Category Archives: Womack Creek

TUPELO BLOOMING — DEFINITELY SPRING ON WOMACK CREEK.

Granted, this was the first sprig of bloom. Many of the trees just had an inkling of light green tips, but with several days of 70 degree temperatures, the Ogeche tupelos will be ready for the bees.

And hopefully, they will show.

Within a few miles of the creek are a bank of bee hives. In the last two years the blooms were sparse, but so were the bees. This year, the bees are on the blackberries and hopefully the tupelos will bloom soon so the bees can move on to these flowers. Tupelo honey is one of the area’s best agricultural products and they’re getting harder and harder to find.

Tupelo honey never sugars, but increasingly we’ve paid premium prices for tupelo honey (as gifts) only to find the recipient telling us that it sugars.

We like tupelo honey, but at the current price, our friends get it, not us.

On Womack creek, ogeche tupelo trees are the last to leaf and the last to bloom. To us its a sign that’s a sure sign of spring.

RED ALERT ON WOMACK CREEK, IF YOU’RE AN ALDER SHRUB!

Pretty. Beetles can be beautiful.

And predacious.

Ask a few alder shrubs on Womack Creek which are losing their leaves to adult and larval alder beetles.

These grub with impunity, so it was not difficult to get photos of the adult, larva and pupa of the insects.

They love vegetables!

Until they’re pupated.

Had it not been for a recent curator added to the inaturalist.org experts, I might never had this identified. There is very little written about this species, although it apparently is a North American native.

If it contuinues its march along creeks and streams, eating alder leaves, it will soon be noticed.

BLOOMIN’ FLOWERS ON WOMACK CREEK, TATE’S HELL SF, March 12, 2019

Swamp jessamine were more prolific on the creek this year than in year’s past, As were crossvines.

At the entrance, golden clubs were still blooming.

Bristly buttercup still blooming throughout the lower creek where there is more sun.

The oaks were setting out their blooms: live oak and water oaks.

Southern dewberry and Pennsylvania black berries promise fruit later in the season.

Still blooming are Walter’s viburnum and parsley haw. Walters are usually are going to seed as the Virginia sweetspire start to bloom and the heat-sensitive parsley haw blooms fading with warm temperatures.

And definitely before Rusty haws bloom or fringe trees.



Poison ivy are blooming and pinxsters will be blooming for a few weeks more.

At Nick’s Road Campsite where we stopped for lunch, candy root, round leaf bluets and primrose violets were still blooming. Cinnamon fern were starting to sprout.

Spatterdock, just beginning to bloom.

A nice day to be on the creek.

CRITTERS ARE STIRRING ON WOMACK CREEK, TATE’S HELL SF — March 12, 2019

This mud turtle was making its way from one ditch to another on Jeff Sanders Road near the Womack Creek Campground.

The walls of the restrooms at the Womack Creek campground is a good place to find moths.

And mosquitos and oak twig pruners.

And on the creek, it was warm enough for a Suwanee cooter and river cooters.

And American alligators.

And a brown water snake.

Ringed paper wasps were starting their nests.

Spotted fishing spiders were out.

And a fisherwoman, silently going down stream with her trolling motor.

She was calling it a day as we were starting it, having caught her meal for the day.

For paddlers: Tate’s Hell State Forest, camp guide

It is possible, if one is not adverse to going upriver, to do a half circle from the Ochlockonee River to Crooked River to Carrabelle River and end up on one of the campsites on the New River (or the reverse), camping along the way. This will take you through the deciduous lowlands, estuary/swamps and upper pineland areas of the second largest Florida state forest. Except at Womack Creek campground, there are no showers available. At Rock Landing Day Use Area on the Crooked River and Gully Branch Day Use Area vault toilets are available. However, consider this primitive camping all the way and bring your own water. You may be able to filter water at Womack Creek Campground and Gully Branch Campground where water is available, but not potable. We recommend you bring your own water for drinking and cooking.

The best time to be paddling and camping in Tate’s Hell is from mid-October through mid-May. After May some areas will have yellow flies, which, unlike mosquitoes and other flying insects, will follow you on the water and even enter your cockpit. Yellow flies are particularly bad in the summer at Gully Branch Recreation Area and Log Cabin Campground.

Here is a list of the paddling venues in Tate’s Hell State Forest and the campsites which may be accessible to paddlers. For specific camp site information, search by Campsite number of name on this site.

Ochlockonee River

  • Log cabin Campground *: Campsite #23 has the easiest access and is used by paddlers on the Ochlockonee as an overnight or a rest/lunch stop. Campsite 24 has access to the river, but better when the river is high or the tide is incoming. Campsite 25 and 26 have no easy access to the Ochlockonee, use campsite 23 access.
  • Womack Creek Campground/Day Use Area, CS #29-CS #40 *: There is gravel landing used by motorized boats and paddlers. There are tent and 3 RV/tent campsites here with 3 sites with electricity. Womack Creek Campground is the only campground in Tate’s Hell with showers. Campers from other sites, can use the showers by paying $2 day use fee. Water not potable, sulphurous.

Crooked River is affected by tides from Ochlockonee Bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico via Carrabelle to the west. It goes under the CR 67 bridge and, at high water periods, may require portage across CR 67. There are a few short branches of this river which can be explored.

  • CS 28, Loop road, easy access
  • Rock Landing Campground/Day Use Area, campsite 41-43*:
  • Rock Landing has a concrete boat ramp, vault toilet, covered picnic tables. You will have to carry your boats to the landing. There is a grassy area on either side of the concrete ramp.
  • Crooked River #44, has a gravel landing used also by motorized boats. There is a grassy parking area for trailer parking. CS#45 is accessible to the Crooked River, but there is a drop when the water is low (or the tide is outgoing).
  • Sunday Rollaway, #46, good sandy landing.
  • Oxbow #47 a sloping, sandy hill, but there is sufficient flat sandy area near the water to be able to take-out horizontal to the land.
  • Warren Bluff #48, good sandy landing.

New River: the upper stretch from CS #1 to CS #17 can be a challenging paddle due to treefalls, strainers, smilax and may not be entirely navigable from April through the early winter. Where access is available on the New River campsites, care should be taken when the river is low, there are deep drops and one could loose one’s initial footing with the downriver current and get in over one’s leg stretch.

  • Sumatra, CS 1, generally easy unless the river is low, sharp drop into river
  • New River West, CS 3, accessible, but steep drop when water is low
  • Gully Branch tent only, CS 4, use Gully Branch Day Use area (will have to carry your boat there), concrete-sectioned landing used by motorized boats also. Vault toilet.
  • Dew Drop, CS 5, no easy access to river.
  • Parker Place CS 8, good access, watch sharp drop when water is low or tide is out.
  • Pope Place CS 9, good access
  • New River East, CS 13, yes with caution when water is low
  • New River East, CS 14, yes with caution when water is low
  • New River East, CS 15, yes with caution when water is low
  • New River East, CS 16, yes, use creek to access north of campsite and carry-up boats to camp level (incoming tide will fill up creek; if boat left in creek, should be tied loosely to accommodate rise in water level.)
  • New River East, CS 17, yes. one of the best camping sites for 8 tents if paddling the upper New River since the shuttle from FR 22 will take longer than most shuttles and you may not be able to get into the river till about 2.5 hours after meet-up.

Borrow Pits: CS 6 is on one borrow pit and close to another, CS 7 is on a different borrow pit, both ponds are small and suitable for children and beginners, easy access. There are fish in the borrow pits.

  • Borrow Pit CS 6, very large site, grassy, great for families because of the flat space available for children (and adults) to play games like bocce, croquet, football, soccer, petanque, etc. Road around the borrow pit enables short walks. Good visibility for easier surveillance of children. However, it is off West River Road and may have some traffic on that road.
  • Borrow Pit CS 7, is more isolated and less trafficked, but has similar characteristics as Barrow Pit CS 6.

Cash Creek on the west side of Tate’s Hell SF is off SR 65 and has access to the estuaries which will take one to other creeks and the Apalachicola River. Cash Creek upriver has about 12 miles of paddling options.

  • Cash Creek Campground/Day Use Area: concrete landing with sandy section for kayaks and canoes. Vault toilet, covered picnic table. CS 55, 56, 57 (walk in), are small, open sites suitable for 1 RV/trailer or tent. This is a popular motorized boat landing to launch boats down into the estuaries and the Apalachicola river.
  • Pidcock Road, CS 49, very nice high campsite over Cash Creek, but may be difficult to access boats into water, with possibility when the tide is in. Can accommodate 8 small tents.

Whiskey George Creek is part of the estuarine creeks which empty eventually into the Apalachicola River or East Bay of the Apalachicola River.

  • Dry Bridge, CS 51, has an accessible, grass on mud landing which is slippery when wet.

Doyle Creek is part of the estuarine/swamp creeks which empty eventually into the Apalachicola River or East Bay of the Apalachicola River.

  • Doyle Creek, CS 52, difficult access to water, muddy.

Deep Creek joins Graham Creek downriver which joins East River (to river right) to the Apalachicola River. It is navigable to Graham only when the water is high. When the water is very high, the campsite dry area is severely diminished.

  • Deep Creek CS 53, very secluded, cozy campsite, which when the water is high may have a section of the site under water. Good access to water, upstream and downstream to Graham Creek.

Womack Creek is a 3.75 mile creek (with additional shorter branches) which connects Womack Creek Campground landing to Nick’s Road campsite. For us, it’s a gem of a creek with flowering shrubs and understory plants. We have a separate blog site just on this creek http://www.womackcreek.wordpress.com, A Paddler’s Guide to the Flowering Plants of Womack Creek.

  • Nick’s Road CS 27, is a secluded, large campsite with easy paddle access on Womack Creek. Upcreek there are branches to explore (a family of otters live there) and downcreek there are additional branches to explore. There is hardly any upriver current, but tides influence the level of the creek waters. It is 3.75 miles downriver to Womack Creek Campground.
  • Womack Creek Campground/Day Use Area, CS #29-CS#40. This Day Use Area has a covered pavilion with 2 grills for day use users. $2 per person day user fee. Flush toilets, hot showers. No potable water. This is a good place to put-in for a round-trip on Womack Creek of not quite 8 miles. See http://www.womackcreek.wordpress.com , Paddler’s Guide to the Blooming Plants of Womack Creek for information on living things on Womack creek.

*The maximum number of adults allowable per site is 8, but many of the sites are suitable for group camping/paddling. These are indicated with an asterisk. If you are organizing a group camp/paddle, consult with Bin Wan, Recreation Coordinator Talquin District, Florida Forestry. He may be able able to help with planning and site selection. When using sites with strictly primitive camping, you may wish to consider rental of a portable toilet or bring several portable toilets with disposable, biodegradable toilet sacks.

CS 29-40 – Womack Creek Campground, Tate’s Hell State Forest

You can reserve the sites at the Womack Creek Campground at Reserve America, Tate’s Hell State Forest, Womack Creek Campground. If you have to call 911, your address is 5503 Jeff Sanders Rd., GPS 30.00197, -84.53935. Emergency responders will need the street address. This information is not included in your Reserve America confirmation.

When you arrive at your site, check to see where you can get coverage, if you cannot get coverage at your site.

At 5503 Jeff Sanders Rd. you will find Womack Creek Campground, the largest of Tate’s Hell State Forest’s campgrounds. Although called “primitive” it has currently a large rest house with hot showers and flush toilets. Water is not potable; it can be filtered, but water in the area smells of shulper and needs to sit overnight to remove the smell. Recommend you bring your own drinking and cooking water. Because the resthouse sits on the rim of a bluff overlooking a curve in the Ochlockonee River, the sandy banks have been eroding at a very rapid rate and is currently about 1 foot away from a corner of the foundation. The restroom facilities may soon be closed because of the danger of collapse of the foundation. In such a situation, Tate’s Hell Forestry may have to install vault toilets because the primitive tent sites are too close to each other even though well separated by thick palmetto stands. Digging your own toilet as in isolated single sites in the forest is not sanitary.

Although any number of hosts and visitors have noted that the eroding banks should be shored up over the years, nothing has been done that we can see. This is a lovely campground and increasingly has attracted group camping.

It has been a favorite campground for us because it’s the landing to Womack Creek. In 2013 we organized a paddle for about 85 paddlers to camp here for a weekend and paddle Tate’s Hell SF and area paddling venues. A major front caused cancellation of the paddles on the last day. Tate’s Hell Forestry was very supportive of the group’s plans and provided free firewood and other assistance to enable the event to be a success. Talquin State Forest Region Recreation coordinators have always been willing to help with group events in the forests under their jurisdiction.

We noticed yesterday when we took these photos that there was more dog poop around the campground, which is not common here (or any campsite in Tate’s Hell SF). As tenters, we are particularly conscious of dog feces since we are sleeping directly on ground and walk the area a lot more than campers do. If you reserve a campsite here and you are tenting, you might wish to call the Tate’s Hell State Forest office and request that they remind the host to clean up the dog poop before you expect to be there. If you are trying to introduce a good tenting experience to friends or family, this is sure to discourage them from doing any more camping.

Also, be warned that the host has a dog which while very friendly jumps on you. It is not on lease as it should be. Before you let your children out of your site area, you may want to check with the host to make sure that he is aware that you have children, particularly if you have a child who may not be familiar with dogs larger than they are and may not know how to handle an overly friendly dog.

This is what you will see as you drive into the campground.

This is the parking area for cars for those in the tent only campsites which are inaccessible to cars.

This is the site of the host’s trailer, the only host at Tate’s Hell State Forest. Hosts are volunteers.  They volunteer 20 hours a week of volunteer time and are given a site and water and electricity hook-up for that work. The host at Womack Creek campground is also responsible for the campsites at Nick’s Road landing and other nearby campsites. This is very hard work, so please be patient with them. The regular work often takes more than 20 hours a week and they often buy from their own pockets paper and soap for the bathrooms. To assist these volunteers, you can keep the restrooms and your campsite clean and clear of garbage and debris and clean up your firepit of thrash — the firepit is not a thrash bin.

Campsite 33 and 35 are not reservable. For those camping here, place your fee in the envelope provided and deposit the check/cash in envelope in this iron ranger. There is a day use fee of $2. Campers from other sites often use the showers at Womack Creek Campground. They should pay the day use fee of $2 per person.

This is an enclosure to protect the burrow of a gopher tortoise, an endangered specie and keystone specie. Keystone species are essential to many other living things which depend on them or their habitats to live. In the case of gopher tortoises, about 150 different species including a number of other endangered species. Please do not use this area as a play area and if you see a gopher tortoise, stay away — they are not play animals. They are essential denizens of this ecosystem.

The rest rooms have a very long and wide veranda from which one can rock and view the Ochlockonee river flowing below you. Those rocking chairs were donated by the then Florida Canoe and Paddling Connection paddlers (now Florida Kayaking.com) who held a camp/paddle here in 2013.

The view downriver – note how close the banks are to the rest rooms.

The upriver view from the veranda. At dusk and at dawn this is an incredibly reposeful place to be.

Between the boat landing and the restrooms are the day use pavilions with 2 grills.

And below that is a grassy play area and the boat landing.

The Ochlockonee River curves just before this landing. At flood tide, there are eddies which are quite strong upstream of the landing. Looking upstream you will see the opening of Womack Creek on the left and to the right the Ochlockonee River.

CAMPSITES IN CAMPGROUND

CS #29

This is a tent only campsite as are campsites 3-33, 35, 37. Campsites 33 and 35 are not reservable, but available on a walk-in basis.

The tent sites vary in size, but are not large. There is a picnic table at each campsite and a fire pit. Remember that if you plan to use the fire pit, the tent should not be too close to it or the flying embers will burn a hole in your tent fly.

This site is large enough to hold a 4-6 person tent. It will be cramped.


Except for campsite 37 and the RV/tent sites cars are not accessible to the site. That campsite is not reservable, but is the largest tent site in the campground.

Campsite 30 should accommodate a 4 person tent or 2 two person backpacking tents.

I failed to get the sign post photo of the site below, which is campsite 31.

In the middle of the campsites is a large area for a group fire pit.

Campsite 32 is a smaller tent site which can accommodate a 4 person tent.

Campsite 33 is a non reservable site.

Campsite 34 is an RV/tent site with electricity. It costs more and is reservable. Of the 3 RV/tent sites this may have the largest tent site not on gravel.

This is campsite 35 which is walkable from the main entry road, but car parking is in the group parking area. It is not reservable.

It is one one of the more private of the campsites at this campground.

Campsite 36 is an RV/T site with gravel.

One could pitch a small tent here or at the entrance in a small triangular grassy area right off the main road.

Campsite 37 is the largest of the tent sites and one can park one’s car in the site.

Campsite 38 is an RV/tent site with electricity.

If you camp here, please post your comments in the box provided at the end of this post.

This is a smaller tent only site for a 2 person tent.

A young couple from Indiana was camping here. It rained the night before, but they enjoyed biking the trails.

If you camp at any of these sites, please add your comments.

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 later to be not so indispensable after all.

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 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 State 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 for restoration, forest lands must still pay the cost of ongoing maintenance and restoration of lands.

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. These burn crews can also include volunteers who have been trained and certified. Volunteers are essential to maintaining a predictable level of maintenance of most state agencies. Those interested in being trained to help with managed burns should contact the Lake Talquin regional office (which includes Tate’s Hell SF) of Florida Forestry Services, Department of Agriculture (850 681-5950).

We have come to prefer state and national forestry for camping 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 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 in. 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 request 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, 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 all road signs. Signs have been taken or pranksters have turned signs such that some are pointing the wrong way. Again, financial resources cannot be put toward our convenience by replacing signs which would sooner than not be vandalized again.

Eventually, 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 for directions on unpaved roads.

It gets more adventuresome doesn’t it? We heard about reports from a paddling group from Missouri we led on the New River from CS 17 to Gully Branch Road. Word was they thought getting to the put-in was more hazardous than paddling the river. Maybe it was the sand; all the roads were passable with a few puddles.

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, fastidious spouses and maybe you). 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 is 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 that this land is being restored to its natural roots. And were the politics to change in the future, the adventures you take them on in wilderness now may be the only times in their lives which this experience will ever be available to them again. If this were ever to happen, wouldn’t you say that you were able to give them a priceless gift?

Know, if you go: If you must call 911, each campsite has an address. First responders will not be able to respond to a campsite number in the forest. Reserve America does not give you this address. The addresses are posted in this blog with the campsite information. Also, cell coverage varies within this very large forest. When you reach your site, check to see if you can get coverage. If not, find the closest spot where you can transmit and receive signals. If you have a teenager with you, they already know that or ask them to locate that spot.