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Point Washington State Forest Comes Alive

October 6, 2010 by Jenny Etheredge

October’s crisp mornings and bright blue skies coupled with the arrival of Monarch butterflies and sprouting wild goldenrod make it an ideal time to get outside and explore one of SoWal’s most treasured and often-overlooked resources - Point Washington State Forest.

The forest preserve covers over 15,000 acres in Walton County and includes various opportunities for outdoor recreation including hiking, biking, horseback riding and even hunting.

A good place to start is the Longleaf Pine Greenway Trail, a network of trail systems throughout the county maintained by the Florida Division of Forestry.  A new trailhead was initiated recently at the end of Satinwood Drive in Blue Mountain Beach that includes ample parking, picnic tables and an eco-bathroom facility.  The trail is narrow and well suited to mountain biking, although most bikes can make it through the terrain as a lot of it is packed down and covered with pine straw. 

The trail winds through the longleaf pine forest canopy and you’ll see a wide variety of pine trees, scrub oaks, small cypress swamps and dry prairie.  The trails are perfect for exploring either solo or in groups but you’ll have to travel single file for much of the journey. 

Leashed furry friends are also welcome to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells.  Starting at Satinwood, this section of the trail travels approximately eight miles through the forest and ends at County Highway 395, however the Eastern Lake Trailhead begins on the eastern side of 395 with anywhere from a three and a half mile to a ten mile hiking/biking loop option if you desire to continue your expedition. 

The initial eight miles of the trail at Satinwood includes four wooden bridges that help you gauge where you are located along the path and keep your feet dry when crossing streams and creeks that vary in depth in correlation to current rainfall and the season. 

Much of the trail is flatlands but there is more variation in elevation in the section that starts at County Highway 83 heading east towards County Highway 283 and can provide a challenging bike ride, hike or trail run.

The Point Washington State Forest is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2,000 mile self-guided highway trail connecting nearly 500 birding sites throughout Florida.  Anything from Bald Eagles to Southeastern American Kestrels to Red-Headed Woodpeckers can be spotted.  Other animals residing in this part of the forest include the Florida Black Bear, wild hogs, coyotes and deer.  But odds are the only creatures you’ll encounter will be birds and lizards!

Trail fees for the Longleaf Pine Greenway Trails at both the Satinwood and Eastern Lake Trailheads are $1.00 per person and are collected via an honor system with a drop box and vehicle pass that must be displayed.  Annual Day Use Entrance Passes are available for purchase from the Friends of Florida State Forests for $30.00 per year and entitles the pass holder and up to seven passengers’ unlimited access to state forest trails.

When using the trails it is a good idea to wear brightly colored clothing and bring along water and a cell phone for safety purposes.  The Longleaf Pine Greenway Trail offers the perfect setting to enjoy autumn’s cooler temperatures with family or friends while appreciating the unique landscape of South Walton. 

Helpful websites:

http://www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/point_washington.html

www.floridastateforests.org

http://floridabirdingtrail.com/

Trail map: http://www.fl-dof.com/state_forests/sf_pdf/pt_washington_trails.pdf

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Jenny Etheredge

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