As I turned off of State Road 207, toward Armstrong Park, I really didn’t know what to expect. I don’t make it over to Elkton very often, so the landscape was unfamiliar as I passed family homes, kids playing in the street with skateboards and balls, overhanging trees and dense Florida foliage on my way to meet the St. Augustine Social team at the Armstrong Park Trailhead of the Palatka to St. Augustine Trail.
This trail is a small section of the St. Johns River to Sea Loop, a project more than a decade in the making (and still in the midst of the work), and we wanted to explore our little portion. The trail in this little spot is breathtaking – a picture of natural Florida beauty. It’s well maintained with overhanging trees and vines in dark shades of green.
The St. Johns River to Sea Loop concept connects 260 miles of trail segments over five counties and is the longest multi-use loop trail underway in the Southeast. It travels through resort towns and rural hamlets, around coastal dunes and across sweeping farmland.
According to Heather Neville of Vrum Planning and VeloFest, it’s a project that really has taken a village and a number of highly-dedicated individuals who have committed non-stop (like Kraig Mcclane of Palatka, Herb Hiller from Deland, and St. Johns County’s Karl Soderholm). Vrum Planning’s involvement has been widespread as well – from advocacy and volunteering to professional consulting. It has truly been a community coming together to make this project happen.
This segment of the Palatka to St. Augustine Trail, which opened on April 6th, connects Palatka to Vermont Heights – running from Hastings to Vermont Heights, through Spuds, Elkton, and Armstrong. When the trail is complete, it will wind through West Augustine, the Historic District, the Beaches, and south to Marineland.
Free and open to the public, the trail is technically accessible 24/7 (though the trail itself is not lit, so headlamps are necessary after dark). Though it’s a popular trail for cyclists, it’s a great experience for walkers, runners, tricyclists, and anything in between. You’ll certainly need stamina if you plan to ride/walk/run the whole Palatka-St. Augustine stretch, but the trail itself is welcoming to any skill level and perfect for all. Even furry friends can enjoy the trip – my dog, Reg, gives his personal canine endorsement.
Heather sees the purpose of the trail as a way to connect the community, a linear park that provides not only recreation but alternative transport options. For her, the impact of the trail is immeasurable. “From equitable access to tourism, getting kids back outside, and giving the active retiree a safe place to ride and walk,” she says. “It builds up communities, economies, and property values. We truly can’t finish it soon enough. Use it, enjoy it. Park and explore the trail heads. Then talk about it and get involved.”
It’s a personal tour of the beauty of the county and a celebration of the scenery (urban and rural alike) of our little part of Florida. It’s an encouragement to get outside and see the world around you – whether you’re walking, running, or cycling.