DONALSONVILLE, Georgia – Among the mountains of debris from Hurricane Michael, Jacky Barnett found his own little piece of paradise.
“About dark, it’s some of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen,” Barnett said.
Located where the Chattahoochee River feeds into Lake Seminole, Trail’s End Resort and Marina was a shady hideaway popular with anglers and duck hunters. Small cabins, RV sites, and colorful houseboats welcomed overnight guests.
But on Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael battered Northwest Florida before moving inland through Georgia − right over Donalsonville and Trail’s End. Even over Georgia, it was still a Category 3 storm.
The former proprietor of Trail’s End and others hunkered down in the resort’s restaurant.
When it was over, trees were snapped or uprooted, houseboats were unmoored and floating free of the docks. The marina store and clubhouse were crushed by fallen trees. The damage throughout the campground was overwhelming.
“The real shock came after the storm,” then-proprietor Liz Long told the Dothan Eagle more than a week after the storm. “We heard the trees snapping all around us, but we couldn’t really see what happened until we came out from the porch … There was nothing I could say or do; I just started crying. Everything was gone.”
As local residents began the cleanup and recovery process, Barnett brought crews from Jasper, Alabama, to work following the storm. Barnett and his crews ended up staying at Trail’s End.
They worked long days, but Barnett remembers walking to the houseboat area and looking out over the water just before sunset. The 176-acre Trail’s End had been for sale prior to the hurricane, and after staying in the campground a few months, Barnett decided to buy it.
“There’s nowhere else in the world like this,” he said. “You can go over there and just get lost on that water… it’s beautiful.”
Barnett purchased the resort in February. While a lot of work has been done on the resort’s structures, the changed landscape is still evidence that something devastating came through here. Many of the tall pines and hardwood trees that once shaded Trail’s End Resort and Marina are gone.
The marina store is on the verge of reopening with a new name – Bread’s Bait & Tackle, a nod to the store operator, a local man everyone calls Cornbread. The campground is open with small cabins and RV spots for rent. Campers and day guests drive in from around the tristate region to eat at Pop’s Dockside Grill for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A new parking lot for boats is in the plans.
Colorful houseboats still line a floating boardwalk near the rebuilt clubhouse and pool. Most are privately owned but a few can be rented and guests can fish off the back of the houseboats or just sit and watch alligators swim in the channel.
“We ended up renting this destroyed park and as we stayed here in it, fell in love with it and bought it,” Barnett said. “We came in here and bought it and cleaned it up and love it – and love the people in this area. What attracted me more than the place are the people and the support, even from Dothan, for our restaurant and marina.”
He brought his family down to help – son Luke, daughter-in-law, Laken, and wife, Kandy. They still have homes in Jasper and travel back to see family. But Trail’s End has become a home.
“We actually all love it,” Kandy said.
Of course, it wasn’t easy. They hauled off 176 trailer loads of debris and spent months piling and burning downed trees. They rebuilt the cabins, the store, clubhouse and docks. They put new plumbing in throughout the park.
Anglers still come for the bass and crappie fishing. Duck hunters still come by the hundreds.
Despite all the work that has been done, Barnett said there’s still so much more to do.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said.