Location: Dunnellon, Florida
Webpage: Florida State Forest
General Description: This 54,000 acre forest near the Gulf Coast of Florida consists of 15 different natural communities from freshwater marshes to pine sandhills. The extensive old-growth longleaf pine forests in the State Forest are the home to the largest number of colonies of red-cockaded woodpeckers, an endangered species, on public lands in Florida. Since burning using prescribed fire is an essential tool for the health and diversity of the sandhill communities, visitors are able to see the impact and importance of this tool on any of the hiking or equestrian trails throughout the forest. On Goethe State Forest can also be found one of the largest bald cypress trees in the state, known affectionately as Goethe Giant, over 9 feet in diameter.
1) The State Forest Office is a nice structure located near the Apex Trailhead. The receptionist was extremely nice providing us with all the literature they had about he forest and trails. She also took the time to show us their displays about the red-cockaded woodpecker, turpentining history, and butterfly collection in their conference room.
2) We did take advantage of the Big Cypress Boardwalk, which is a short walk into a cypress dome where there are some very large bald cypress trees. The boardwalk takes you right up to Goethe Giant which is a massive tree and easily the biggest bald cypress I have ever seen. It is currently only just over 100 feet tall, but at some point in the past it was obviously much taller as the diameter at this height is still over 6 feet, but the top is gone. There is another tree nearly as big with a missing top just off the boardwalk.
3) The Buck Island Pond Trail is also a great trail for hiking. It takes off from Buck Island where there is a nice boardwalk out into the pond with a picnic table out over the water. Along the trail you get to see the edge of a cypress swamp and with a few feet change in elevation, a pine sandhill that has been recently received a seed tree cut. They claim they are converting this to a longleaf stand from a slash plantation, but the next stand is going to be mix as their seed tree cut had to leave more slash pine then longleaf. Still it is a good next step in the process. The trail also goes through what they claim is an old growth longleaf pine stand. Since I did not see any trees much over 100 years old, I was disappointed. There are some nice longleaf pine trees, however, I would not have called this an old growth longleaf pine stand.