Sand Lakes and Econfina Creek
The Econfina Creek and the neighboring sandhills create on the the most unique and special habaitats in Florida. Econfina Creek is largely spring fed and is well known for its cold, clear water, superb natural vegetation, bird life and many geological and hydrolic features. Is it said to be the most exciting canoe trail in the state, featuring numerous rapids, springs and rock outcrops along the route.
The Water Management District began buying property along Econfina Creek in 1992 specially to protect water resources and the primary source of drinking water for Panama City and neighboring communities. During drought conditions, some 80% of the water flowing into the Deer Point Lake reservoir comes from the many springs along Econfina Creek.
The Sandhills portion of the property includes mile after mile of rolling hills comprised of loose sands that are often hundreds of feet deep. Intermixed are dozens of shallow, sand-bottom lakes that commonly have extremely clear water. A few examples of the native longleaf pine / wiregrass vegetation still can be found in the uplands, but most of theare is planted to sand pine that gradually will be harvested and replaced with natural species and communities. Many of the lakes contain plant species found nowhere else in the world, such as the imperiled smooth-barked St. John's wort. Preservation or reestablishment of the native communities is a major consideration in the management of this tract, and sometimes requires that portions of the property be closed so that young vegetation can get established.
Important portions of these sandhills were also acquired by the District specially because they are the "recharge" area for the springs. Almost all the rainfall occurring in this zone sinks into the sands and move rapidly toward the creek where it boils up as pure and clean spring water. Public ownership has been shown to be the most effective and cost efficient way to protect a water supply watershed like this one.
Unique Geological Features: springs and spring-run streams, solution holes, sinkhole lakes, limestone bluffs, bluffs, steephead ravines
Plants You Might See: ashe magnolia, oak-leaf hydrangea, liverworts, St. John's wort
Wildlife You Might See: gopher tortoise, summer tanager, endemic snail, fox squirrel, alligator snapping turtle
Permit requirements: A Resource Are permit is required to hunt, to fish in the lakes or to camp at the primitive sites. This permit is available from most county tax collectors or their subagents for $11.50 to fish or camp or $16.50 to hunt, fish or camp. This annual permit is valid for all District properties in northwest Florida. Please note that all Resource Area Permits will expire on June 30, 2003. No permits are required for persons under 16, over 64, mobility-impaired individuals, or for those with a Group Area Permit.
Hunting: The creek corridor and surrounding lands are managed as a Type II Wildlife Management Area. A separate hunting map and quota hunt permits are available each year from the District. "No Hunting" zones have been established for other recreational activities over large portions of the property, and a special "Mobility Impaired" hunt area has been established.
Canoeing: There is a 22-mile-long canoe trail along this unusually beautiful, swift-flowing and remote creek. The upper portion, from Scotts Road downstream to Walsingham Bridge, is a particularly strenuous 10-to-12 hour journey with many rapids and "chutes" that should be attempted only by experienced canoeists. Two canoe liveries are operating near the Highway 20 section of the creek. Free public canoe put-in and take-out facilities are provided at Scotts Road, Walsingham Park and at Highway 20.
Hiking: The Florida Trail Association has extended its blazed hiking trail across much of the property. This largely shaded segment eventually will be part of the statewide trail that is projected to run from the Florida Keys to the Perdido River at the Alabama state line. A nature trail has also been constructed at Pitt Spring. Excellent birding conditions exist all along this short trail.
Horseback riding Various saddle clubs have developed the Pine Ridge Campground and a very attractive trail for public use. Riders are cautioned to keep horses out of the lakes and streams.
Camping: Primitive campsites have been established at sites near and along the creek. A District permit is required, but no reservations are needed.
Group camping is available at Blue Spring (the old Boy Scout camp), Rattlesnake Lake South and at Sparkleberry Pond. Portable toilets, fire rings, grills and picnic tables are provided. A Group Area Permit Application and a $20 fee are required. No other permits are required to use a group site.
Bicycling: The District is attempting to develop a public off-road bicycling trail north and east of Walsingham Park. At present, bicycling is allowed only on existing roads.
Excerpted from: "Welcome to Sandhill Lakes and Econfina Creek." Published by the Northwest Florida Water Management District, 2002.
Their Disclaimer: "The users of this recreational guide should keep in mind that lands owned by the District are undergoing changes and refinements to improve recreational opportunities. Please contact the District's Land Division if you have questions or would like more information regarding specific recreational activities or facilities available for a particular area."