Suwannee - History
Most of Florida’s peninsula was used by aboriginals whose culture relied mainly on hunting, fishing and subsistence agriculture, which altered the land only minimally. In the sixteenth century, the Spanish brought cattle, hogs and horses to Florida. This began an era of rangeland cattle grazing and other agricultural practices that significantly changed the natural landscape. Lands within this region were timbered, primarily through clear cutting, and converted to pine plantations.
Company-owned turpentine camp operations such as “Black’s Still” or “Kennedy Still” were based in Hamilton County. Overseers would ride through the palmetto-speckled pine forests to ensure their workers “cat-faced” the pine trees to collect the resinous sap, then haul it back to the camp’s still to boil down. By the 1950s, traditional turpentine production was being phased out, due to declining reserves of virgin pine forests and new technology to extract resin. As the naval stores economy tapered off, economic activity shifted to food crops and beef cattle, alongside timber for wood production.
The FWC acquired the lands comprising the WEA from Hamilton County Timberlands LLC in 2002 with funds received through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Mitigation Park Program. The now-defunct Mitigation Park Program was established in 1998 as an off-site alternative to on-site protection for rare species impacted by development. When developers eliminated habitat for an endangered or threatened species, they paid fees that were used to buy and manage high quality habitat elsewhere.
The tract was managed primarily for the production of pulpwood and other wood commodities, and all upland sites were in some rotation phase, planted in longleaf, slash, or sand pine. Many of the roads and logging trails now in existence appear in old photographic records. Prior to state ownership, the property was apparently open to public use, including hunting, fishing and artifact collection. Under the guidance of FWC biologists, the site is being protected and restored.