Author Archives: marylynanded

ON CAMPING IN TATE’S HELL STATE FOREST

We are thankful that we have Tate’s Hell State Forest to give us wilderness camping experiences within an easy auto drive/or auto-paddle access from our home. We understand, not everyone camps, and not everyone who camps likes primitive camping. Wilderness campers chose to be “inconvenienced” — to make do with what they bring, away from electronics, away from the conveniences of modern life.

However, even we can start complaining — it seems like an antidote to discomfort from phasing in from comforts of home to challenges at campside, particularly if one forgot some “indispensable” item which proves to be not so indispensable after all (later).

Before you start complaining after getting to a campsite, or before someone in your party starts on a long, discomforting wail of what the site does not offer, know this.

This was once a pine plantation. A very large plantation. You will see remnants of that pine operation in the channels which have been cut to drain water and the numerous roads which seem to lead nowhere.

The state acquired it under our legacy program, Florida Forever, to restore lands which are necessary to keep the ecological balance of our state in spite of, and because of, growth.

Tate’s Hell State Forest is an essential natural watershed for both the Ochlockonee and Apalachicola Rivers. The younger among you will have been schooled in the importance of watersheds to our national waterways; you may have to get used to the concept — it’s important if we want clean water.

State lands acquired for restoration and conservation are managed by various public agencies. Every 10 years the managing agency has to prepare a 10 year master plan for the property for which they are responsible. Some of the agencies are Florida State Parks, Florida Forestry Services, the various water management districts, counties and municipalities and state preservation agencies.

In the case of forestry, the principle set by the Legislature is that these lands must be self-sustaining. Like the National Forest systems, logging and sale of wood is an important part of the financial self-sufficiency of the forests.

In the case of Tate’s Hell State Forest, until last September, the chief forester (the person in charge of managing the timberlands, of negotiating which parcels are to be harvested, and enforcing the terms of the contract) was David Morse. David was awarded Forester of the Year in 2017. As well he should be.

Under David’s management, you saw no clear-cutting of woods, but only small sections which have been harvested. A U of Florida forestry graduate (and before that a navy veteran), David practiced sustainable forestry. But there is always a bottom line: once acquired, forest lands must pay the cost of its maintenance.

For those who pass burned out forests, these are set purposely as part of the forest management. By periodically mimicking the natural burns which occur with lightening, the forest undergrowth is cleared and major devastating fires are avoided. When you see what seems to be unsightly burns, consider that this mimics lightening fires, except we set it, to again, try to restore the land.

For us, we have come to prefer state and national forestry for camping. We like to get away from multi-story cities, traffic, noise and a mechanically-fast paced world. Because we are not the primary focus of land management (e.g. to provide recreational “experiences”), forestry lands offers more wilderness than we get camping in state parks, where waking up in our 2 person tent only to face the walls of huge RV’s on either side of our site had become too common an experience.

Tate’s Hell State Forest campsites usually sit alone and are big. Your nearest camping neighbor may be miles away from you. The exceptions are Womack Creek campground with 12 sites; Cash creek with 3 sites, Log Cabin Creek with 4 sites, Rock Landing with 3 sites, Borrow Pit with 2 sites, and OHV (off highway vehicles) campground with 3 sites. There are 57 campsites in that second largest of Florida’s state forests.

While those with congregate sites may have vault toilets and Womack Creek Campground has hot showers and flush toilets, most of the sites are primitive: no water, no toilets. (Womack Creek’s restroom facilities may soon close because the banks along the Ochlockonee River are eroding and now about 1 foot away from the foundation of the building.)

Tate’s Hell’s roads sit just above the water table. When it rains, it puddles or worse. Since the natural drainage is being restored, concrete culverts have been removed and low lying areas are covered with gravel to allow for freer flow of water. For a passenger car, encountering what seems to be a ford, check before driving on. It is always wise to call the Tate’s Hell Office in Carrabelle before you arrive to inquire about road conditions leading to your camp site and requesting alternate routes to the site if the usual way is under water.

You may need to detour — if the natural drainage area seems a lot deeper than you feel comfortable, detour. There are depth markers, but one thing about markers in a system going natural — things change. At one time the markers may have been in the deepest part of that road, but over time that section changed. Don’t rely on the depth markers it, if you’re not sure. Get out of the car and test the deepest part of the drainage field. One of the great things about this forest there is hardly any traffic. You’ll have to walk several miles depending on where you are stranded to get help (cell signals may be weak or non-existent).

And isn’t this what getting into the wilderness means? You are not guaranteed convenience. You’re on your own.

Also, don’t trust the road signage. Vandals have removed or turned signs such that it’s pointing the wrong way. Again, financial resources cannot be put toward our convenience by replacing signs which would sooner than not be vandalized again.

We’re hoping to post coordinates of the critical turn points, but it’s not on our list of priorities right not. Don’t rely on Google directions.

It gets more adventuresome doesn’t it? We heard about reports from a paddling group from Missouri we led from CS 17 to Gully Branch Road. Word was they thought getting to the put-in was more hazardous than paddling the river.

Most of you would question the craziness of anyone who would eschew convenience and shrug off discomfort as a great experience. There are so few places like this in the eastern US (the Apalachians are one, the Adirondacks). Having this forest near us is a gift. Camping here may require more challenges than in the state parks, but it also brings more rewards.

You can respond loudly to the barred owls from your tent as they call to each other at night; there is no curfew to quell your voice. And except in the campgrounds, you have no camping neighbors who can hear you. There is only nature’s night sounds. The only lights are the ones you produce. (If you’ve in a camper, you’ll miss some of this.) And the rhythm of your day becomes more attuned to the natural rhythm around you. It does, indeed, restore your soul.

If you’re not up to the wonders and inconveniences of the natural world, try the state parks.

But first, particularly if you have young children, try it. Young children are very adaptable and see in the natural setting more possibilities than adults do. Start with the campgrounds in the forests where there are vault toilets or bring along a portable toilet if in a primitive camp site (this seems to be a major deterrent to older children and fastidious spouses). And you know, with young kids, when they start balking, get them excited again — show them the infinite possibilities of nature.

We have paddled and camped 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces. We appreciate what we have in North Florida each time we return. Yet, the number of campers, though slightly increased since 2012 have not been overwhelming.

Do people know that wilderness camping paradise in less than 2 hours away?

We would love to see more young families with children camping, paddling, bicycling (sandy roads), fishing in this forest. They are part of the legacy the state has a commitment to — it’s for them and their kids what this land is being restored to its natural roots.

CS 51 – Dry Bridge Campsite in Tate’s Hell State Forest

Campsite 51 can be reserved through Reserve America; look underTate’s Hell State Forest High Bluff Primitive Campsites.

Another long entry road to the campsite, the better to give you a wilderness experience, away from the main forestry roads, which, even they, are not much traveled.

A large site and this one with kindling (and in a corner of the site firewood). Don’t count on it, however. Buy yours in Carrabelle or scrounge the woods.

As a paddler, I always look for easy access to and from water, since Tate’s Hell offers paddlers a wide array of paddling opportunities.

A paddler designed this site — easy access to the creek. And even a bench for the person tasked to get the evening meal.

Here’s the view for that fisherwoman looking up river.

And the view downriver as she is hauling in the fish.

Could you ask for anything more?

The photos on this entry were taken when the tide was outgoing. The water levels will vary.

CS 52 – Doyle Creek Campsite in Tate’s Hell State Forest

Campsite 52 can be reserved at Reserve America. Look under Tate’s Hell State Forest Deep Creek Primitive Campsites.

Like many Tate’s Hell SF campsites, this has a long entry road, which ensures privacy.

It a high and dry campsite on Doyle Creek.

Better access to the creek than some, but this is muck, not sand. Having lost my left paddling shoe in the muck at the landing at St. Marks, I’m not a fan of muck. You can mat the reeds to let the first paddler out or in, but even a sturdy summer growth won’t take too many paddlers going in and out. But this was at low water, so there is more hope here than some other creek-side sites on the western side of Tate’s Hell.

Here’s option 2 — of mix of sand and muck. You chose.

But it’s a large, dry and beautiful site, right on Doyle Creek.

At the end of the day or the beginning, this is what you’ll see upriver.

And this is what you’ll see, downriver.

Dawn and Dusk would be beautiful here…with a little fire in the pit to chase away the mosquitoes.

The photos on this entry were taken when the tide was out; water levels will vary on the creek.

CS 53 – Deep Creek Campsite in Tate’s Hell State Forest

Reserve this site on Reserve America. Look under Tate’s Hell State Forest Deep Creek Primitive Campsites.

The problem with Deep Creek campsite for a paddler is….

When the water is high enough to paddle to it by paddling upriver on Graham Creek (landing off SR 65) where it meets Deep Creek and continuing up Deep Creek, the campsite is flooded and what isn’t flooded is soggy.

Unfortunately because this is one of the smaller campsites in Tate’s Hell State Forest, under those conditions the capacity of 8 may have to occupy some of the entry road.

Paddling in this area we’ve seen lots of small wildlife, so even though you may have to cart your boat to another landing if the creek is too shallow to paddle, at least the site will be dry and you’ll have interesting company when you return.

It doesn’t have the expansive view which camping in the estuaries or rivers provide, but this camp site location shows that you can have totally different camping experiences in Tate’s Hell. We have enjoyed our lunch stops here — one feels more a part of the swamp forest and water at this site than in other upland sites in Tate’s Hell SF.

Here’s the view upstream. If the water is really high, one can explore as far as one feels confident to venture (GPS recommended).

And here’s the view downstream which joins Graham Creek.

It’s a cozy site.

The landing just slips into the water — no problem getting on land or off land.

The fire pit need repair.

Because this site is often waterlogged, a portable toilet is recommended rather than a digging a pit. One does not want seepage from the pit to get into the creeks.

US Bureau of Land Management requires portable toilets on many of its popular sites. For kayak camping see BLM directions on how to make small toilets using PVC pipe, defecating on flushable toilet wipes and inserting it in PVC with both ends closed (one end screw on). Each paddler carries her tube on the deck, held by deck bungee cord. You can add powder which removes smell in the cylinder.

CS 54 – Whiskey George In Tate’s Hell SF

Reserve this site at Reserve America, Tate’s Hell State Forest Deep Creek Primitive Campsites.

You can’t get to Whiskey George Creek via this campsite unless it’s flooding. But you will be surrounded by swamps.

Or…if you like thrashing in your small kayak through brush and bramble, you could try — eventually you may hit navigable water.

It’s a tortuous way to get here, so you can be sure that you will be left alone. If solitary camping is what you want, this may be it.

Don’t do as the last camper or user did: pack it out. A fire pit is not a waste receptacle.

CS 50 – Rake Creek in Tate’s Hell State Forest

Reserve this site at Reserve America, Tate’s Hell State Forest High Bluff Primitive Campsites.

Rake Creek is in south western Tate’s Hell State Forest, more easily accessible from SR 65. It’s probably one of the largest primitive sites in Tate’s Hell.

There is not much shade on this site which is surrounded by sloughs and marshes. Because of its openness we did not see much in the way of gnats or other bothersome flying insects.

One can access Rake Creek by what seems almost a personal sandy avenue to the creek.

At the end of which someone has build two benches facing the creek.

This would be a great full moon camp site — with no trees impairing the view of the path of the moon.

This is the view up the creek.

This if the view looking down the creek.

But there is no way one can easily access the creek via kayak.

The photos were taken when the tide was outgoing. Water levels vary on various water venues in Tate’s Hell depending on tidal currents.

CS 49 – Pidcock Road Tate’s Hell SF Campsite

Reserve this site on Reserve America, Tate’s Hell State Forest High Bluff Primitive Campsites.

This is the view you will get if you drive in.

We love to paddle Cash Creek and if we take this branch, we will gingerly make our way between the abandoned pilings in tannin colored water. These pilings, concealed under brown water, can catch your boat and hold it fast if the water level is just right, risking capsize. It’a always nice to see someone enjoying this site. It’s a huge campsite like most of the sites in Tate’s Hell and is perfect for paddlers who love to paddle the tributaries which empty into the Apalachicola River.

If we could access it easily from the water (and it could be done when the water level is up — easier in a canoe than a kayak), this would be a perfect place to stop for lunch.

There is a drop from the banks or thick mud along the rush-growing slough.

This would make an ideal full moon campsite. Just look at the view one gets from the site.

Looking upriver.

And, looking downriver.

On the road to the campground are several slash pine trees with the customary white band painted around their trunks — indicators of red cockaded woodpecker nests. We noticed that these had PVC pipes inserted in the hole. We didn’t see any activity in them, but wouldn’t it be great to have as neighbors these endangered birds (even if they might be noisy).

In the fall the estuary is a favorite spot for migrating birds.

We have never camped here, but this is one site we would like to try one day and figure out how one can more easily put-in and take-out kayaks.

There are three small campsites at the Cash Creek Landing (one is on a first come basis and not reservable), but this is a more desirable a camp site unless one prefers lots of company. There is more traffic at the Cash Creek Landing site from fishermen launching their boats to go into the estuaries and then to the Apalachicola River and drive in and turn around cars (particularly on the weekends). The Cash Creek Landing is a Day Use area with covered shelters over picnic tables.

It’s a perfect site for paddlers who wish to paddle the area creeks and rivers, totally isolated even from the dispersed camping one finds in Tates Hell State Forest. We have been told by fishermen that fishing here is good. A young fisherman who lived near the Suwanee River camped here. We saw him in his fishing kayak on the New River at Gully Branch Road landing. He had no luck on Gully Branch, after a day of fishing, but he regaled us with the fish he caught the day before on Cash creek.

The photos were taken when the tide was outgoing. Water levels will vary.