A pleasant walk through the woods awaits hikers on a new trail system that weaves through more than 100 acres of forest on the edge of the city.
City-parish government officially opened 4 miles of new hiking and running trails Thursday at the Acadiana Park Nature Station.
The Nature Station in north Lafayette has for years offered workshops, nature walks and education programs on a 43-acre tract off Alexander Street that includes a science center.
The new hiking trails are spread out over an additional 107 acres north of the original Nature Station site.
The dirt path cuts through a forest floor thick with palmettos and ferns. Oak, hackberry and pecan trees tower overhead.
The trails offer a secluded refuge from city life, said Stacey Scarce, curator of natural science at the Nature Station.
“It does lower your blood pressure, that’s proven. It’s a great place to recharge,” she said.
The trail system is basic — just a cleared path through the woods — and the plan is to keep it that way to preserve the natural character of the place, Scarce said.
She said the property was purchased with grants that permit only minimal intrusions.
“The reason behind the purchase was to preserve wildlife,” Scarce said.
The trails are accessed by Shadow Bluff Drive off of Louisiana Avenue, and the trail head is marked with a small sign and map of the trails, some of which skirt bluffs along the Vermilion River.
“There are some 20-foot drops back there, and we have some really technical, good rolling hills,” said Scott Schilling, who has helped organize volunteer trail clearing efforts through TRAIL, a non-profit group focused on improving outdoor recreational opportunities in the area.
Schilling said future plans include bike racks and parking improvements at the trail head and a bridge across the coulee that separates the new hiking trails from the original Nature Station property.
Schilling said he was surprised when he first saw the area to find such a thick patch of woods so close to the city and bordered by Interstate 10 and the four-lane Louisiana Avenue.
“It’s a beautiful area. I was shocked. Low-lying wetland areas that have never been touched,” he said.
Schilling said the hope is to tie the new hiking trails into the larger network of hiking and biking trails that are beginning to take shape in Lafayette.