Location: Naples, Florida
Webpage: Florida State Forest
General Description: Most of the Picayune Strand State Forest was originally logged for bald cypress in the 1940s and 1950s and later filled in for pasture land. In the 1960s the Gulf American Land Corporation purchased over 57,000 acres to create the largest residential subdivision in America called “Golden Gate Estates”. A massive system of canals and roads were built and thus began the original “swampland in Florida” scams of the 1970s. Parcels averaging 2.5 acres were sold to investors worldwide after showing the property by plane during the dry season. Since the area is the center of the Big Cypress Basin, it was not possible to develop the area as it would flood every summer. The development eventually went bankrupt in 1978 leaving 17,000 investors owning a piece of swampland. In 1985 a plan was put into place to purchase the land using Conservation and Recreation Lands funds under a program known as “Save Our Everglades”, but purchasing the land from all these investors was a huge undertaking. In 1998, the Federal government provided 25 million dollars to Florida to help with land acquisition and by 2006, the last parcel has been purchased. The objective of the State Forest is to rehabilitate the land back to its natural state to protect water flow to the ecologically sensitive Ten Thousand Islands and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Natural habitats is dominated by cypress stands with wet prairie and pine flatwoods in the lower areas and subtropical hardwood hammocks in the higher areas.
1) This is a site that must be seen to be believed. It is difficult to tell if any restoration has been done to the area, since it is still laid out with major canals and clearings for the residential streets. There are even patches of asphalt on the major roads. Of course, we were there during the dry season in February. I suspect during the summer it would be mostly under water. Access to the property today is only possible from the east through the 11 mile James Scenic Drive through the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, which gets very rough with wet holes near the end of the drive before you enter the State Forest. Once you are in the State Forest it is a different world from the wild and natural Preserve (although it was also logged extensively in the 1950s and 1960s) to the relatively tame and cleared subdivision that is only now beginning to revert to a more natural state. We saw a number of cars making the trip up the James Scenic Drive, so it can be done, but I would not recommend it for anything less than a pickup truck.