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Florida State Parks

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USA Parks
Northeast Region
Cary State Forest
Spoonbills ©
Spoonbills feeding in Florida waters
Manatee ©
Manatee mother and her young show scars from boat propellers
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Cary State Forest, situated in northeastern Florida, is a natural haven boasting an expanse of over 20,000 acres. This preserved forest treats visitors to a diverse landscape of towering longleaf pines, shimmering lakes, and serene wetlands. With its extensive network of trails, it offers a gateway for outdoor enthusiasts to explore and immerse themselves in the beauty of Florida's native flora and fauna. The forest teems with wildlife, making it a paradise for birdwatchers, hikers, and nature lovers alike. Cary State Forest provides a tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life, showcasing the breathtaking splendor of Florida's natural ecosystems.
Nature of the Area
The ecosystems on Cary State Forest are varied and include longleaf pine/wiregrass, mesic flatwoods, wet flatwoods, baygalls and cypress ponds. Other noted wildlife species found on the forest include: wild turkey, bobcat, great horned and barred owl, wild hog, white-tailed deer, pileated woodpecker, yellow-throated vireo and pinewood tree frog.

Cary State Forest is managed as a Wildlife Management Area by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. For specific regulations and dates on hunting, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at (904) 758-0525
History of the Area
Cary State Forest, located in northeastern Florida, has a rich and intriguing history. Here is an overview of its historical background:

1. Early Inhabitants: Before European colonization, the land that now comprises Cary State Forest was inhabited by various Native American tribes, including the Timucua and Seminole peoples. They utilized the natural resources of the area for sustenance and cultural practices.

2. European Settlement: In the 18th century, European settlers began to establish homesteads and plantations in the region. The area witnessed conflicts between settlers and Native Americans during this period.

3. The Cary Estate: The forest gets its name from the Cary family. In 1828, Thomas Hedley Cary purchased a large tract of land, which included the present-day forest area. The Cary family used the land for farming, timber production, and hunting.

4. Logging and Turpentine Industry: Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the logging industry boomed in this part of Florida. The extensive longleaf pine forests attracted timber companies, who exploited the area for its valuable lumber. Additionally, the production of turpentine, a tree resin used for varnishes and composites, thrived in the region.

5. Conservation Efforts: In the early 1900s, concerns grew among conservationists about the rapid deforestation in Florida. To mitigate the extensive logging, the state government initiated efforts to purchase land for preservation and reforestation. By 1937, the State of Florida purchased large tracts of land in the Cary area, establishing Cary State Forest.

6. Reforestation and Recreation: The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal program established during the Great Depression, played a significant role in developing Cary State Forest. CCC workers engaged in reforestation projects and created recreational facilities, such as picnic areas and campsites, many of which are still in use today.

7. Modern Conservation and Management: Over the years, Cary State Forest has expanded its conservation efforts. It serves as a working forest, managed by the Florida Forest Service. The forest aims to balance timber production, wildlife preservation, and outdoor recreational activities, while also providing educational opportunities and environmental research.

Cary State Forest encompasses approximately 20,000 acres of land and offers a wide range of activities for visitors, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, and wildlife observation.
Three primitive campsites are located on Cary State Forest. A restroom facility with showers is provided for campers and day use visitors. A State Forest Use Permit is required for use of all campsites. Reservations are recommended since campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can obtain a State Forest Use Permit and make reservations by telephoning Cary State Forest at 904/266-5021.
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Cary State Forest is located near Callahan, Jacksonville and Macclenny

1. Cary State Forest Loop: This is a 6-mile loop trail that offers moderate difficulty for hikers of all skill levels. The path winds through various ecosystems, including pine flatwoods and cypress swamps.

2. Fireline Trail: A relatively easy hike at just over two miles long, the Fireline Trail takes you along an old firebreak line in the forest with plenty of opportunities to spot local wildlife such as deer or wild turkey.

3. Longleaf Pine Trail: As its name suggests, this trail meanders through stands of towering longleaf pines across approximately three miles round trip journey making it perfect for beginners or those looking for a leisurely walk amidst nature's beauty.

4. Wildlife Observation Platform Pathway: An accessible short pathway leading from parking area towards an observation platform overlooking wetlands where visitors can enjoy bird watching and spotting other aquatic animals like turtles and frogs.

5. The Multi-use Trails System: These trails are open not only to hiking but also horseback riding & biking covering around 20-miles throughout different parts of the state forest offering diverse landscapes ranging from hardwood hammocks to sandhill habitats.

6. Cary Campground Connector Trails: Starting near campground these connector paths provide access into main network system allowing campers direct entry onto longer hikes without needing drive their vehicles further inside park boundaries.

7. Sand Hill Scout Reservation Hiking Paths: Located within confines Cary State Forest itself,these private scout reservation lands offer several additional walking routes exclusively available scouts camping on site during organized events.

8. Wetland Boardwalks: Short wooden boardwalk sections scattered about marshy areas providing safe passage while protecting sensitive environments underneath; great spots observing waterfowl up close personal way.

9. Forest Service Road Walkways: While technically service roads used by rangers maintenance purposes they do double duty acting extra wide pathways when no vehicular traffic present giving ample room groups spread out keep social distancing norms intact.

10. Cary Educational Trail: This is a 1-mile interpretive trail that provides educational signage about the forest's flora and fauna, making it an excellent choice for families with children or anyone interested in learning more about Florida's natural environment.

11. The Fire Tower Pathway: A short but steep climb up to old fire tower offering panoramic views over entire state park; not recommended those afraid heights due narrow stairs lack safety railings at top platform.
Nature Programs
The S. Bryan Jennings Environmental Education Center was built and dedicated as an outdoor teaching pavilion in 1972 and is available for use by the public. The Division of Forestry uses the pavilion to enhance the education of school groups, boy scouts and other groups about forestry and the environment.

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Area Campgrounds
Big Tree RV Park
5221 Dunn Avenue
Jacksonville, FL
Flamingo Lake RV Resort
3640 Newcomb Road
Jacksonville, FL

Cary State Forest is located in northeastern Florida near Jacksonville in Nassau and Duval Counties.

If you are coming from Jacksonville, take I-10 to the Baldwin/US 301 exit. From the exit at I-10, go north on US 301 through Baldwin to Bryceville. The entrance to Cary State Forest is on the east side of US 301, ? mile north of the Bryceville Fire Department.

The entrance is marked with a brown and yellow Department of Agriculture sign with a green and yellow Division of Forestry Shield hanging below it. Drive down the white lime rock lane to the parking area and kiosk.Contact us at:

Cary State Forest

7465 Pavilion RoadBryceville, Florida 32009904/266-5021 or 904/266-5022

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Florida State Parks