Western Gate ChapterServing Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties
The Western Gate Chapter of the Florida Trail Association is a gathering place for Floridians in the western Panhandle who love the outdoors. Chartered in 1992, the chapter was initially formed to maintain the 21 mile Jackson Red Ground Trail in Blackwater River State Forest. Since the chapters inception, its members have added more than 104 miles of new hiking trails to theFlorida Trail System, including significant stretches of the Florida Trail in Eglin Air Force Base and Blackwater River State Forest, including the Alabama Connector side trail linking the Florida Trail with Conecuh National Forest in Alabama. Major annual events and activities include the Panhandle Trace Hike, a 100 mile walk from Fort Pickens to the Alabama State Line each spring; the Catface Sweat Hike, a 15-mile endurance hike in mid- June; the Eglin Traverse, a 45-mile multiday trip in early December, and the popular Dinner Hike on the first Friday of each month.
The Western Gate chapter maintains the Florida Trail from its northern terminus at Fort Pickens, Gulf Islands National Seashore, through the Weaver Creek and Yellow River Ravines areas which continue the FT as it extends east toward a connection with the Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) section or north through Blackwater River State Forest to the Florida/Alabama line. The chapter also maintains the Garcon Point Loop Trail where spectacular fields of carnivorous pitcher plants grow.
THE SEASHORE SECTION (FT): To begin the 1,300 mile trek on the Florida Trail, hikers start at the trailhead located at historic Fort Pickens in Gulf Islands National Seashore and continue on the only segment of a National Scenic Trail that provides a beach and sand experience, a unique ecological environment. As it winds along the shoreline and back into the dunes of this barrier island, hikers will see plants, birds and marine life not typically seen on any other section of the FT. Hikers also learn about the historic and cultural significance of the western Panhandle.
WEAVER CREEK SECTION (FT): Weaver Creek Trail is located on the western edge of Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), stretching @ approximately 14 miles between Navarre and the Yellow River. Hikers will meander through upland pines and oaks, cross a beautiful spring-fed stream and pass by a large, picturesque steephead. Other points of interest will include walking across lichen covered hillsides, and enjoying the shady coolness of a titi swamp. Since this trail is located on Eglin AFB, a recreational permit is required (contact Eglin AFB -Jackson Guard at 850-882-4165 for permit purchase).
YELLOW RIVER RAVINES (FT): Currently under construction for the purpose of getting the FT off road-walks, several miles of this trail are now available through woodlands and wetlands, providing access to cypress-ringed ponds, lovely, clear streams with aquatic plants, pitcher plant bogs, a variety of wildflowers, flowering shrubs and other lush vegetation. One segment includes a road-walk which leads over the Yellow River bridge on Highway 87.
BLACKWATER RIVER STATE FOREST: This FT Side Trail continues north from Yellow River Ravines into the Forest’s longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem on trails such as the scenic Juniper Creek Trail, which connects Blackwater River State Park with the 20-mile long Jackson Red Ground Trail. The Jackson Trail provides access to recreation areas at Bear, Krul, Karick and Hurricane Lakes and links to the Wiregrass Trail which continues north to Side Trail’s trailhead at the Florida/Alabama state line. Special features along these trails include beautiful rivers and streams with snow-white sandbars shaded by river bluff forests, stands of mountain laurel, rhododendron, and wild azalea, as well as pitcher plant bogs.