We live on the southeast side of Tallahassee, but when we drive a mile from our home to a city park, it’s hard to believe we’re so close to an urban area with a population of 200,000. We call it Piney Z after the name of one of the lakes and the neighborhood bordering it, but its official title is Lafayette Lake Heritage Trail—trails for feet, bikes, and paddles.
At one time, the entire area was a swamp-like lake, but in the mid-twentieth century it became the custom in Florida to manipulate water, and Lake Lafayette was divided into three different bodies of water. The northern region is mostly swampland joining two city parks. The middle lake, Piney Z, is the one most used by residents such as my husband and me. The lower region is overgrown with invasive plants, but a canoe trail is visible.
We hike the trail which is part dirt—some parts filled with roots but overhung with live oak trees dripping in Spanish moss. The middle section of the three-mile loop, contains a bridge over railroad tracks and a boardwalk overlooking the entire lake, which is dotted with cypress trees. The final stretch is a wide dirt trail with water on one side and a tree-filled hill on the other. Fingers of land—seven around the entire lake—go out onto Piney Z, a perfect isolated place for fishermen or wood storks and great blue herons. The hike takes about an hour, and it’s a peaceful calming exercise so close to home.
We also kayak the lake. It’s about a mile from the primitive boat launch to the land bridge separating Piney Z from the lower portion where kayakers or canoers can portage and take the canoe trail for another six miles. We mostly stay on Piney Z paddling the perimeter or just going to a stand of cypress and hang out and watch the birds. We try not to disturb the osprey nest above if the birds are in residence.
Despite man’s manipulation, this little oasis of green in Florida’s capital city sustains our spirit while filling our senses.