The Old Cutler Trail is a Hiker’s Asset in the Gables

Bumpy But Beautiful

On a recent Saturday, an especially leafy section in the southern half of Coral Gables was busy with people out to connect with nature, take in some history, and get some exercise. Some rode bicycles. Others walked or ran. Some had backpacks and carried cameras and water bottles. Scores wore uniforms, many displaying stitched-on merit badges.

The draw was the Old Cutler Trail, a historic path that heads south from Cocoplum Circle through a tunnel of banyan, gumbo limbo, and oak trees to provide a deep-shade start to a four-mile urban path through Coral Gables. Once a wagon track from the Cutler Bay area to Coconut Grove, the Old Cutler Trail extends past the Gables to the north and south. Within the Gables, heading south from Cocoplum Circle, it parallels Old Cutler Highway as it passes stately homes, thick vegetation, and weathered coral rock walls on its leisurely course. About two miles from the Circle, the trail ducks into Matheson Hammock Park, a 630-acre nature retreat where picnic tables, a water fountain, and bathrooms are available.

Just south of Matheson is Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, the city’s oasis of rare plants and scenic walkways created in 1938. From there, a sign directs walkers and bikers across Old Cutler Road to the west side of the roadway, near the Maud Black Cottage. Built as a barn in 1866 by Charles Siebold, it was converted to a home in 1899 and is now privately owned.

The Old Cutler Trail
The Old Cutler Trail

The trail then takes a turn into Snapper Creek Lakes, a gated residential neighborhood of 124 homes. In half a mile, signs direct trekkers to a narrow pedestrian bridge over the Snapper Creek Canal near the entrance to Pinecrest Gardens.

The bridge has become the subject of controversy after residents of Snapper Creek Lakes deluged county commissioners with emails urging them to install a locked gate to impede night-time prowlers from entering the neighborhood from Red Road. In 2020, the commission unanimously approved a resolution in support.

The city of Pinecrest responded in March 2022 with its own resolution, opposing any gate because it would restrict access to the trail and Matheson Hammock Park from Pinecrest and other communities to the west. The gate has not been installed. “We are waiting for the county to act,” said Gables Mayor Vince Lago, a strong proponent of installing an unlocked gate with lighting and cameras to deter crime.

Swelling the normal complement of hikers, runners, and bikers on the Saturday when we visited were more than 500 scouts taking part in a 13.7-mile trek from Downtown Miami to St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Red Road. The hike was the 48th annual long-distance adventure sponsored by the Tequesta District of the Boy Scouts of America’s South Florida Council, veteran hike master Fred Kimball told us.

Among the hikers was Luke Moorman, assistant scoutmaster of Troop 32, Ft. Lauderdale, whose grandmother, Jeanne Ann Seghers Moorman, was a driving force behind the movement to create Old Cutler Trail in the early 1960s. The daughter of the founder of Carroll’s Jewelers, a longtime Miracle Mile fixture, Jeanne Ann Moorman served on the Gables city commission from 1989 to 1991. When she died in 2018 at the age of 89, her obituary included a tribute from the March 17, 1964, edition of the Miami News which declared that “Almost single-handed, she persuaded the Metro Commission and Coral Gables to pitch in for a bicycle path along scenic Old Cutler Road. In fact, she’s done everything except put down the paving.”