Officials with the Trust for Public Land announced last week that 626 acres of Wolfe Creek Forest has been acquired and added to the Blackwater River State Forest.
The acquired property includes frontage on Big Coldwater Creek, which is widely used for kayaking, tubing, and canoeing by community members. It also includes a spring-fed state paddling trail beloved by area paddlers and birdwatchers.
At over 200,000 acres, Blackwater River State Forest is one of the largest state forest in Florida. Along with Conecuh National Forest to the north and the Eglin Air Force Base reservation to the south, the forest forms one of the largest remaining longleaf pine forest complexes in the world.
This acquisition will also protect naval air base operations, water sources, public recreational activities, bird migration, and habitat for endangered species and other wildlife. The Trust for Public Land purchased the property on October 18th from CF Florida, LLC. The purchase price was $1,526,038.85 and was sold to the State of Florida for the same price on November 4th.
“Incorporating this section of Wolfe Creek Forest into the Blackwater River State Forest protects it from development, forever, protecting both the natural resources on the property as well as assuring continued naval air station operations. Our goal is to make sure this land remains a recreational hub and habitat center for generations to come while investing in the future of Whiting Field,” said Trust for Public Land Project Manager Doug Hattaway.
Funding for the acquisition came by leveraging both Florida Forever funds, with the US Navy contribution through its Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program. Protecting the property ensures that land adjacent to the base will not be incompatibly developed in ways that may limit flight operations and vital military training. NAS Whiting Field is the busiest aviation complex in the world, accounting for nearly 15 million annual flight operations including primary flight training for over 1,200 students and is the host of 21 tenant activities. Additionally, approximately 600 new helicopter pilots are winged annually and 100 percent of all Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard pilots are trained at NAS Whiting Field. The base supports over 14,000 local jobs and is a vital economic engine for the area with more than $1.1 billion in economic impact on the local economy.
“Naval Air Station Whiting Field enjoys a tremendous relationship with the State of Florida and its partners in encouraging compatible land development, conservation of public and private lands and encroachment partnering initiatives,” NAS Whiting Field Commanding Officer Capt. Todd Bahlau stated. “These 600 plus acres are located underneath noise contours, flight track profiles and within a military planning zone. The execution of this project provides a substantial buffer in sustaining our military mission, as well as, safeguarding valuable natural resources.”
The acquisition will also accelerate efforts to fill in a strategic landscape-level gap of long leaf pine forest. Land management will see to the replacement of existing commercial tree species with the native long leaf pine species. Longleaf Pine Forests once covered over 90 million acres in the Southeastern United States but prior logging practices reduced their range to only about 3 million acres. Bringing back the native trees will provide the habitat upon which several endangered animal and plant species, such as the red cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake, black-bear, and gopher tortoise depend.
“We are excited to work with TPL to acquire the Wolfe Creek Forest property, which will enhance the protection of a variety of natural resources while balancing the public recreational and educational opportunities.” said DEP Division of State Lands Director David Clark. “This property will also serve to provide additional protection to Naval Air Station Whiting Field from potential incompatible development.”
The Trust for Public Land will continue working with partners on conservation efforts as future acquisitions remain a top priority, officials said.