Four different colored lines mark the map of Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park in northern Tallahassee. They twist and turn, curve, criss-cross and make loops-orange for hiking, blue for mountain biking, green for shared-use, and violet for equestrian. In all, more than 20 miles of trails stretch across 670 acres.
On a recent August morning, I was in the mood for one of the hiking trails, so I chose the Coon Bottom Loop, accessed from Meridian Park off North Meridian Road. Temperatures were approaching ninety when I embarked, but once I reached the shaded bottomlands along a golden creek, I felt a damp coolness. Forming a canopy overhead were large chestnut oaks, tulip poplars, sweetbay, pignut hickory and other hardwoods. Young southern magnolia were shooting skyward, seeking dominance. The hum of cicadas and, yes, mosquitoes, filled the air. Mosquitoes don't bother me much when I'm with other people. I guess I'm not that sweet. But when alone, they clearly enjoy my company! I only took brief pauses to enjoy the scenery.
As I explored the lower loop trail and the Big Tree Cut-off, careful to stay on the footpath due to an abundance poison-ivy, I came upon massive magnolia trees - old-growth at its best. And bordering a long boardwalk, lush cinnamon ferns covered the forest floor, giving the area a primeval feel. Despite a few mosquitoes, the entire experience was a welcome surprise, especially being only a few miles from downtown Tallahassee.
Interestingly, in 1981, my mother Jeanne wrote a piece for Tallahassee Magazine about the capital city in the year 2000. One of her forecasts was that the Phipps property along the northern shores of Lake Jackson would become the Phipps Wilderness Park. This proved to be prophetic since the tract was purchased from Colin Phipps in 1992 by the City of Tallahassee and the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Way to go mom! Once part of the larger Ayavalla Plantation, the park was named for Colin Phipps' mother, Elinor Klapp Phipps.
I left Phipps Park with many miles left to explore - which is an open invitation for a trail lover, so I know I will return soon, even in summer.