Blackwater River State Forest
Blackwater River State Forest is a 209,571-acre property that straddles the Blackwater River as it makes its journey across the Florida panhandle from its headwaters in Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico. Historically, the longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem that covers Blackwater River State Forest covered more than 60 million acres of the southeastern states. Today, that same ecosystem has been reduced to less than 3 million acres. With Conecuh National Forest to the north and Eglin Air Force Base (formerly the Choctawhatchee National Forest) to the south, Blackwater River State Forest is in the heart of probably the largest contiguous longleaf pine/wiregrass community on Earth.
The topography in this part of the Florida panhandle is low rolling hills where the elevation varies from 10' to 290' above sea level. A lot of the soil in the area is a sandy red clay that has been eroded and shaped by water flows over the years. With Juniper Creek, Blackwater River, Sweetwater Creek and Coldwater Creek flowing on the property, this is a favorite area among the canoeing-kayaking set. And depending on the soil conditions and moisture levels, you might find yourself paddling through longleaf pines/scrub oaks, slash pines, loblolly pines and hardwoods, Atlantic white cedars or swamp hardwoods. Blackwater River State Forest also harbors more than a few pitcher plant bogs: wet areas where carnivorous plants like bladderworts, butterworts, glistening sundews and four species of pitcher plants wait for the opportunity to trap insects in their trumpet-shaped leaves and digest them.
This area is critical habitat for the survival of the red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise, pine barrens treefrog and the panhandle lily.
Most folks go to Blackwater River State Forest to enjoy the hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, picnicking, swimming, canoeing, fishing and camping opportunities offered. There are seven developed recreation areas on the forest (most of them next to good canoeing and fishing lakes but not all allow swimming - something about alligators in the water) and some of them offer campsites with restrooms, showers and electricity. Blackwater River itself is rated as one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in North America. A portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail crosses Blackwater River State Forest, too. The forest is also a site on the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Blackwater River State Forest is so large that for hunting purposes, the forest has been divided into three separate Wildlife Management Areas: Blackwater WMA, Blackwater Hutton Unit and Blackwater Carr Unit.
Map courtesy of the Florida Division of Forestry