On a crisp October morning, I ventured to the latest addition to Wakulla Springs State Park, the Ferrell Track. By foot and by car caravan, the state park staff and members of the Wakulla Springs Alliance gave us a glance of the expansive 700 acres of sinkholes, hardwood forests, and former agricultural lands.
The acquisition of this property was approved by the Governor and his cabinet in July of 2019 as an addition to the Wakulla Springs Protection Zone Florida Forever project. The Ferrell family lived and worked on this land since the 1870s. John Ferrell knew his land was special and he conserved it for future generations under the Florida Forever Program. But making this deal happen took time, partnerships, and multiple sources of funds, including state and federal investments. Cal Jamison with the Wakulla Springs Alliance worked directly with the landowner for years to identify sinkholes, map the caves and karst formations beneath, and move along the deal between Ferrell and the state.
The track of land – known as the Ferrell Track – will be preserved as a corridor connecting the Apalachicola National Forest to Wakulla Springs State Park. The property will aid in the protection of the nearby Wakulla springshed as well as multiple unique karst sinks and an underground cave system that are like deep limestone windows into our aquifer.
From cat faced, turpentined pines to the old windmill, this place gave clues to its past. Cal had a story for every stop. Legends of timber wagons lost in a sinkhole’s abyss, a young tree now old shaped to point in the direction of the road, a skeleton of a barn looking upon a sea of yellow grasses and wildflowers, left to grow free, and beneath its humble landscape, a sprawling cave system.
A red shouldered hawk cried overhead. A small alligator floated to greet us as we circled around a sinkhole. “We’ve seen otters here,” remarked a park ranger as we all peered hopefully into Ferrell sink, which connects directly to Wakulla Spring by an underground cave that stretches beneath Hwy 61. Under our feet, a watery, winding world exists. It’s health directly affects ours; its detriment spells disaster for the wildlife and humans above.
The Ferrell track contains 48 acres of wetlands, including swampy cypress domes, sinkholes lined with hardwoods and wildflowers, and even estavelles – a new term for me – which is a type of sinkhole that, depending on weather conditions and seasons can serve as a sink and drain water or reverse as an upwelling from the aquifer. These unique geological features – as well as hundreds of acres of longleaf pine and grassy pasturelands – were acquired with Florida Forever funding to protect our state’s aquifer and water resources. Since the program’s establishment, Florida Forever has conserved thousands of acres of land just like this, as an investment in our state’s health and longevity.
As I walked and drove the roads to this property, I thought of its past. The turpentine industry was brutal and Cal referred to the segregation of the site’s swimming holes. This was Muscogee/Creek land. Much of our conserved “working lands” hold an unspoken history of oppression, inequality, and land theft; to see these places delivered to the public and restored is a beautiful thing. To know that this land was to be opened to the public – as hiking trails, camping sites, or other uses – gave me hope that all Floridians would be able to one day visit. When the legislature fully funds Florida Forever, decades-long projects like the acquisition of Ferrell Track are made possible. And with collaboration between federal and state agencies and advocacy groups, we can create a patchwork of public lands for all to enjoy.