Panama City Beach - Rather than dump the city's waste water into the bay, Panama City Beach officials decided eleven years ago to spread the water over a 3,000 acre conservation park off of Back Beach Road. About two years ago, they voted to build a trail system on the property. The trail system is called "Gayle's Trails" after Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst who envisioned it. Wednesday night she gave us a tour of the project which is almost complete.
Gayle's Trails are nine miles of paved pathways which run parallel to the north side of Highway 98. "Look at the fact that you are walking in the woods vs walking on Back Beach Road or Front Beach Road," said Mayor Oberst. "It's a wonderful quality of life thing. We can be out here and enjoy nature and exercise and get out."
There are currently three trail heads, north of 98 on Gulf Boulevard, at Frank Brown Park and just off Highway 79. The trails lead to a 3,000 acre conservation park, which was actually created as a place to deposit the city's treated wastewater. "I don't know of anywhere else in the state of Florida that has a nature park that uses their affluent from their wastewater treatment plant," said Panama City Beach Public Works Director Paul Casto.
The park includes beautiful boardwalks, bridges, picnic areas and an outdoor classroom. "I can see little children coming to have science class here," said Mayor Oberst.
The trails aren't officially open yet, but some locals are already putting them to use. "It's just a wonderful asset to have here on the beach," said resident Randy Baker.
Over the next ten years the city hopes to expand the trails from St. Andrews State Park to Camp Helen, to join Walton County's trail system. The city will hold a soft opening for the park and trails later this summer. The grand opening celebration will take place this fall.