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withlacoochee state forest sign

How the Withlacoochee Forest Came to Be – part 1

By Diane Bedard Posted on August 14, 2019

This article is based on and derived from Sid Taylor, Florida Forester and Historian

Have you ever noticed a sign stating “Welcome to the Withlacoochee State Forest” while driving around Florida’s Nature Coast? Have you noticed one, and then another one in a different location and wondered, “why is this forest in pieces, some in Citrus, some in Hernando, some in Pasco and even some in Sumter County?”

There is a good reason for the Withlacoochee State Forest, whose history goes back to the early 1930s. Read on to find out more.


The Withlacoochee State Forest was created as the Withlacoochee Resettlement Land Use Demonstration Project (WRLP-Fl-3) under the Agriculture Adjustment Administration agency of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. 

The Nature Coast’s natural resources were nearly decimated from the intensive naval stores industry. Soap, paint, varnish, shoe polish, lubricants, linoleum, and roofing materials were manufactured from pine sap taken from the old-growth trees.

Man pointing out “cat face” on virgin longleaf pine tree in 1936 after the Nature Coast’s resources had been decimated by the naval stores industries. Courtesy of Florida Memory.

First, the production of turpentine and rosin from pine tree gum distillation devastated the area’s pine forests. 

Next, these same trees were harvested and milled for lumber, as well as the area cypress trees.

After the turpentine was taken from the pines, there was cross-cut logging, removing pine and old-growth cypress trees from the entire area. Image courtesy of Florida Memory.

The final destruction of the local ecosystem was extraction of hard rock phosphate from the land through mining for fertilizer. 

In the mid 1890s, logs, stumps and snags were cleared from the Withlacoochee River to allow phosphate shipping from area mines. Image courtesy of Florida Memory.

In the mid-1890s, the Withlacoochee River was cleared of logs, stumps, and snags allowing barges (with a two-foot draw) to move the phosphate through Port Inglis until WWI. The war closed the shipping lanes in 1914. By the early 1930s, most of the phosphate deposits were mined out and the pits were abandoned.

This image shows the land as it was in the 1930s – no value for growing and no opportunity for the forest to reseed itself due to the quantities of trees removed. Image courtesy of Florida Memory.

These consumptive uses left 17 million “cut-over” and devastated acres in Florida by WWI.

The Resettlement Administration buys out Local Farms in Tax Delinquency

Conceived in August of 1934, the Resettlement Administration (RA) purchased “sub marginal” farmlands with the intention of resettling the farm owners and their families onto better soils elsewhere.

Four-fifths of the local population was without income.

Abandoned farm near Brooksville. Photo taken June, 1936 by Carl Mydans.

95% of the original 113,000 acres that made up the Withlacoochee State Forest were in tax delinquency due to the Great Depression and by 1935, there were 46 Resettlement Land Use projects in 24 states.

The Withlacoochee River Flooding

One of thirteen such Resettlement Administration projects in the Southeastern United States, another factor that qualified the Nature Coast area for Federal help was flooding.

The Withlacoochee River is true to its Creek language name: which means water, big and little. Sometimes the river is flowing and wide and flooding, and sometimes it is not.

Withlacoochee River from the State Road 48 bridge by Shannon Burns DeMitt

Colder winters and shorter harvest seasons had also forced much of the local truck or barter vegetable famers south to the Lake Okeechobee area. Truck, or barter, vegetables were garden vegetables grown to sell to markets. The local soil had become so poor that the families that could afford to move had moved on.

In these 113,000 acres, only 44 destitute local families were left. The Withlacoochee Resettlement Land Use Demonstration Project (WRLP-Fl-3) included assisting these families in acquiring employment. 

Budget Cuts create a Disjunct Landscape

Originally, the plan was for the Resettlement Administration to purchase 250,000 acres for the Withlacoochee Land Use Resettlement project but budget cuts pared the forest plan to 113,000 acres in various locations throughout the area. Image courtesy of Florida Memory.

The original goal was to purchase 250,000 acres within Citrus, Hernando, Sumter and Pasco counties to create the Withlacoochee Forest.

Budget cuts reduced the forest plan to 113,000 acres leading to a disjunct landscape comprised of 39,309 acres in Citrus; 31,510 acres in Sumter; 35,273 acres in Hernando; and 6,852 acres in Pasco County.

Continued in Part 2… click here for more

Comments

djay says

What info if any do you have on Croom OHV area. Was it the result of the same time period and mining ?

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