Conservation Lands Along the Byway
There are a total of 12 managed conservation areas located along the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway, including four Wilderness Areas within the Ocala National Forest. These lands range from the 1,444 acre Barberville Mitigation Bank to the 389,000 acre Ocala National Forest. These lands together total nearly 500,000 acres, and provide a continuous corridor for wildlife across nearly the entire Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway corridor.
Barberville Mitigation Bank
The 1,444 acre Barberville Mitigation Bank was established by Volusia County for the mitigation of development impacts. The Mitigation Bank fronts almost one mile of the Scenic Byway.
Caravelle Ranch WMA
The 13,383 acre Caravelle Ranch Wildlife Management Area is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and is located between the Ocklawaha and St. Johns River in the northern portion of the Byway Corridor. The Management Area fronts about three miles of the North 19 Spur.
Nestled between the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers is the 27,241-acre Caravelle Ranch Wildlife Management Area with hardwood river swamps, pine flatwoods, and improved pastures punctuated with small depression ponds and hardwood hammocks. On Caravelle you can participate in special opportunity dove hunts and supervised youth small game hunts, as well as quota hunts for deer and feral hog. Horses are welcome, and ample space is available for parking trailers.
Fishing is excellent on Camp Branch Creek, and opportunities abound for birders, especially in the spring when as many as 15 swallow-tailed kites may be observed circling the pastures. The St. Johns River Water Management District and the Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Greenways and Trails, administer portions of the area.
Heart Island Conservation Area
St. Johns River Water Management acquired this property in 1994 with Preservation 2000 funds to protect water resources.At the time of purchase, the property had undergone extensive clear-cutting for the timber resources. St. Johns River Water Management has focused on planting longleaf pine to restore the area’s native plant community.
In July 1998, wildfires burned more than 4,000 acres. The District is working to replant vegetation devastated by the wildfires. This conservation area is part of the 35,380-acre Lake George Wildlife Management Area.
Lake George State Forest
The Bluffton Mound and Midden at the Bluffton Recreation Area illustrate the rich archaeological history of the St. Johns River and Lake George area. For thousands of years early Florida Indians inhabited the area.Explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries first noticed the large mounds of freshwater shellfish that were created by the Indians. Later, the shell mounds attracted some of Florida’s earliest archaeologists. Today, little of the mounds exist as most were excavated for material to build roads. Past uses of Lake George State Forest include timber management, naval stores production, grazing and hunting. Prior to 1910, logging canals were dug through the swamps to remove cypress logs. In the 1930’s much of the area was forested in longleaf pine and slash pine and used for cattle grazing. Starting in the 1960’s, slash pine was planted as previous owners had aggressively harvested the forest.
Lake George State Forest is one of several publicly-owned tracts of land encircling Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida. The St. Johns River borders 3 1/2 miles of the forest and provides a wealth of ecologically valuable communities as well as river-based recreation. The surrounding landscape of the forest contributes to water resource protection of the Lake George watershed and aquifer recharge. Lake George State Forest is also part of an extensive wildlife corridor that provides habitat and roaming area vital to the survival of the Florida black bear population in the area.
Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway
Gainesville bass anglers find the 50-mile trip to Florida’s Rodman Reservior easy, especially now that the bad cold spells have passed and the bass are beginning their annual pre-spawn rituals. With the water temperatures now in the upper ’50s and lower ’60s, the fish are moving from deep protected channels and onto the many hundreds of acres of 3 to 6-foot flats to prepare their nesting beds. These ‘bedding’ fish are easily caught by accomplished as well as amateur anglers.
Rodman Pool is the dammed-up section of the Oklawaha River that eventually leads into the St. John’s River through the now-defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal. Two working locks allow boat passage into the St. John’s near Welaka, north of Palatka, but their primary use is to prevent backflow into the spring-fed Oklawaha. The best boat ramp is at the western mouth of the canal, is part of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. There’s a $3 daily launch and day use fee. Overnight camping is allowed. For details, phone (386) 326-2846.
Ocala National Forest
The Ocala National Forest is the central feature of the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway. The forest is composed of approximately 389,000 acres, and fronts about 169 miles of the Byway. This represents more than half of the Byway’s 289 miles of total road frontage. The Forest was established in 1908, making it the oldest National Forest east of the Mississippi River. It is also the southernmost National forest in the continental U.S. The forest is bounded on the north and west by the Ocklawaha River and the Cross Florida Greenway, and on the north and east by the St. Johns River and the 46,000 acre Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida. The St. Johns River is designated an American Heritage River. The Ocklawaha is designated an Outstanding Florida Water.
The Ocala National Forest contains the world’s largest sand pine scrub, an increasingly rare natural community that is home to plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. These plants and animals have adapted to the near desert like conditions found in the scrub, conditions brought about by the coarse, nutrient poor soils that allow rainwater to rapidly percolate out of reach of plant roots. The scrub depends upon fires occurring at 20 to 80 year intervals to maintain its ecology.
A GIS analysis of the Florida Vegetation and Land Cover data set produced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 2003 produces some startling facts concerning the importance of the Ocala National Forest. Two of the most endangered natural communities in the United States are Sand Pine Scrub and Xeric oak Scrub. According to the FFWCC data set, the Ocala National Forest contains 72% of the state’s Sand Pine Scrub, and 43% of the state’s Xeric Oak Scrub. The Sand Pine Scrub is fire dependent; the forest requires periodic burning for the continuation of the natural community.
Plum Creek/ Volusia County Easement
The St. Johns River Water Management District and Volusia County jointly own a conservation easement on 11,730 acres of land providing an important link between the Heart Island Conservation Area and Tiger Bay State Forest. One of the main purposes of the easement is to protect the area’s water resources.
Silver River State Park
Silver River State Park, a popular destination for hiking and wildlife watching, is located at the western terminus of the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway, and includes more than 5,000 acres of a variety of habitats. The park encompasses all but the headwaters of the Silver River, which originates at Silver Springs and empties into the Ocklawaha. Seventeen listed species of plants and 25 listed species of animals have been identified within the park, which is also home to the Silver River Museum and a Cracker Village.
Tiger Bay State Forest
Tiger Bay State Forest consists of large areas of swamp with embedded pine islands and a large pine ridge area. The purchase of this forest began in 1977 under the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, with additional acquisitions made in 1994 and 1998. Tiger Bay State Forest is located among several publicly owned lands which create wildlife corridors for species listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern. Roaming habitat is available for the Florida black bear as well as potential nesting and foraging area for the bald eagle.