Category Archives: Blackwater River State Forest

Response to questions about the OHV trail at Blackwater River State Forest by Barbara Albrecht

I read the article and can explain a little of the background.

As you all likely know, the Blackwater River State Forest has ~220,000 acres of land that is managed by the state foresters in several counties.  This is a working forest, meaning that when trees are cut, the proceeds to back into the [Florida state’s] general fund.   Ideally, the money generated from the forest would stay in the forest, but the system is not designed that way.  Trees are cut for thinning or to replant other pine stands with Longleaf.

One of the big issues facing the forest are people making their own trails (usually to a creek or to dump trash).   Over the years, the FWC has taken on the responsibility of ticketing folks on ATVs and motorcycles that are on ‘un-designated’ roads.  Turns out that folks who purchase ATVs and off road bikes pay a ‘special tax’ to have lands that set aside where they can ride.  For many years, ticketed folks were complaining about not having any ‘legal’ locations where to ride.  The nearest OHV park was in Tallahassee, followed by Orlando.

The Blackwater Forest managers have some unique challenges.   Horse folks don’t want to bump into hunters, hikers don’t want to hike near roads, birders don’t want to overlap with folks who could spook birds, paddlers and campers don’t want to be buzzed by military air craft.  Mountain bikers don’t want to have horses on their trails because it messes with the hard pack ground, etc.  No one wants to bump into hunters: dog hunters: bow hunters: etc.

So, to address these specific user groups — thE Forest folks have delineated certain areas for certain activities.   The property set aside for the OHV Park was actually a newly acquired parcel of the 640 acres in 2005-6 which was far away from the other user groups and low lying areas.   This property had not been managed with fire, and so was overgrown and close to the end of Whiting Field’s northern air strip.

The state purchased this land for this purpose (to have a location where OHV could recreate w/o ‘disturbing’ other user groups).  The parcel experiences a lot of air traffic (noise), due to the nearby field, so it is ideally suited for a noisy recreational park.   In addition, the chance of accident & injury from such activities increases — so the site is easily accessible by ambulance & air craft if needed.

Until I worked with The Nature Conservancy and heard all the stories that land managers were faced with, I had never given these issues a second thought.   Think about Gulf Islands National Seashore and the challenges they have of ‘herding’ 2-3 million people through their lands — and leaving only their footprints behind.

The forest has in-holdings, meaning private landowners who live in parcels throughout the forest.   Places like Gulf Islands are one complete parcel w/o any in-holdings.

Personally, I think the foresters that oversee the Blackwater are doing a really good job on a shoe string budget, with a Governor who is not the lease bit interested in protecting our resources.  In today’s PNJ [Pensacola News Journal], a small article mentions how he is in CA trying to ‘steal’ business by saying we have little regulation … that captures it perfectly.

Please let me know if I can help clarify anything.

Barbara Albrecht

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Blackwater River State Forest – 27 miles of off-road trails for OHV’s

From the Pensacola News Journal, April 14, 2015.

“Sprawled across more than 300 acres in the Blackwater River state Forest in Milton is a network of 27 miles of winding trails, groomed and ready to ride — the only facility of its kind in Northwest Florida.

“Off-road enthusiasts of all skill levels can finally enjoy the recently-opened Clear Creek Off-Highway Vehicle Trails near Whiting Field Naval Air Station, a project more than a decade in the making.

“Experienced riders can challenge themselves on narrow, switchback paths through the woods, but newbies need not be discouraged — off-road motorists as young as five years old have already tackled the beginner-friendly tracks and youth training area at Clear Creek.

“The faciity fills a long-awaited desire in the area for a safe, legal place to ride OHV’s, said Wayne Briske, an avid rider who has been part of the efforts to make the trails a reality since about 2004.

“The need was huge,” Briske said, “There are thousands and thousands of ATVs and dirt bikes that are sold in Northwest Florida, and unless you have a large track on your own property, there’s no legal place to ride them.”

“Clear Creek was the result of a joint efforts between the local OHV clubs, the Florida Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy, United States Navy and the Santa Rosa County Commission, Briske said, with dozens of meetings and thousands of hours of volunteer work.

“All of the trails were cut by volunteers as part of our motorcycle and TV clubs here locally, so there was a lot of local manpower that actually went into cutting the trails, Briske said.

“The facility ws funded through OHV title fees, along with about a $300,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program and donations from Yamaha and Polaris.

“Located adjacent to Whiting Field, the trails also helped further the county, state and Navy’s partnership to buffer land around the base and prevent unsuitable development, said David Creamer, recreation administrator for the Blackwater river State Forest with the Florida Forest Service.

“It preserves the abiity to have some more open areas around Whiting Field to prevent encroachment,” Creamer said.

“Only about half of the state’s 640 acre property is being used for the trails, Creamer said, which may be expanded in the future as funding is available.

“There are other places people can ride dirt tracks and things like that, but as far as riding in the woods, this is kind of a unique experience, ” he said.

“Though the state owns the land, the park and its restrooms and concessions are operated by Coastal Concessions, which also manages outpost stores at Fort Pickens along with the Navarre Beach Pier and its gift shop and restaurant.

“A safe environment of off-roaders of all ages is the top priority at the park, which prohibits alcohol and requires riders to wear helmets, said Coastal Concessions General Manager Stephanie Maddox.  The company also plans to bring annual passes in the future to make the facility more affordable for frequent users.

“Our priority is to make it family-oriented, make it fun and enjoyable for the whole family where they can come out for the day,’ Maddox said. …”

 

American kestrel nestling by Larry R. Goodman

Kestrel, American. Nestling. BRSF, FL 061510

Submitted by Peggy Baker of Francis Weston Audubon Society of Pensacola, the society which completed a 2 year study recently of the birds in Blackwater River State Forest (abbreviated report by Peggy Baker posted in this blog, 2013).   The photo of the nestling was taken by Larry R. Goodman.

Peggy writes:

“Here is a picture of the southeastern subspecies of the American kestrel.

“This bird nested all over the SE US at one time.  In the last 80 years it has lost 70% of its population.  Most of these birds nest in the middle of the state.

“This bird was photographed and thus documented in Blackwater by our survey team after FWC put up nestboxes in an area where we saw pair feeding young.  Now there are numerous pairs in these FWC boxes.   We cannot find another record of these birds nesting in Blackwater.  So with the return of the Longleaf/wiregrass habitat, this bird has expanded it range.  Larry Goodman is our our photographer.”

Comment:  GRASI  EIS notes that the open areas of the forest would be advantageous for positioning of temporary camps.   These are the areas in which the birds would be found.  Although the report by the society was available at the time of the initial EIS, no mention of this report is found in the species to be impacted.

West Panhandle Bear Management Unit

Florida counties:  Escambia, Holmes, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton

“Bears in the West Panhandle BMU [Bear Management Unit] are part of the Eglin subpopulation, named after the Eglin Air Force Base that represents the majority of occupied bear range in this BMU.  The subpopulation estimate is below the minimum subpopulation objective, and there the management objective is to increase the current bear subpopulation.  However, Eglin Air Force Base is probably at or near its biological carrying capacity, and therefore increases in bear numbers would likely occur in suitable habitats in other parts of the BMU. [Blackwater River State Forest and any Northwest Florida Water Management areas west of the Choctawhatchee River.] (“Florida Black Bear management Plan, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2012”, p. 94, lines 2273-2279.)

“Minimum subpopulation objective                                                                       200 bears   Estimated subpopulaton in primary range                                                       63-101 bears   Potential bear habitat in Conserved Lands could support                                    121 bears

“Currently, potential bear habitat in conserved land is approximately 74 percent of that needed to support the minimum subpopulation objective.  Habitat conservation efforts should seek to expand occupied range and create the following critical landscape connections: along the Yellow River to Blackwater River State Forest; with the Apalachicola [National Forest] population by building on existing conserved habitat toward the Choctawhatchee River; and Alabama’s Mobile bear population through Cunecuh NF [National Forest]. … Increasing genetic interchange with the bears in Alabama would benefit both of these small subpopulations.” (page 94, lines 2286-2293.)

Minimum subpopulation objective is what is needed to maintain a sustainable population.  “In order to maintain a sustainable population of bears throughout Florida, we must provide adequate habitats, promote viable subpopulations, [emphasis theirs] provide connections among subpopulations, manage human impacts, and influence human behaviour.  It a subpopulation drops below a certain level, it becomes increasingly susceptible to negative effects like inbreeding and environmental variability.”  (p. 1, lines 556 to 565.)

Habitat needed for 200 bears                                                                             1,198,461 acres  Potential Bear Habitat                                                                                           1,886,289 acres Potential Bear Habitat in Conservation Lands                                                        723,051 acres Total area of the BMU                                                                                            2,686,289 acres*

(page 96, lines 2297-2300)

*need not be only public lands, but a mix of private lands and public.