How the Withlacoochee Forest Came to Be – part 1
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
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.
The final destruction of the local ecosystem was extraction of hard rock phosphate from the land through mining for fertilizer.
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.
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.
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.
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
The original goal was to purchase 250,000 acres within Citrus, Hernando, Sumter
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.