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bird on tree

The area that is now the Platt Branch WEA was listed as “unexplored prairie” on a government map from the 1850s. The area remained virtually unsettled and was used for hunting, grazing, settlement and timbering over the years. Most of the major land-use changes started during the 1900s, with turpentine and timber industries booming during the 1920s. Several older pines still provide evidence of turpentining scars. Timber harvesting slowed until the late 1980s when about 100 acres of pines were cut in the southwestern segment.

Aerial photographs from 1941 show several home sites in the area, and one 1939 gravestone in the African Methodist Episcopal Church cemetery gives proof of a temporary settlement. Yet, only several old sand roads, small clearings and two well sites are still in existence.

Before the 1947 fence law in Florida, this area was “free range” for cattle. The property was fenced during the 1970s and subjected to more continuous cattle grazing for about 20 years. Cattle were removed from the site in 1993, and no grazing has occurred since. Aerial photos reveal that there were no large clearings as late as the 1950s, although more than 100 adjacent acres were cleared in the 1960s, with land converted to pasture. The trend continued as many acres of flatwoods and oak scrub were converted to pasture during the 1970s and 1980s.

Minor wetland drainage activities began during the 1950s. These ditches served mostly to speed the runoff of water during periods of high rainfall and did little to change the water levels during normal conditions. Several cattle ponds still drain along some wetland margins.

Platt Branch was identified by FWC personnel during the late 1980s as a site for potential state acquisition because of its value to listed species and high quality natural plant communities. The property was acquired by the state in 1995.