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[ft-l] Blackwater River SF Backpacking Trip Report (long)

It was almost exactly 2 years ago that I first visited
Blackwater River State Forest as part of my FTA duties.  I
spent a week up there GPS'ing and doing inventory on 2
trails. In February of last year I had to go back for
another few days because the Western Gaters had added 14
miles of new trail.  So for 2 years now I have been talking
about how nice the trails were up in Blackwater and finally
I was able to convince Flamingo to go up and see it with me.
The hike didn't turn out exacly as we
had planned, but then our hikes rarely do.

Just as background - Blackwater River State Forest is in the
extreme NW of Florida.  The trails through Blackwater form
the connection between the Florida National Scenic Trail and
the Alabama Trail.  2 of these trails (Juniper Creek and
Wiregrass) and a long portion of of the third (Jackson Red
Ground Trail) are slated FNST desigination.  The southern
terminus is at the Deaton Bridge crossing of the Blackwater
River in Blackwater River State Park and the northern
terminus is at the Alabama state line where it joins the
Alabama Trail.  It was our intention to backpack the whole
40 miles.

First, it was just to be Flamingo and me.  Then Flamingo
couldn't find anyone to keep her
elderly-but-still-going-strong dog, so it was 2 old women
and 1 old dog for the trip.  Then a friend of Flamingo's who
has been on a couple of overnights with us decided she would
like to try a longer bp trip and bring her two dogs.  One of
the dogs had been out on those overnights, the other dog was
a newbie to backpacking.  So we ended up with 2 old women, 1
young woman, 1 old dog and 2 young dogs.  You should have
seen us crammed into one motel room at the Comfort Inn after
the hike!

We left the Sunday after Christmas and headed up to Milton,
FL which is about 30 miles east of Pensacola.  It's a 7 hour
trip so that blew all of Sunday just getting there.  Monday
morning we drove around to near the north end and left my
truck at the North Hurricane Lake Campground, just 6 miles
south of the Alabama state line.  We stopped at the BRSF
ranger station on the way to inform them of our trip.  No
permit or fees were necessary, but since it was general gun
hunting season I wanted them to know we were out there. Also
since it was general gun, we planned on using the 3 trail
shelters for our overnight stops.  Then we drove back round
to the south end and left Flamingo's SUV in the long-term
parking area of Blackwater River State Park.

With all the car shuttling and stops it was 1 pm before we
actually hit the trail.  We were quite a site leaving the
park, all decked out in orange vests, orange pack covers,
orange everywhere - including the dogs!  The day was perfect
for hiking - 60 degrees and sunny.  We took a 1/4 mile jeep
trail from the State Park entrance over to it's intersection
with the Florida Trail and turned north.  One of the dogs
(Jazz, the newbie) is afraid of water and had to do some
fancy dancing to get over the 2 streams that cut the old
jeep trail so I was sure glad to see the SCA crew had
finished the bridge over Alligator Creek.  We stopped there
for a brief lunch then headed on up to where the trail
intersects Juniper Creek.

This section has always been one of my favorites on the
Florida Trail as it winds its way along the creek.  Now
cypress, now pine, now in the woods, now flashing views of
the creek.  We ran into one group of canoers enjoying some
swimming time on a sandbar (brrr!), but there were no other
hikers out.  We stopped for a long break at the Football
Field sandbar. (The road from the FT down to the Football
Field really needs to be blue-blazed so people can find it!)
We let the dogs run around a little where we could see them
and filtered water for the night at the shelter just a mile

We reached the Juniper Creek Shelter around dusk.  A cold
front was moving in bringing wind and rain with it - dark
clouds were boiling on the western horizon as the sun went
down.  But we had time to cook a leisurely dinner and
Flamingo and Erin strung a tarp across the front of the
shelter to ward off any wind-driven rain.  We settled into
the shelter to await the rain.  And rain it did!
Torrentially, with some pretty strong wind gusts, for about
24 hours.  So Tuesday was spent in the shelter, snug and
secure, only occasional trips outside to satisfy nature's
needs.  The dogs took it pretty well, being cooped up in the
shelter all day.  Joy (the old dog) slept, Jazz (the young
newbie) kept watch at the shelter entrance all day and Count
Bassie (the other young dog) alternated between sleep and
prowling.  We talked, ate and read books to each other.  The
shelter has no water source, but we laid plastic sheeting
between some logs and quickly gather more than enough water
for ourselves and the dogs.

Tuesday night about 9 pm the rain finally eased off.  Since
we had lost a day to the storm plans needed to be revised.
Flamingo and Erin decided to night-hike up to the next
shelter (9 miles) with the dogs, grab some sleep then hike
to the 3rd shelter (7 miles) in the afternoon.  Since I had
already hiked the trail, I stayed the night at the shelter
and in the morning hiked back to the State Park to get
Flamingo's truck, then drove it around to near the 3rd
shelter to meet up with the others.

My trip back along the Juniper Creek on Wednesday was very
different that the trip up on Monday.  The creek had risen
several feet and spread into the cypress areas on both
sides.  But no serious water, nothing over my boot tops.
Several large pines had come down onto the trail and they
were difficult to get over, under around and through, but
didn't slow me down much. It was when I hit the jeep road
over to the State Park that things got messy.  The two
little streams that had given Jazz a fit 2 days earlier were
now over knee deep.  It didn't seem quite fair to have
walked 7 miles along the creek without getting wet only to
be soaked almost within sight of the truck!  I was glad I
had worn my high gaiters because the water was COLD as it
soaked my boots, socks and pants. I got to the truck about
noon and drove around the State Forest to within about a 1/2
mile of the 3rd shelter, stopping to pick up a gallon of
water and some canned drinks along the way.

Flamingo, Erin and the dogs didn't fair much better after
the storm.  About 15 minutes after they left the shelter at
9 pm the heavens opened up for one final 5-minute downpour,
so they were soaked from the get-go.  A couple of the jeep
trails on the Jackson Red Ground Trail had filled with water
and along one Erin had to carry Jazz for a ways so he
wouldn't get his feet wet. :-)  They arrived at the 2nd
shelter around 3 am, slept until noon, then proceeded to the
3rd shelter, gettting in just before dusk again.  They
reported having some trouble following the blazes near the
cotton field.  Apparently some of the blazes in that area
are old and have faded.

Someone had had quite a New Years Eve party at the 3rd
shelter, so I spent the time waiting for the gang to arrive
cleaning up the shelter area.  Broken beer bottles, an empty
gallon jug of cheap whiskey, toilet paper and vomit were all
over the place.  It took a couple of hours, but I had it
cleaned up and a nice fire going when the others arrived.

We had our own little (slightly-late) New Years Eve party
after dark.  We had purchased some fancy sparklers for the
occasion and Erin had hauled in a big bag of dark chocolate
cordials.  We sat around the fire cooking dinner and drying
socks until late.  That night we had decided that Joy (the
old dog) was about done in and the weather forecast for
Thursday was for more rain followed by a steep drop in
temperatures (low 20's), so we ended out backpack trip there
at the 3rd shelter.

Thursday morning we all piled into Flamingo's SUV and drove
around to get my truck.  At the campground we ran into the
host and David Creamer, the senior forester.  They had been
worried about us and David had run up to check if my truck
was still there, even tho we weren't due there for another
day.  The campground host was a retired marine and he said
he had been just about set to go out a look for us.  David
assured him that Florida Trail people know what they are
doing. :-)  I ignored the marine and thanked David for his
concern.  That's when we found out how back the Tuesday
storm really was.  Less than ten miles away from our snug
little shelter
huge oak trees had been uprooted and a barn had lost it's
roof to a tornado.  In fact, tornados had been touching down
all over our area.  Sometimes I think it's better to be

So we ended our little hike at the Comfort Inn (very dog
friendly) in Milton Florida, with a nice AYCE seafood dinner
at Nichols, hot showers and clean sheets. Not what we had
planned, but we all had a good (if somewhat wet) time and
Erin, Jazz and Count Bassie have now survived their first
multi-day backpack trip.