Location: St. Marks, Florida
Webpage: National Wildlife Refuge
Description: The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is one of the oldest refuges in the system established in 1931. It is about 70,000 acres including 43 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast with over 17,000 designated as a National Wilderness Area. The refuge is divided into four units. The St. Marks Unit consists of slash pine flatwoods, man-made pools, swamps and marshes. It also includes the Visitor Center and St. Marks Lighthouse. The Wakulla Units is mostly hardwood hammocks, swamps, and pine flatwoods. The Panacea Unit is made up of longleaf/wiregrass habitat, flandwoods, and sandhills, Finall the Aucilla Units is 640 acres of wetlands and swamp forest. The St. Marks Lighthouse was first constructed in 1831 and has survived gun boat battles, landing of Federal troops during the Civil War, and many hurricanes. Evidence still exists of sea water evaporation vats used to produce sea salt during the Civil War and turpentine trees in the early 1900s. Appalachee Bay is the home to bottlenose dolphins, brown pelicans, and many wintering birds. Of the 300 species of birds recorded, 98 nest on the refuge. In addition, there are 44 speices of mammals, 38 species of amphibians, and 69 species of reptiles.
1) While the St. Marks NWR is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon in March, we could have spent a lot longer. We only got to see a small part of the refuge including the visitor center and area around the lighthouse in the three hours before we needed to head back to the campsite. Even then we got back just in time to make dinner before dark. The walk along the salt marshes and the Bay were easy hikes with little change in elevation. The trail system is extensive, however, there are a number of trails less than a mile in length that provide access to most of the ecosystems. The weather was pleasant which meant this part of the refuge was busy with visitors even in early March.
2) The Visitor Center was surprising small for so large and popular a refuge. It focuses mostly on the animal species you may find on the refuge.