Historic use of land that became the Big Bend WMA in 1987 still bears archeological evidence that native people lived off the bounty of the land. More modern use shows historic “cat-faced” scarring on the pine trees that were tapped for sap, which was used to make turpentine and manufactured goods, and to maintain wooden ships. Shipbuilders also prized live oak for quality lumber, and this part of north Florida remains one of the state’s most valuable producer of timber and forestry products.
Forestry remained the area’s main industry even when the native hardwoods were converted to faster-growing slash, loblolly, or sand pines. However, these pine plantations grown primarily for pulpwood production, did not provide quality habitat for wildlife. Early in the 20th century, mature cypress was removed from swamps along railroad trams, which were constructed primarily to haul out the harvested trees. Remnants of these trams now provide raised roadways for recreational use. Prior to the state's purchase, much of the area was used as rangeland for hogs and cattle.
When wildlife viewing started becoming more popular in the mid-1900s, the Buckeye Cellulose Corporation developed a picnic area at Hagen’s Cove that included a pavilion, sheltered tables and grills. Hagen’s Cove became a popular site in large part due to the isolated natural beach, as well as excellent wildlife viewing, fishing and scalloping opportunities.
In the mid-1960s, Buckeye Cellulose Corporation, in cooperation with the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission (FWC’s name at that time), constructed a dike, which impounded approximately 1,800 acres of open marsh and timberland in the Hickory Mound Unit. Subsequent management and repair was accomplished with funding and assistance from Ducks Unlimited, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the CARL management fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Taylor County Board of Commissioners, North American Conservation Council and the Anderson Columbia Company. The area is popular among duck hunters and bird watchers. In addition, the impoundment provides excellent fish and crustacean habitat and is popular among crabbers and anglers.
The Nature Conservancy purchased the land from Buckeye Cellulose in 1986 as part of a larger acquisition. In 1987, the FWC purchased the acreage from The Nature Conservancy through the Conservation and Recreation Lands Program. The purchase of the coastal tracts filled a 60-mile void in a 200-mile stretch of coast already in public ownership and represented a significant land acquisition for Florida.
Big Bend comprises approximately 90,000 acres in five individual units: Snipe Island, Hickory Mound, Spring Creek, Tide Swamp and Jena. Most of the land is basin swamp, mixed pine-hardwoods and hardwood forests in Taylor and Dixie counties, creating ongoing opportunities for conservation and outdoor recreation.