. I then exit the df and enter Bonaventure cemetery where I run the perimeter of the grounds. I also include the Greenwich cemetery and end up with an 8 to 10 mile run.
Bonaventure cemetery doesn’t really have “trails” but it does have heavy tree coverage, unpaved (and paved) paths that are very runner friendly. This cemetery is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. Aside from Skidaway State Park, the Roberd’s Dairy Farm is the largest chunk of green space in Savannah! Mapmyrun course: 1.87 miles
Hutchinson Island - Technically, there are no “trails” on this island (at least, that I know of) but there are dirt roads that are like trails, wide trails. And, these dirt roads run alongside the Savannah river giving you great views of the Savannah shoreline on western shore and of the South Carolina border on the other side. Truly, I love running Hutchinson Island. It is lightly developed, scarce traffic on the roads, there’s a race track there and, those old dirt roads are great to run on! There’s also lots of wildlife viewing opportunities on this island. There are dear, hogs, armadillos, possums, raccoons, mosquitoes, all kinds of coastal birds, snakes, alligators. Pretty much the same variety of wildlife that you see at Skidaway Island you’ll see on Hutchinson Island. The cool thing is that you can catch a ferry from River street Savannah and ten minutes later you are standing on Hutchinson Island and can run to your heart’s delight there! The biggest problem at Hutchinson, though, is the scarcity of restroom facilities on the island. So, for those long runs you want to crank out (and, Hutchinson Island is a great place to crank out a long run) you may want to stash some tp somewhere in case nature comes-a-calling, if you know what I mean!
Hey, there is also that old abandoned railroad track bridge spanning the Savannah river to South Carolina to run! That is a beautiful solidly built bridge that would make a most awesome rails to trails future project! Any way, you can run that bridge deep into some very fierce beautiful swampy terrain! Just take lots of water, insect repellent and a good measure of grit -as you will need all three to successfully make it to the other side! mapmyrun course: 8.65 miles
Police Memorial Park Trail - This is a very short trail (approximately 2/3′s of a mile long) that you can catch from Kerry Street near Daffin Park. It’s a beautiful short paved trail but it’s worth running if you’re running in and around Daffin Park. I once saw a red fox while running through that little trail. The trail runs parallel to the Truman parkway for about 1/4 mile and then dumps you onto Bee Rd and 52nd street. TrailRumor has it that this trail will be extended one day all the way to Lake Mayer. So if the rumor proves true this will be a most exceptional trail!
Lake Mayor – This is a very popular 1.43 mile paved loop around a lake on the south side of Savannah on Montgomery Crossroads. It’s a nice place to run or walk or fish at. There is a small island on the lake that is also very nice. There’s a Truman Pkwy exit a few hundred yards away meaning that it’s a quick drive to Lake Mayer from downtown Savannah or mid-town.
Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR) - this place is about a 15 minute drive from downtown Savannah, over on the South Carolina side. Why they call it the “Savannah yada yada” I do not know. But, what I do know is that this is one totally awesome place to visit and run, hike, walk or take your out of town visitors to! If you want to work on your speed this is the place to do it as there are millions of alligators at this refuge. They are sure to keep you on your toes! There are a lot of snakes and numerous bird species here as well! This is like heaven for an audubon birder! There is a 4 mile gravel road through the refuge at Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive, off of SC170 where you can run, drive, bike. You can park at one part and then run to the end of the drive and then turn around and head back for an 8 mile-ish run or, be crazy-stupid like me and run back up SC170, otherwise known as alligator alley for roughly half a mile and repeat the loop, again and again! Actually, across the highway when you exit the gravel drive-thru there are numerous trails and dykes to run. If you go here be sure to take lots of water, salt tabs, insect repellent and sun screen as it is fully exposed to the sun with hardly a shadow to hide underneath for comfort. Also, be careful! Most critters out there are scared of humans but if they feel threatened or if you do something stupid you may lose a limb or two! Nobody wants that to happen. Also, traffic on SC170 is fast and furious! So, hug the white line along the edge of the highway and face traffic if you choose to run the highway!
JF Gregory Park - This is a very beautiful, expansive park in Richmond Hill. The longest trail that I know of here is a 2.87 mile loop through thick woods that are alive with the sounds of gazillions of birds and squirrels scampering around hiding nuts or trying to find them. There is a river through here that is teeming with snakes and alligators and probably fish. Once, I even saw a river otter cross one of the trails! It is quite a beautiful place but like all of the lowcountry during the summer it is hot and very, very buggy and muggy! So, take lots of water and salt tabs and mosquito repellent. The 2.87 mile loop is almost entirely paved except for one area about a half mile long that is gravely.
Also, when you run JF Gregory Park be sure to visit the Happy Stump! The Happy Stump loves visitors and willingly will take a picture with you. It will put a smile on your face! I promise! Runtastic course: 3.45 miles
Tom Tripplett Park – this is a really nice park in the Pooler area that offers a pretty spectacular 10 kilometer trails for running and biking. There is also a 1.x mile paved path around a small lake that is very pleasant with lots of calisthenic workout stations every few hundred yards. It’s a nice family park. If hitting the 10k unpaved trail I highly suggest going with someone that is familiar with that trail because it’s easy to get lost and wind up shortening your course. The 10k trail is boggy and single track. Stay away from this trail if you want to keep your running shoes shiny and sparkly as you will get them dirty! Also, bug spray, bug spray, bug spray! You will be running in a swamp! Mosquitoes love swamps! Enough said! Runtastic course: 6.56 miles
There you have it. Those are some of the trails that I’m aware of in the Savannah area that includes Pooler, Richmond Hill, the Islands and, just a hop, skip and jump across the creek into South Carolina, the Savannah Wildlife Refuge. Aside from the 10k trail at Tom Tripplett and the 5.6 mile McQueen’s Island trail most of our trails are short but they all offer a nice plot of green space in our ever shrinking green habitat of the lowcountry.
All of these places are worth exploring and losing yourself in for a little while. These places offer the beauty, tranquility and simplicity of nature that all of our collective souls so desire. We need these places! We need more of these places!
There is not a much more fulfilling experience for me than to feel the crunching of leaves under my feet, to hear birds chirping, see deer grazing without a care in the world and, to be running through the woods like my BigFeet ancestors once did.
These small greeen spaces we have allow us to reconnect with nature and to revitalize us. And, that is what makes these trails so invaluable to the lowcountry community. It’s what keeps us sane and dreaming. Trail running to me calms my soul. When I’m running through trails I feel solidarity with nature. When running through the woods I’m back to my primitive element and, it is good! Also, the wild critters that live among us need a safe home!
So, if you ever come across a dimly lit, highly pixelated hairy beast scampering through the woods loudly, scooping up squirrels and devouring them in one bite in the lowcountry woods do not be afraid! It’s just me having breakfast.
If you’re not too busy on Saturday drop by Forsyth Park for the Earth Day Festivities and check out some of the workshops being offered. I’ll be out there from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm (or less) talking about our trail systems in the Savannah area. Hope to see you guys out there.
Happy running, happy trails!
Thanks for stopping by.