Tallahassee has a big backyard. That's because more than half a million acres of the Apalachicola National Forest begins around the airport and extends west to the Apalachicola River and south to Tate's Hell Swamp near the coast. Unspoiled rivers course through vast stands of cypress and pine, many of which offer prime paddling opportunities, but if you're seeking an outing close to home, a string of ponds and lakes and some of the nicest longleaf pine sandhills found anywhere exist as a partial beltway of natural Florida around the capital city.
One of my favorite tracts is along L. L. Wallace Road, between Springhill Road and Crawfordville Highway less than six miles south of Capital Circle. This was once a playground for motorized dirt bikes and off road vehicles, but the U.S. Forest Service has closed off most of the side roads to any type of motorized vehicles. Off road vehicles are now limited to numbered forest roads and designated trails. And so the closed forest roads are reverting to inviting footpaths and mountain bike trails through rolling hills. And there is an added bonus-the trash dumping that once plagued this part of the forest is now limited to isolated instances along the main road. The interiors are relatively trash-free.
Heading south from Wallace Road, I recently hiked along a string of ponds, the largest being about a mile distant. As a boy, I once fished this cypress-lined pond in a canoe with a buddy. We fished and fished, and suddenly my jitterbug was swallowed by something big and I was in for an exciting battle. After a couple of adrenalin pumping minutes, my line went slack and my jitterbug popped to the surface. I was never knew what struck my lure. We didn't get another strike.
Over the years, several friends have used some of the forested hilltops in the area for quiet vigils whereupon they sat still for hours and even days without food, the purpose being to purify, attune and perhaps gain some life direction. Many reported good results. They were never disturbed by another human except those entrusted to check on them.
As a teenager, I once dreamed of creating a hideaway in the forest, perhaps building a platform or shack nestled in a swamp or titi thicket. A special place known only to animals, where I could be as still as a tree. I didn't really want to be a hermit, however. I liked people too much. It would just be an occasional getaway. But I never followed through on the dream because outings and campouts have fulfilled that need, and I only seek to leave footprints. With more than a half million acres of public land, it's easy to find solitude when you seek it.
So find your special spot in the Apalachicola National Forest, and return whenever the urge arises. It's only out your back door.
A new Apalachicola National Forest map is now available for purchase and can be obtained at the district ranger station in Crawfordville or at the forest headquarters in Tallahassee on John Knox Road. For more information, visit their website.