Woodpecker Woods Nature Trail
This trail’s most striking feature is the boardwalk that spans the spring. The crystal-clear water makes it easy to spot turtles, eels, bass, bream and other fish. Some turtles have harmless algae growing on their shells. Alligators can often be seen sunning at the water’s edge. Do not feed or harass alligators or any other wildlife within the park. Unlike crocodiles found in other parts of the world, the American alligator is generally non-aggressive but can become dangerous if approached. These woods are filled with the sounds of birds, particularly woodpeckers. The most common woodpeckers are the downy (small red dot on the back of the head), red-headed (red head and neck) and pileated (very large with red-crested head). Endangered wood storks can be seen roosting near this trail, and sapsuckers are common winter visitors. Other birds include nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, towhees, mockingbirds, cardinals and bluejays. Park staff can provide a bird-watchers checklist upon request that lists the species that might be commonly encountered while visiting the park. Large fox squirrels and common gray squirrels are frequently seen throughout the park. The lime-rich spring creates an aquatic garden filled with bright green beds of lacy parrot-feather, pennywort, pond lilies and floating duckweed. The swamp’s edge is filled with willows, elderberry, buttonbush, dogwood and red maple. Otters have occasionally been spotted along the stream.
An observation deck above a pretty wetland is a good place to look for wildlife, including great blue herons and little green herons. Lucky visitors may spot beaver near their lodge home during late or early hours. The nesting boxes found throughout the lake are used by wood ducks. The eastern part of this trail winds through a pine/hickory forest where visitors may see grey fox, opossum, raccoon, wild turkey, and white tail deer. Common trees and shrubs throughout the park include buckeye, sparkleberry, dogwood, long-leaf pine, hickory, red and white oak, and red cedar. The gray Spanish moss seen hanging in trees is actually neither Spanish nor a moss, but is an epiphyte.
This easy-to-moderate bike trail is open to hikers as well, so bikers should yield to hikers. Helmets are encouraged for all riders; children 16 and younger are required by law to wear helmets. Bikers may want to ask park staff about the Muddy Spokes Club sponsored by Georgia’s State Park System. This trail is one of 11 required to earn a “mud-splattered” t-shirt.
Fort Lawton Historic Trail
During the Civil War, Camp Lawton Prison was constructed to ease overcrowding at Andersonville where the mortality rate was skyrocketing. Between August 5 and November 25, 1864, the Confederate Army planned, constructed, armed, used and abandoned its largest prison for Union troops. In those 113 days, 10,229 prisoners were received and 486 died of disease and exposure. Hikers will pass what was the prison hospital, stockade and burial ground (now removed). A museum near the office and kiosk near the beginning of the trail tell more of this sad story. Confederate General John Winder chose this location for the 42-acre prison because of the plentiful supply of clean drinking water. Slopes above the spring allowed for gun batteries to protect the stockade, and the Augusta and Savannah Railroad was nearby. With the hasty construction complete, prisoners began arriving in October around the time that General Sherman had captured and burned Atlanta. By late November, prisoners had been evacuated to prevent Sherman’s troops from releasing them. Those who had died at the prison were eventually reburied in the Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina.
This less-than-a-mile kayak/canoe trail is a good beginner experience for those interested in becoming members of the Park Paddler’s Club. This trail is the shortest paddle of the 6 trails required to earn a “water-splattered” t-shirt. Be sure and ask park staff about this club sponsored by Georgia’s State Park System.