Tag Archives: Blackwater River State Forest

More Than Meets the Eye in Blackwater River State Forest

by Beverly Hill

As a local who appreciates the outdoors, natural areas such as Blackwater River State Forest are a welcome diversion from modern life.  A peaceful hike along a trail or a laid back float trip down one of the rivers that run through it settles the mind into a quiet state of reflection.  As the human experience slows, the mind opens to notice more:  a green lynx spider with a bee in its web, a white-tailed deer track, an endangered pitcher plant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even with a natural eye, on a field trip to Blackwater River State Forest with the Florida Master Naturalist program, I was able to come to appreciate even more about what we have right here in the Florida panhandle.  As we walked through the thigh-high wiregrass surrounded by pine trees and sparkleberry bushes, our group came to stop under a tall pine speciman and learned that it was a long  leaf pine, a species of pine that inhabits less than 6% of its original range due to exploitation by the logging industry in the early 1900’s and from attacks by the southern pine beetle.  It is the key tree species in a complex of fire dependent ecosystems in the southeastern United States and plays a vital role in the survival of numerous species of wildlife, such as the endangered red cockaded woodpecker.

The red cockaded woodpecker only makes its cavity nest in old-growth long leaf pines that are at least 80-100 years old.  Our guide, who works extensively with the red cockaded woodpecker, set up a long pole with a video camera on the end and guided it up the tree to a small, nearly imperceptible hole.   Our group crowded around to get a glimpse of the woodpeckers, but instead got to see a southern flying squirrel who had taken up residence in the cavity, proving once again that a seemingly simple thing like a tree can help many things.

We moved on from the tree and carefully explored a small pitcher plant bog at the bottom of the slope where I was able to spot a small collection of white-top and parrot pitcher plants, as well as several small sundews.  The pitcher plant population in the United States is less than 3% of its original size due to habitat loss, a fact that wasn’t lost on me as I watched an impossibly tiny frog hop beneath a blade of grass in search of food.  The more we looked, the more interesting things we found:  wildflowers, dragon flies, archaeological remnants from the turpentine era.

 

We loaded back into the vehicles and headed to an ephemeral pond which is an area that has both wet and dry periods throughout the year and is important for breeding amphibians.  Although dry at the time of our visit, we were once again treated to the sight of unique plants and flowers that grow only in these temporary wetlands.  Almost as temporary as our afternoon outing that was winding down.

Although not my first visit to Blackwater River State Forest, it was one that provided greater insights about the importance of protecting our natural areas, both for ourselves and our environment.  Now, whenever I return, I will walk the trails and float the rivers with hopes of seeing even more hidden treasures.

Beverly Hill’s website: http://www.northwestfloridaoutdooradventure.com  gives photos and information of other Northwest Florida outdoor venues.

 

Bear Lake Campground – Black Water SF – 2018 Paddler’s Rendezvous

Blackwater River, shown in above photo, is one of the rivers offered for paddling at the Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous, October 24-28, 2018.   Main rendezvous headquarters will be at the Bear Lake Campground.  For information contact wfckcrendezvous2018@yahoo.com.

 

 

2018 Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous to be held at Blackwater River State Forest

Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous, an annual meet-up of paddlers in Florida (and open to all) is scheduled for Blackwater River State Forest on October 26-28, 2018.

Blackwater River State Forest has some of the most beautiful, clear waters and sandy banks in north Florida.   You will have your choice of lazy, wider creeks and rivers and a few technical and faster moving waters.

More details with contact information will be posted as they become available.

 

 

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

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. …”