The Withlacoochee State Forest (WSF) was formerly a land-use project acquired by the federal government through the Resettlement Administration during 1936-1939. The lands were managed by the Soil Conservation Service from 1939-1954. In 1954, management responsibility for the Withlacoochee Land Use Project was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. The Florida Forest Service (FFS) became the primary land manager after the execution of a lease-purchase agreement with the U.S. Forest Service in 1958. The deed for the property was transferred to the State of Florida in 1983 and the Division of Forestry (now the FFS) continues to managed the property today.
Additional land purchases have been made using funds from the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL), the Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL), the Preservation 2000, and the Florida Forever Land acquisition programs. Purchases/donations through 2012 have increased the size of the forest to 159,625 acres.
The FFS consists of dedicated employees with the mission to protect and manage the forest resources of Florida, ensuring that they are available for future generations. The FFS manages over one million acres of State Forests for multiple public uses including timber, recreation and wildlife habitat.
Timber management activities, such as timber harvesting and reforestation, are conducted primarily in the mesic flatwoods and sandhill communities of WSF. These activities include harvesting off-site pine species for restoration purposes, thinning both planted and natural stands of pines to maintain forest health, and tree planting when needed for reforestation, usually after catastrophic wildfire. Prescribed fire is used in firedependent plant communities to enhance wildlife and listed species habitat, reduce the buildup of fuels and to restore, maintain, and protect their ecological processes. Invasive exotic plants, such as cogon grass, are controlled to prevent spread to other parts of the forest.
Hiking, biking, equestrian and canoe trails exhibit unique characteristics and offer a variety of fauna/flora for the observant visitor. Novice to avid birdwatchers will delight in the exceptional opportunities available for sighting common and rare birds. Some of the better known trails on the forest include the Withlacoochee State Trail, Great
Florida Birding Trail, Florida Nat’l Scenic Trail and the Florida State Canoe Trail. The WSF also has many of its own trails that are part of Trailwalker and Trailtrotter Programs.
OHV and ATV enthusiasts will find miles of fun and adventure around every turn on the 2,600 acres of the Croom Motorcycle Area (CMA).
Seasonal hunting opportunities are available on a majority of the land within the forest in Wildlife Management Areas regulated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Seasons include Muzzleloading, General Gun, Archery, Small Game, and Wild Turkey. Anglers will enjoy fishing the Withlacoochee River where largemouth bass and panfish thrive.
Withlacoochee State Forest is made up of seven non-contiguous tracts spanning five counties. Each of these unique tracts provides native plants and wildlife, refuge from development. These large acreages of natural land also provide clean areas for aquifer recharge. A distinctive character of WSF is its ecological diversity, which includes almost all of the natural plant communities found in Central Florida. Each of these 18 different plant
communities supports many different native plants and animals.
Withlacoochee State Forest’s natural communities are home to many of Florida’s rare and endangered plants and animals, including the Red-cockaded woodpecker, Florida Scrub-jay and Cooley’s Waterwillow to name just a few. Over 67,300 acres of sandhill, a rapidly disappearing ecosystem in the Southeast United States, is located on WSF. The forest is also a wintering area for many migratory birds. In addition, the State Forest provides timber, a renewable resource, to help fuel Florida’s economy.
Things to Know:
In keeping with the mission to protect and manage Florida’s forest resources for present and future enjoyment of all Floridians, the Florida Forest Service (FFS) has developed rules which apply to all visitors to Withlacoochee State
Some of the more important rules are:
• Entrance or Day Use Fees are required to be paid in designated areas. Annual Day Use Entrance Passes and Use Permits (required for any organized group activity) may be obtained at the Withlacoochee Visitor Center.
• Pets are NOT allowed in certain areas of the forest. Where permitted, pets must be confined on a leash no more than 10ft in length.
• Please use trash receptacles or take trash with you when you leave.
• Swim at your own risk. Water quality may vary. Rope swings and diving from trees, stream banks and bridges are prohibited.
• With the exception of the CMA (Croom Motorcycle Area), OHVs/Motorcycles, ATVs and other unlicensed vehicles are not allowed on the forest.
• Registered motor vehicles are allowed on designated open roads only. Do not make new roads or trails. Beware of changing road conditions.
• Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are welcome on open roads and trails designated for their use.
• All horses require proof of current negative Coggins test results.
• A Hunting License and WMA Permit is required where hunting is allowed in designated areas only during appropriate seasons. We encourage all visitors to check the Wildlife Management Area regulations and hunting season dates before visiting the forest. For more information visit www.myfwc.com.
Love the state fo rests? So do we!
The Friends of Florida State Forests is a direct-support organization of the Florida Forest Service dedicated to ensuring Florida’s state forests are available for generations to enjoy. Membership dues go into the forests for
conservation and improvement projects. To join Friends or for more information, visit www.FloridaStateForests.org.
For further information visit: www.FloridaForestService.com