Greetings. My name is Carl and I live in Pensacola, FL. I’m a founding member of PORC and I’ve been off road riding in this area about 10 years, mostly at the University of West Florida. We mostly formed the club to meet other cyclists and to keep the UWF trails open. There are other trails in the area, namely Mobile and Birmingham, AL, and Tallahassee although UWF is only 20 minutes away. There are maybe 10-15 miles of trail that are really nice and it’s easy to do a quick 10 mile loop after work and be home before it gets late. The university plans on expanding in the future and I’m sure that protecting the trails will be pretty far down the list of things to worry about. They have pretty much turned a blind eye to our activities and we’ve been pretty low profile.
Blackwater State Forest has around 220,000 acres that are open to the public. I’ve ridden in this forest several times although it’s so immense it’s difficult to know where I am or which way is out. Most of the forest is open to hunting but there is the Juniper Creek Primitive Area off of Red Rock Road in Sringhill that is a “no hunting” area. The Juniper Creek Trail (part of the Florida Trail) runs through this area. It’s closed to bikes but I wondered if they might let us use it once a year for a long epic ride. They said “no” pretty clearly but they suggested that I contact the forestry department as they were trying to get other user groups up in the forest. We met with Tom Ledew and David Creamer and they were pretty excited to have us expressing an interest. They recommended the Juniper Creek Primative Area as a possible trail building area although we were welcome to build anywhere.
The Juniper Creek area is pretty huge, probably several thousand acres between Red Rock Road and Indian Ford Road along Juniper Creek. The area we were going to start with was on the east side of the creek. There were some old roads cut through the area and the terrain was pretty varied. I was going all out getting the trail planned. I figured a 10 mile loop with 8 miles being the minimum. From this we could branch out hopefully getting a huge network to do some epic 50 milers. I submitted a plan of the trail layout using topo maps, aerials, GIS information, etc (I do AutoCAD for a civil engineering firm. Santa Rosa Couty’s GIS maps are awesome). I had a 10 mile loop with some good 100 foot of elevation climbs. After submitting this layout to the forestry department, the Florida Trail people nixed it because it was to close to their trail. They suggested moving to the west side of Juniper creek. This was a small setback but there is so much forest to work with. Besides, they are as protective of their trail as we are of our UWF trail.
I designed a new trail on the computer for the new parcel. This area was pretty nice. There is a dirt road down the ridge to the creek and an old railroad bed that follows Juniper Creek. The forest was very clean and open making for easy trail building although the soils map showed it being very sandy. I submitted my new layout to the forestry people and they ok’d it and sent it on to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists. The biologists walked a small portion of the trail and found several gopher tortoise holes. Gopher tortoises are now a species of concern so we have to stay 100 feet away from their holes. The biologist also wanted me to start flagging the trail so it would be easier for them to check behind me. My trusty girlfriend Barbara and I began flagging in the late fall of this year. We flagged maybe a mile at a time over several weekends to get the phase 1 portion done. The biologist came out and checked our work and declared about half of it gopher tortoise habitat. Apparently the tortoises like open sandy areas. So much for easy trail clearing. Another setback but again, no problem. We rerouted a portion of phase 1 while removing about a mile of flagging and they gave it their blessing. Phase 1 has been submitted and hopefully it will be ready to start cutting in the spring.
We started flagging phase 2 several weeks ago. Phase 2 was about 8 miles long. After the biologists checked some more of our trail, they suggested we have a meeting. I figured this was the kiss of death and they would tell me to quit bothering them. I met with David Creamer of the Blackwater Forest and Barbara and Brian of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They were really excited (to my relief) about the trail but were concerned for the tortoises. We walked a portion of phase 1 and they showed me what to avoid as far as tortoise habitat. They also suggested that we look for a place to cross Homes Branch so as to open up land for phase 3. We then went to look at the flagging we had done for phase 2. David had concerns about some gullies I was planning to cross on the trail. He said we weren’t allowed to use them or even be near them for fear of further erosion problems. I was disappointed but he’s the boss. My friend Paul and I went out flagging trail and mapping some of the gullies. We realized that a large drainage ditch/gully cut off the whole northern portion of the property.
Phase 2 has now been whittled down to less than 5 miles and with the shortening of phase 1 down to 1.25 miles, I’m now down to less than the 8 mile minimum I was hoping for. But with the opening up of the other side of Homes Creek, we can easily (hopefully) get maybe 20 miles total. Right now I’m still flagging phase 2 but Paul and I found an illegal deer stand out there. I figure if there is one, there are more. With the holidays upon us, all the yahoos are out shooting anything that moves. I’ve now got a blaze orange jacket and hat but I’ll wait until after the new year to get back out there.
My plan is to get most of phase 2 flagged while phase 1 is being scrutinzed by the powers that be. When phase 1 gets approved, I’ll get the club involved more. Phase 1 shouldn’t be to hard to open up but it’s pretty short for anyone to make a special trip to ride it. With phase 1 open, phase 3 should start getting flagged. The crossing of Homes Branch we looked at looked ok until I crossed over the creek. It looked like a huge boggy wetland area. I think further south down the creek will be better as the contours are closer together.