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Getting Outdoors . . . can be as easy as taking a hike!

Sandra Chafin Special to The Star
The Star

Our next road on the Trail Guide at the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve is Homestead Road. While it is a little shorter than some roads it is one of the sandiest roads. Obviously, there was a homestead at some point in the past however, there is no evidence remaining now. There has been fire line restoration from Homestead through Depot Creek by the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten and Emerald Coast which helps explain why the road is so super sandy.

The next road is Sandridge. As you make the turn you will see a flat-top pine tree on your right. This tree is several hundred years old. Old pine trees will look that way when they grow in soil that has few nutrients. The tree can’t grow fat or tall, so they stay small and flatten out ton the top.

If you walk the entire length of Sandridge you will interest with other roads such as Broomsedge, Pond Road, and the South Gate Trails. You will notice the change in elevation. As the elevation goes up, even just a few feet, you will see that the plant community also changes. Notice the oak trees and reindeer moss (lichen). These plants and trees are growing in sugar sand. Could you grow vegetables in this sand?

Do you wonder how and why sand is at this location? This is the site of an ancient sand dune ridge-and-swale. Research done at the Preserve several years ago determined that the Buffer Preserve has some of the best examples of these dune ridges-and-swale of any other locations in the state. You can feel the change as you gently climb to reach this extremely sandy area.

As you walk you should see some metal poles. These are placed for Photopoint monitoring. A staff member takes a picture of a site before a burn, after a burn and continues taking pictures for up to a year or more to note the differences.

You will see a trap, beehives, Eagle’s nest, and watch for gator tracks.

There are lots of pine trees as you hike the road. Longleaf pines were once the dominate tree in the southeast US. These pines were cut down for the ship building industry and were replaced with slash pine and loblolly pine. The reason for this was the longleaf pine takes so long to grow and slash and loblolly grow much faster. They are not as strong and desirable as longleaf pine lumber.

Longleaf pines are important because they are more fire adapted and will survive a wildfire better than slash pines. In fact, the longleaf pine is fire dependent. The needles of the longleaf are much longer and the pinecones are much larger than slash pines.

Many years ago, the longleaf pine was King, and its area was vast. They dominated the southern landscape. There were over 140,000 square miles of longleaf pines stretching through nine states, starting in southeast Virginia and eventually stopping in east Texas.

Over 150 years ago the face of the southern pine forests changed radically as the forests were over-exploited. In Florida, Georgia and Alabama there were over 90 million acres or 90% of land had longleaf pines. Today there are only remnants or 3% left in preserved lands.

Staff at the Buffer Preserve work daily to restore the natural habitats and communities. Preserve Manager, Dylan Shoemaker is proud of his staff. “We have a dedicated staff who fully understand the importance of our work at the Buffer Preserve. One of our most important goals is getting these natural communities back in great shape. Accomplishing this helps us all. Come out and enjoy our roads and trails and let nature work its magic for you. In other words – Come and take a hike!”