Florida’s Smallest National Forest
By: Kyle Grammatica
Osceola National Forest is Florida’s northernmost and smallest national forest. Within the forest’s 200,000 acres there are unique habitats like the Pinhook Swamp, a wet pine flatwood and pocosin swamp found on the northern end of the forest. There is also Big Gum Swamp, a wilderness area with over 13,000 acres of cypress-sweetgum swamp. Ocean Pond is large shallow lake within Osceola National Forest that is a very popular boating and fishing destination for over 100,000 visitors annually.
Osceola National Forest is home to many unique plant and animal species. You can find red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises, Bachman’s sparrows, and eastern indigo snakes. Some of the plant species you can come across include toothache grass, lopsided Indian grass and pitcher plants. Black bears can also be found in the area, so campers are advised to store food in bear-proof containers or keep it away from their campsite.
There are several recreational opportunities at the forest including biking, camping, fishing, swimming, hiking, and horseback riding. ATVs can be used in the area for free on unpaved trails around the forest as long as there are no signs prohibiting them. Gun hunting season runs from mid-November to early January.
The History of Osceola National Forest
Osceola National Forest was created by President Herbert Hoover on July 10th, 1931. Turpentine operations had been conducted in this area for decades and a substantial amount of the trees had been cut for timber. When the land was formed into a national forest, new trees were planted, and older trees were harvested to ensure the forest was even-aged. The Osceola National Forest area was also the site of the only major civil war battle in Florida, called the Battle of Olustee, fought near Ocean Pond on February 20, 1864. There are yearly reenactments of the battle that visitors to the forest may watch.
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