July 2008: Torreya State Park


Rock Bluff, Florida

Hardy Bryan Croom, a planter and naturalist of some renown, began amassing land in northern Florida in the 1820s and in 1833 purchased 640 acres of the Lafayette Land Grant for what would become Goodwood Plantation. While exploring from his cotton plantation, Croom discovered one of the rarest conifers in the world along the banks of the Apalachicola River. He named the small evergreen "torreya" after the botanist Dr. John Torrey. It would turn out the torreya was native to only five other spots in the world - one in California, four in Japan and China, and on the bluffs of the Apalachicola. Croom's own botanical career would be cut short in 1837 when he perished with 89 others aboard the S.S. Home off the coast of Cape Hatteras in the Racer's Storm, one of the most destructive hurricanes of the 19th century. During the Great Depression, workers in President Franklin Roosevelt's "Tree Army," the Civilian Conservation Corps, developed the park.

On the way to nowhere, your dog will thank you for making the special trip to Torreya State Park. This is the best one-hour workout your dog can get in Northwest Florida, hiking across terrain more familiar in Appalachian foothills. Indeed, the mix of hardwoods thriving at the various elevations in the park conspire to whip up Florida's best display of autumn colors. 
There are two hiking loops at Torreya, each about seven miles around. Along the Apalachicola River the Rock Bluff Trail dips and rolls through ravines with some climbs that may set your dog to panting. Several park roads and connecting trails can be used to dissect this loop into manageable chunks. That is not the case with the Torreya Challenge in the eastern section of the park. Once you cross the stone bridge with your dog you won't see the trailhead again for several hours. Your dog will think she has left Florida on this scenic ramble.

The Apalachicola River, Florida's largest, was a vital transportation link throughout the 1800s. During the Civil War, this critical passage was guarded by a six smoothbore cannon located on Rock Bluff. You can still see remains of the gun pits as you work across the Rock Bluff Trail. The Gregory House that now dominates the bluff once stood across the river at Ocheesee. It was built in 1849 by Jason Gregory, the dominant planter in Calhoun County and a popular rendevous spot for Confederate troops. After the war the plantation fell into disrepair and when the park was being developed it was disassembled, carried across the Apalachicola on barges and restored. 

To reach Rock Bluff; use Exit 174 off I-10 and head south on SR 12. Turn right on CR 1641 and continue to the park entrance at the end.