There are so many reasons we love camping at Grayton Beach State Park, one of which is the plethora of hiking trails right at our doorstep. The state park abuts a state forest so the amount of undeveloped public land is plentiful and has been an awesome place for the three of us to explore. Miles and miles of trails and fire breaks mean we can walk for hours and often never see anyone else. Spirit's in heaven!
I usually have time to enjoy one cup of coffee in the early morning before the nagging of a two-year old lab eager to start her day comes calling. Spirit does not recognize the need one has for a leisurely morning lounging around with coffee and catching up on the news that happened overnight. Nope, she is anxious to head out the door and begin her day (which means we are involved by default). Heading to the trail head puts a little swagger in her step and a steady wag in the tail. Not that I am the Dog Whisperer, but I think she relishes these early morning walks.
|Interpretive panels are a great|
way for visitors to learn about the forest.
The trails wind through thousands of acres of longleaf pine forests – one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country. An astounding 97% of the longleaf pine communities in the United States have disappeared. What once dominated the southern landscape and consumed a vast 90 million acres is now confined to small pockets sparsely dotting its former range.
Decline of this once prominent ecosystem has been slow and steady, yet certainly a sad testament to our destruction and neglect for one of the most unique American forests. Diseases brought by European explorers took an early toll. Later, habitat fragmentation from roads and railroads, timber harvesting for ship building and home construction, collecting of resin, and clearing for agriculture were no match for the forests, as was the critical fire suppression that the trees depend on for forest health and reproductive survival.
|Bear tracks next to ours|
Having worked in longleaf pine ecosystems for years, I have grown to appreciate this habitat and find it one of my favorites to hike in. Today, foresters and land managers recognize the importance of longleaf pine and are working to restore the ecosystem through replanting, prescribed fire, and habitat enhancement. Groups such as the Longleaf Alliance are actively promoting research, education, and management of the longleaf pine as are state and federal agencies across the southeast. While there is very little old growth longleaf pine left it is great to see a resurgence and appreciation for this ecosystem.
|and one a little further along|