By Elam Stoltzfus
A 90 second video sponsored by WUSF on forestlands in Florida
I love hiking through the woods. Whenever I am walking through the piney woods of northwest Florida it is a chance to slow down and observe. It a place of sanctuary, a vista to rest my mind, and a spot to communicate with the Creator. Just padding through the forest with my Australian shepherd, Buddy, and a camera is relaxing, and I can take pictures at my leisure.
Recently I learned about how to manage woodlands. My wife and I own 20 acres of old forest in the Florida panhandle. Part of the forest had mature pine trees and needed to be harvested. So…how could we harvest the pines without destroying the integrity of the land? The chief of the cutting crew told me that we would do a “seed cut” of the lumber; this means that they left some mature pines standing and, if burned within a few months, new growth will start to come next summer.
Here in northwest Florida large tracts of forestland, although primarily planted commercially for timber harvesting, have other benefits: they are a refuge to wildlife, protect river watersheds, and provide a natural filtering system to purify water. Many tributaries to rivers begin in a forest area flowing through marshes, creeks, and swamps.
One of my favorite places to hike through is the Apalachicola Bluff and Ravines Preserve north of Bristol, (locally known as the Garden of Eden). It is a three mile hike to the top of Alum Bluff which stand over 130 feet above the Apalachicola River. The trail skirts several steelhead ravines, unusual terrain for Florida. In the spring there are blooming dogwoods, azaleas, and other stunning forest flowers. Fall brings an array of colors, fall flowers and the unique smell of autumn.
Spring at Alum Bluff
Just north you can find Torreya State Park. With a series of hiking trails, a river overlook, and a nice camping area, this is a great place to explore.
One of the greatest gifts you can give this Christmas season is take your friends and family outdoors to hike, go bird-watching, and discover what is in your backyard. Memories are gifts that last a lifetime; get outside and connect with nature.