Jennings State Forest
Jennings State Forest
Jennings State Forest is a 23,997-acre property purchased by the State of Florida through Florida's Preservation 2000 Program, the Conservation and Recreation Lands Program and the Save Our Rivers Program (in conjunction with the St. Johns River Water Management District). Management of Jennings State Forest is in the hands of the Florida Division of Forestry.
Jennings State Forest straddles the Clay-Duval County line, with most of the property located in northern Clay County. That puts the forest about 5 miles southwest of Orange Park and about 10 miles southwest of Jacksonville. Jennings State Forest Headquarters is located on Long Horn Road, near one of the five primary entrances to the property. The western entrances to the forest are all off roads heading east from Country Road 217 or north from County Road 218 while the eastern entrances are off roads leading west from State Road 21.
This area contains a large portion of the headwaters of Black Creek and its tributaries. You'll find some excellent examples here of seepage slopes, flatwoods, blackwater stream, slope forest, dome swamp, seepage stream and sandhill ecological communities. This is one of the few areas left in north Florida where natural seepage slope communities are still in good ecological health. The sandhill communities are also still in very good condition with healthy populations of longleaf pine and wiregrass.
Among the recreational activities offered/allowed are hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, primitive camping (by permit only), hunting, fishing and canoeing (for which there are four canoe launch sites). Jennings State Forest is a designated site on the Great Florida Birding Trail and you'll find various hawks, wild turkey, northern bobwhite quail, pine warbler and wading birds among the hundreds of migratory species that nest, rest and winter here. For mammals you'll find white-tailed deer, gray fox, raccoon, eastern cottontail, otter and various large and small rodents. You'll also find reptiles that range from green tree frogs to American alligators. Black Creek is also home to the endangered Black Creek Crayfish.
Two hiking trails on Jennings State Forest are included in the Florida Division of Forestry Trailwalker Hiking Program: North Fork Black Creek and Fire and Water. The 5-mile loop of the North Fork Black Creek Trail passes by a couple of canoe launch sites on the North Fork of Black Creek. And while the trail parallels the creek for half its distance, it also loops back through an upland zone of pine and mesic flatwoods. The 1.7-mile Fire and Water Nature Trail is designed to give you insights into how fire and water affect and effect the various plant communities and the wildlife those communities support. There is also information along the trail describing how the Division of Forestry is working with fire and water to restore the forest to its more natural state.
Jennings Forest Wildlife Management Area overlaps Jennings State Forest but that aspect of the property is managed by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Photo of creek and canoe courtesy of St. Johns River Water Management District