While we’ve been bustling and hustling, the city municipality rolled out a huge conservation park and trail system that winds around a large array of retention ponds and natural Florida forestry With 24 miles of trails to walk or bike, the trail system offers a very unique opportunity to get to know our local ecosystem.
Location of Conservation Park
The park is located on the west end of the Panama City Beach city boundaries, about a mile west of Highway 79. If you travel west on Panama City Beach Parkway (Back Beach Road) and take a right just after you pass the La Quinta Inn, Griffin Blvd will dead-end right at the park. The entrance to Griffin Blvd is adorned with a St. Joe Commerce Park sign. Concurrently, Conservation Park is practically at the end of the Gayle’s Trails system that runs along old Power Line Road.
The Trail System
There are 5 trails in all, ranging in difficulty from “easiest” to “most difficult”, and they range in distance from less than 2 miles to 11 miles, respectively.
- Green Trail: Less than 2 miles
- Yellow Trail: 4 to 7 miles
- Blue Trail: 5.2 to 6.5 miles
- Orange Trail: 9 to 11 miles
- Red Trail: 11 miles
In all, there are endless options for varying routes through the trail system, and one can easily spend weeks (nay months), seeing all there is to see. But if you want to stick with the map, there are 12 trails in all mapped out.
The trails were refined from old logger paths that were already cut into the area years ago, with boardwalks being constructed in areas that weren’t dry to make sure everything stayed connected.
View the park brochure and trails explanation here.
The Parks Functional Reason for Being
Aside from being an awesome place to recreate, the park serves a functional purpose that is environmentally beneficial to both west bay and the conservation ecosystem. Conservation Park totals in area approximately 3,000 acres, which quoting the City’s page on the park, is about twice the area the Bay County city of Parker encompasses.
Further quoting the page:
In early 2011, after nearly a decade of planning, designing, permitting and constructing, the City completely stopped discharging reclaimed water from the Wastewater Treatment Facility into West Bay. This redirection of water to Conservation Park will protect the water quality of the Bay while helping to restore the altered hydrology of the natural lands at the Park. The City and its residents take pride in knowing they’re leading the way to a cleaner and healthier Bay.
A pump station, designed with the ability to pump up to 18,000,000 gallons of highly treated water per day, was constructed at the City’s Wastewater Treatment Facility on the north end of Gulf Boulevard. The pump station includes two pool areas (wetwells) to collect water not used for irrigation in the City. Once collected in the pools, pumps send the water through a 3 foot diameter pipe to Conservation Park.
There are a total of six pumps at the pump station–2 small pumps and 4 large pumps. The small pumps are designed to operate when flow at the Wastewater Treatment Facility are low such as late at night. The larger pumps will be used during high flow times such as in the morning, during summer months, and holiday weekends. Each pump includes a motor at the top that drives a vertical turbine pump which extends down into one of the pools.
The pump station site is also the location of the Gulf Boulevard Trail Head which is part of the City’s Gayle’s Trails System. This area includes a public parking lot and trail signage and information for Trail users accessing the Trail System from this location.
Transmission Main Pipe
A 3 ft (36 in) diameter Transmission Main pipe carries the reclaimed water from the City’s Reclaimed Water Pump Station five miles to Conservation Park. The installation of this pipe included bends and valves weighing more than 7000 pounds each. The Transmission Main route was completed with a paved trail on top of the pipe. This trail is part of the City’s Gayle’s Trails System with connections to the Highway 79 Trail, Frank Brown Park Trail, and Gulf Boulevard Trail Head. The base material beneath portions of the asphalt is crushed concrete recycled and reused from the former Fiesta Motel on Panama City Beach.
A 4,400 square foot building was constructed at the southeast corner of the Park. This building functions as a shelter for Park users and provides public restroom facilities. The building also provides a useful space for City staff and equipment needed to keep the Park maintained for all residents and tourists. The 3 foot diameter Reclaimed Water Transmission Main divides into four different, smaller pipes inside the building. The manifold of the 3 foot diameter Reclaimed Water Transmission Main is located in a concrete pit inside the southwest corner of the building and divides the flow of reclaimed water into one of four areas in the Park. Each of the four pipes are color coded to coincide with a specific area in the Park and each area receives water on a rotation to rehydrate the wetland during different times of the year. The building includes three garage work areas and employee offices used to maintain and operate equipment necessary to properly run and maintain the Park. A chemical storage tank used as a final treatment method for the reclaimed water and a back-up power generator for the building are also located on the site.
There are 14 different discharge structures strategically placed around the Park to help distribute and rehydrate the wetlands on site. The hydrology of the site was altered during silviculture activities when the vegetation was changed and a large ditch dredged down the center of the Park site. Flow to the different discharge structures is rotated from the Control Building during different growing seasons during the year. Reuse water from the Control Building is conveyed through one of four pipe systems ranging in pipe size from 15 to 30 inches. The pipes follow along trails in the Park and terminate at one of the discharge structures.
What do you think?
Tell us in the comments what you think of the park. Have you been there? Share with us some of your experiences you’ve had there.