Osceola National Forest
The Osceola National Forest is located in the northeastern portion of Florida between Lake City and Jacksonville near the crossroads of I-10 and I-75 and the crossroads US 90 and US 441. It is located in parts of Columbia, Baker, Bradford, and Hamilton counties. The forest is headquartered in Tallahassee, but there are local ranger district offices located in Olustee.
Ranger District Offices
The years 1565 to 1763 marked the period of Spanish occupation in Florida. Spanish activities during this time centered primarily in North Florida included the development of the mission system and establishing trade with the native Floridians. The Native Americans living in the area were the Northern Utina, a Timucuan tribe.
During the twenty-year British occupation, 1763-1783, the Osceola was included in the “land claimed by the Creek Indians.” It was not until after the Revolutionary War that individuals began to settle in the Forest establishing an agricultural based economy. Less than ten years after Florida’s entrance into the United States (1845) there were 14 sawmills around Jacksonville receiving timber harvested from the Forest.
The Battle of Ocean Pond (Olustee), fought in 1864, took placed within the Forest on the Olustee Battlefield Historic Site. During this encounter Union soldiers attempted unsuccessfully to cut off major railroad supply lines to confederate troops.
The Osceola was proclaimed a National Forest by Presidential Proclamation on July 10, 1931 and is one of 154 National Forests managed by the USDA Forest Service for the benefit of the American public.
This new “forest” had been cutover and heavily burned. A management plan was developed that focused on establishing new growth through reforestation. Fire controls were implemented to ensure the survival of the young trees. During the 1940’s a new concept, prescribed burning, was developed and managed fires began to be used to reduce the fuels and lessen the threat of wildfire.
In the 1960’s, management in the USDA Forest Service National Forests was expanded from managing primarily for timber production to include managing for range, water, recreation and wildlife, with an emphasis on the “multiple use” of forest resources. Wise stewardship has left the Osceola National Forest with an abundance of natural and cultural resources. Today the forest is managed for multiple uses on an ecological basis with the mission of “Caring for the Land and Serving People.”
This “flatwoods” forest is a mosaic of low pine ridges separated by cypress and bay swamps. It is typical of the flatwoods country with elevations ranging from 90 to 200 feet. Visitors enjoy quiet, peaceful woodlands named in honor of the famous Seminole Indian warrior, Osceola.
Most of the Osceola has a high water table and poorly drained soil. Ground water normally fluctuates from 0-40 inches below the earth’s surface. Many intermediate swamps flow through the flatwoods.
The northern portion of the forest is characterized by Pinhook Swamp and Impassable Bay. These wetland ecosystems link the forest to the Okefenokee Swamp and form the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys Rivers.
Big Gum Swamp is a 13,600-acre Wilderness Area in the north central part of the Forest. The Osceola also has a 373-acre Research Natural Area included on the register of National Natural Landmarks.
Flora and fauna
Vegetation on the Forest is generally divided into two types; swamps and ridges (a ridge may only be a few feet higher than a swamp.) Longleaf and slash pine, saw palmetto, gallberry, wiregrass and wax myrtle grow on the ridges. Cypress, blackgum, bay maple, ferns, mosses and briars are found in the swamps. These vegetative types provide plant species that have high value as wildlife food.
The Osceola National Forest has been known for its ability to produce high-quality timber. Remnants of old railroad grades used to move logs to sawmills crisscross the forest. Trees across the forest were tapped for resin and remnants of old turpentine camps can be found throughout the forest. The Olustee Experimental Forest was established in the 1930’s to provide research for the naval stores industry.
The temperatures for the dry months of November through February range from a daily average of 50F to a high of 72F. The summer season is much warmer and wetter. Short afternoon thundershowers often raise the humidity to about 90%, while the temperatures range from 80F to 95F. The average rainfall is approximately 55 inches per year.
There are no hotels or motels in Osceola National Forest. Try nearby Lake City or Macclenny if you need traditional lodging.
Ocean Pond Campground
Ocean Pond Campground is located on the north side of Ocean Pond, a 1760-acre natural lake. Sixty-seven campsites are available for tents, trailers, or motor homes. Many of these campsites are waterfront sites allowing guests to enjoy the water or fish right from their campsite. A beach area, boat ramp, drinking water, hot showers, and flush toilets are located in the campground. No sewer hookups are available; however, a sewage dump station is located near the campground entrance. Electrical hookups are available at 19 of the sites. Fees vary from $8.00 to $18.00 depending on campsite.
Large families and small groups will enjoy the secluded “Landing Group Area” which is available by reservation only. A maximum of 50 persons is allowed at this area where your group may enjoy swimming, boating, camping, picnicking, or just visiting with friends and family. Facilities include a sand beach, boat launch for small boats, picnic shelter, large group grill, and restrooms with showers. Reservation can be made by calling the Olustee Depot Visitor Information Center at (386) 752-0147. The fee is $50.00 per 24-hour period.
Hunting is a very popular activity on the Osceola National Forest. General gun season runs from mid November to early January and during that time all camping is restricted to designated hunt camps and Ocean Pond Campground. A total of nine hunt camps are located on the forest and are open year round to the public. One of the hunt camps have toilet and water facilities year round and toilets are provided at the remaining eight camps during the hunting season.
Primitive camping is allowed anywhere on the national forest except at Olustee Beach. However, camping is restricted to designated hunt camps and Ocean Pond Campground during hunting season. A primitive camp shelter is located along the Florida National Scenic Trail and is available on a first come first served basis.