New bridge crosses Alaqua Creek on the Florida Trail

June 18, 2019

The Florida Trail’s newest and longest suspension bridge has just been completed along Alaqua Creek in Walton County. The bridge is located on Eglin East section of the Florida Trail on Eglin Air Force Base Reservation. The bridge now provides a safe and easily accessible crossing over a flood-prone creek, opening up a particularly scenic section of trail to greater use by the outdoor community.

Planning and construction of the 70-foot Alaqua “Demon” Bridge over Alaqua Creek has been an extensive, long-term and collaborative project between the U.S. Forest Service, the Florida Trail Association, the Choctawhatchee and Western Gate Chapters, Framing Our Community, Eglin Air Force Base/Jackson Guard and land owners, Chet Winegarner and Jimmy Gainey.

Alaqua section of Eglin Trail East. Illustration courtesy Florida Trail. Click to enlarge

The bridge is located on the Eglin Reservation and a recreation permit is necessary to transverse. Click here for information on acquiring a pass. The eastern end of this section is on US 331 just north of Freeport. The western end is at the SR 285 trailhead, 2.0 miles south of Interstate 10.

History of the Demon Bridge
by Keith LeFevre, Choctawhatchee Chapter-Florida Trail Association Trail Hogs

The Demon Bridge over Alaqua Creek along the Florida National Scenic Trail on the Eglin Air Force Base reservation in Walton County has a quite a long and interesting history. It has sure earned its name, “Demon Bridge.”

For many years prior to 2009 the Alaqua Creek crossing consisted of traversing over limbs of a tree that had fallen across the creek or actual fording of the creek. Either of these options weren’t very desirable as Alaqua Creek can get quite high and swift as well as having very steep banks on both sides. But, at the time these were the only options available to hikers.

During this timeframe the location of the actual trail crossing had to be relocated several times closer to the Eglin boundary due to increasing military training missions in this area of Eglin.

Another very difficult issue with this trail crossing is the access and availability of road access to the site. The closest access on both sides of the creek are close to a mile on both sides. So, for any work to be performed trail hogs had to hike in and carry all equipment and supplies.

Appropriately named Demon Bridge dedication sign. Photo courtesy Florida Trail Assoc.

In 2010 the Choctawhatchee Chapter decided it was time to address this very difficult creek crossing. After researching and brainstorming several options the chapter with Eglin approval finally came up with a feasible solution. It was decided to take a very large cypress tree and install in place securely across the creek. This would prove to be no easy feat. The tree had to be cut down in the nearby swamp, cut to approximately 70 feet and then a treadway had to be cut with a lumber maker chainsaw attachment. This first part of the project was very difficult and time consuming. But the next part proved to be even more difficult and time consuming. The tree now had to be moved from its downed position several hundred yards into place across the creek. This involved utilizing come alongs, cables and various rigging equipment connected to move the log only inches at a time. The relocation of this log and getting it into position was very time consuming and a very difficult task. But the trail hogs were determined and never gave up. After many months of planning and hard work the famed first Demon Bridge crossing over Alaqua Creek had been completed. This bridge was a site to see and loved by everyone who no longer had to traverse the creek on tree limbs of a downed tree or ford the creek.

All good things must come to end. Unfortunately, in 2015 the famed Demon Bridge met its demise. The stress on this 70-foot log proved to be too much and the log split in half. Demon Bridge was removed and no longer existed. At this time the trail crossing reverted to a ford across the creek which disappointed everyone.

In early 2016 lots of planning started between the US Forestry Service, Florida Trail Association and Framing Our Community (US Forestry Service Partner) to install a suspension bridge over Alaqua Creek. Plans came together and in January of 2017 the project was underway.

This project in the beginning was very slow moving as some very important issues had to be worked out. The primary one was access to the site as the closest access via any road was close to a mile on both sides of the creek. So, many hours were spent navigating the Eglin reservation and private properties on both sides of the creek to come up with a list of possible routes we GPSed that could be possible for accessing the site. This access was necessary for vehicles getting equipment and supplies to the site as well as concrete trucks delivering concrete for the bridge. The next part of the project once we had a feasible route agreed on was basically making a new road big enough for concrete trucks. This road was almost 2.5 miles across Eglin and private property. A section of this was already an existing range road on Eglin but a large section of it was a very old range road that was abandoned a long time ago. This old road was very difficult to even walk. So, many hours were spent clearing this old road wide enough to accommodate concrete trucks. This was involved and time consuming. Corduroying the roads had to be completed and even unloading several thousand pounds of oyster shells on a slick downhill section of this route had to occur before access to the site could even begin.

After access to the site had been completed work on the project could begin. A temporary swinging bridge was installed so equipment and supplies could be moved on both sides of the creek without fording the creek. Bigger equipment and supplies had to be moved over the creek by overhead rigging cables to move across the creek.

Many hours were spent digging holes for the two concrete abutments and four anchor points of the bridge as well as building the rebar structures that the concrete would get poured in to. The concrete was delivered to the site without incident and the access roads all were successful in getting this accomplished which was quite a feat given the location of this bridge project.

Then the actual bridge construction began which had its shares of obstacles to overcome. But perseverance and determination paid off in the end and on June 14, 2019 the new 70-foot Demon Bridge over Alaqua Creek was officially opened. This bridge is the largest and longest on the Florida National Scenic Trail and a sight to see. Approximately 2000 volunteer hours were contributed towards the Framing Our Community organization to assist in completing this extensive project.

The Demon Bridge from this very long history has earned its name.

About Eglin East Trail
Length: 32.9 miles (linear)
In spring there are wildflowers all along the trail with an abundant display of mountain laurel and flame azalea in the Alaqua Basin. In the fall the wildflower display shifts to the sand ridges where the yellows explode in late October. There are numerous stream crossings. All are bridged with the exception of the eastern crossing of Alaqua Creek. There are 4 backcountry campsites spaced 7-10 miles apart. All campsites have fire rings and are located close to flowing streams that originate within Eglin. None of these campsites are accessible via vehicle.  DeFuniak Springs is a Victorian town on the National Register of Historic Districts. Motels, restaurants and groceries are available at the I-10/US 331 intersection.

Video courtesy Framing Our Community– the Florida Trail