On Location: Florida’s Garden of Eden Trail
In the 1950s retired lawyer and Republican candidate for governor Elvy Edison Callaway opened his Garden of Eden Park along the highway in the Florida Panhandle town of Bristol. Callaway believed that God had created man in the delta of the Apalachicola river, which split into four rivers, just as the Bible describes four rivers leading out of Eden. – Atlas Obscura
Florida’s Garden of Eden park near Bristol in the panhandle west of Tallahassee is long gone, though in its memory, there’s still a Garden of Eden Trail in the Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve:
According to the Conservancy, the “Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve protects one of the rarest of habitats: steephead ravines and streams. The Apalachicola River and Bay region is one of five biological hotspots in North America; it is unique to Florida and home to a disproportionate number of imperiled species. The preserve’s longleaf pine sandhill uplands have undergone a complete transformation over the past 30-years: the groundcover restoration techniques developed at ABRP are currently being used across the southeastern U.S.”
Nearby Torreya State Park , (north of the Bluffs and Ravines Preserve) and also at Bristol, makes for a great side trip.
The 3.75 mile trail leads to Alum Bluff overlooking the Apalachicola River. If you’re new to Florida, or live in the peninsula region, the sheep head ravines, longleaf pines, and sand hills are a sight to see.
Fortunately, a lot of restoration work has been going on there, including the introduction of wiregrass plugs and pine seedlings. Ensuring the preservation of the endangered Florida torreya and Florida yew trees is still in doubt. I hope we don’t lose them.
I took a dim view of the park and the Eden theory when I was growing up in nearby Tallahassee. However, as a writer of a trilogy of magical realism novels set near the trail, the site and and its potential symbolism have been a great way to add myths and local color to the novels. And, as an environmentalist, I’m happy with the Nature Conservancy’s protection and proactive restoration work on behalf of this unique environment.
In addition to the conservancy, groups like the Torreya Guardians are also working to save the Torreya tree. Among other things, experiments that appear to have promise include planing seedlings in a variety of environments (not necessarily in Florida) to see if healthy trees can be created and subsequently returned to their natural environment.
If you live in the Florida Panhandle or are going there for a visit and want to see visit the trail, Florida Hikes as a brief overview here.