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historic illustration of Creek Indian village on the Apalachicola River. Castelnau, Francis, comte de, 1812-1880

Florida Photographic Collection Creek Indian village on the Apalachicola River. Castelnau, Francis, comte de, 1812-1880

The Apalachicola region has been populated since the first inhabitants arrived 12,000 to 14,000 years ago. Clam shell middens and sand burial mounds found along the Apalachicola River area at Box-R are typical of the prehistoric sites found scattered throughout the lower river valley. Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama began settling along the Apalachicola River in the early 1700s.

In 1909, the Apalachicola and Northern Railroad built 16 miles of track connecting the new settlement of Port St. Joe with Apalachicola. In 1910, the first passengers made the 50-minute trip between Port St. Joe and Apalachicola, crossing a portion what became the present day Box-R Wildlife Management Area. Regular passenger service ended in 1951, but freight hauling continues today. Box-R’s northern boundary, the Jackson River, connects the Apalachicola River with Lake Wimico, a few miles to the west. The Intracoastal Waterway route through Lake Wimico and the Jackson River opened in 1930 and connected Destin and Apalachicola.

historic lumber yard Apalachicola

Florida Photographic Collection Cypress lumber yard: Apalachicola, Florida

This area was established as a wildlife management area (WMA) in 1955 when over 5,000 acres were leased to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), then the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This followed the 1952 completion of the Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam below the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. The dam created the reservoir known as Lake Seminole. The Apalachicola River begins below the dam and flows over 100 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

Approximately 255 acres were added to the WMA parcel between 1955 and 1985. A separate unit of 2,669 acres of bottomland hardwoods was added in 1987. This unit, identified today as Zones B and C, is located 10 miles north of the original parcel. It lies between Highway 271 (River Road) and the Chattahoochee River, and is accessible only on foot or by boat. The addition of this tract significantly increased the recreation potential of Apalachee WMA, as it provides a unique hunting experience for those desiring a more secluded area.

In the late 1920s, Edward Ball and Alfred DuPont began buying large tracts of land for timbering and created the St. Joe Timberland Company, then Florida’s largest private landowner. The land known as Box R Ranch was a private retreat of Ed Ball, who ran St. Joe for many years. The ranch lands were managed for a variety of uses, including pine silviculture, as well as for hunting, fishing and canoeing. At the request of the Ed Ball Wildlife Foundation, the 3,800-area was closed to hunting in 1967 and established as a wildlife refuge. St. Joe requested the wildlife refuge status be removed in 1999.

The Box-R Ranch was initially purchased in 2003 as part of the St. Joe Timberland Florida Forever Land Acquisition Project and was established as a 7,579-acre WMA in 2004 by the FWC to allow for a variety of hunting that is enjoyed there today.