Picayune Strand State Forest
|Picayune Strand State Forest|
Map of Florida
|Location||Collier County, Florida|
|Nearest city||Naples, Florida|
|Area||78,000 acres (320 km2)|
Picayune Strand State Forest is a forest conservation area in Florida. It is a formerly logged area that was slated to be developed into a massive residential scheme that failed. It is being returned to a natural state.
Picayune Strand State Forest is located in southwest Florida in western Collier County, approximately 30 miles (48 km) east of the city of Naples. The forest can be accessed on Everglades Boulevard from the north or from Janes Scenic Drive from the east. The Florida Division of Forestry Field Office is located at 2121 52nd Avenue SE, west of Everglades Boulevard S. The Forest comprises two major tracts of land, the South Golden Gate Estates Tract and the Belle Meade Tract. The South Golden Gate Estates Tract comprises the majority of the forest.
The land which is now Picayune Strand State Forest was originally logged for cypress trees in the 1940s and 1950s. It was later filled in as pasture land. In the 1960s, Gulf American Land Corporation (founded by Leonard and Julius “Jack” Rosen of Baltimore via Miami) purchased over 57,000 acres (230 km²) to create the largest subdivision in America to be called "Golden Gate Estates". A massive system of canals and roads were built and thus began one of the original "swampland in Florida" scams.
The Corporation sold the land in 1.25 acre lots to buyers world-wide. The land, which the Rosens bought at $100 per acre, sold at $800 per acre with the tag line “Buy it by the acre and sell it by the lot.” Potential buyers were flown over the area during the dry season then subjected to high pressure salesmen who were selling lots averaging 2.5 acres (10,000 m2) apiece. Prospective buyers were shown films of Cape Coral, a community developed by the Rosens with churches, golf courses, and schools, and assumed the Rosens would duplicate their success at Golden Gates. But the Rosens were not building in Golden Gate Estates. According to Leonard Rosen:
“We’re promising nothing, absolutely nothing. We’re offering what we believe to be an excellent investment at a low cost and with the company’s good name behind it. It will be a place where the unsophisticated investor can take pleasure in his property.”
Most of the land south of Interstate 75 could never be developed due to summer flooding, and the development eventually went bankrupt in 1978. The long, straight roads of the abandoned area became landing strips for planes loaded with drugs from South America.
In 1985, a plan was put into place to purchase South Golden Gate Estates using Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) funds under the "Save Our Everglades" program. This was an incredibly large undertaking as it involved acquiring land from 17,000 landowners. In 1998, the federal government gave 25 million dollars in aid to the State of Florida to help with land acquisition. Land acquisition was completed in 2006. Restoration efforts will restore the sheet flow of freshwater that is necessary for the continued existence of the ecologically sensitive Ten Thousand Islands and the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Picayune Strand State Forest is in the heart of an ecosystem called the Big Cypress Basin. The majority of this hydric forest is under water during periods of considerable rainfall. The forest comprises cypress strands, wet prairie, and pine flatwoods in the lowlands and subtropical hardwood hammock in the uplands. The northern section of the Belle Meade Tract contains many second growth South Florida Slash Pine, with some remnant trees being over 100 years old.
The forest provides habitat for many species of wildlife making wildlife viewing a popular activity. The following species have been sighted on the forest: American black bear, white-tailed deer, Osceola turkey, Bald eagle, Wood stork, Big cypress fox squirrel, Swallow-tailed kite, Red-cockaded woodpecker and Florida panther. Although Florida panthers are rarely visible, they do leave tracks for the observant visitor. Female panthers have borne cubs on the state forest in recent years.
Picayune Strand State Forest offers many recreational opportunities. A 22-mile (35 km) horse trail winds across the Belle Meade Tract from Miller Boulevard to Benfield Road. All horses on the forest must have current negative Coggins Test results, proof of which is to be carried by each rider. An oak shaded primitive camping area can be found near the middle of the trail. Picayune Strand State Forest is part of the Florida Division of Forestry's Trailtrotter program. Off-highway vehicles such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off-highway motorcycles and swamp buggies are prohibited.
- Picayune Strand State Forest (Florida Division of Forestry)
- U.S. Army Corp of Engineers project site