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[ft-l] Potts WMA excursion



Yesterday, I took a 12 mile +/- walk through parts of Potts WMA (aka Potts
Preserve). This 8500 acre property contains many ecosystems from river
bottom to high scrub. Parts of it were farmed/ranched for many years as the
*Dee River Ranch* before being purchased by SWFWMD around 1990.
Unfortunately, SWFWMD did not get a *fee-simple* deed at the time of
purchase, so now DEP has assumed jurisdiction over the wetland areas and
turned them into a wildlife mamagement area. Parts of the property are
actively used by the airboating community. There will be hunting on the
property at various times of the year (check the DEP web page for hunt
schedules).

However, the property is still beautiful, with a wide range of plant and
animal life.

Linda Dawson, development leader, and her crew have developed a very nice
trail of 16+ miles in a main loop plus several miles of blue blazed cross
trails. There are two remote campsites, one in the north east part of the
property near the Withlacoochee River, and another in the northwest part of
the property near the Tsala Apopka by-pass canal. There are 3 bridges,
constructed by FTA crews that allow access to the western and northwestern
parts of the property.

Political pressure by the airboating community is urging DEP to return the
property to it's pre-ranching state. Ie. without the bridges or earthen
berms that the hiking trail follows. If these bridges and berms are
removed, the trail will probably be abandoned in the western and
northwestern parts of the property because neither hikers nor maintenance
crews will be able to get into the area without swimming. Only the eastern
part of the trail will remain.

My walk was through this eastern part of the property. Heading north from
the River Entrance off Hooty Point Road, you walk past an abandoned shed
and pole barn along a jeep road and then through a large grassy field next
to the river. This is available for canoe camping for people coming down
the river from points upstream. Once past the field, you are in a mesic
hardwood forest surrounded by wetter areas, the river to the east and
cypress swamps to the west. Tree cover includes cedar, cypress, hickory,
various pines, oaks, bays, magnolias, wild olive, etc. Shrubbery includes
pawpaw, several lyonias, Walter's viburnum, saw palmetto, cabbage palm,
swamp palmetto, dwarf blueberry, highbush blueberry, huckleberry,
sparkleberry, etc. And there is a multitude of wildflowers on the property.
I saw these in bloom: pygmy pawpaw, St. John's wort, fetterbush, wild
olive, tickseed, bog bachelor buttons, other Polygala species, hat pins,
Xyres sp., button bush, blueberry, blackberry, trumpet vine, etc.

An hour's walk north takes you to the eastern entrance to George Washington
pasture - a former cattle pasture that the SWFWMD biologists are studying
to see what happens as mother nature reclaims pasture land. Another hour to
the north along the river trail takes you to the northern entrance of the
pasture and a land bridge across a former drainage canal. The drainage
canals were put in many years ago to drain the area which is now pasture.
The land bridge enables you to go still further north and northwest.
Another hour's walk brings you to the main north-south graded road which
runs through the property. Another ten minutes walk brings you to the 500+
ft bridge constructed by the FTA development crew. I returned to the main
N-S road and followed it south across areas where land is being cleared
beside the road. They may just be harvesting timber, or perhaps they are
putting in a hunt camp. It is a mess now. Eventually, I came into George
Washington pasture from the west side and continues south to a causeway
through a swamp which took me to the south pasture. Just north of the south
pasture, the FT heads east through the swamp back towards the river trail.

During my walk I have seen 4 deep, numerous armadillos, hawks, vultures
(black and turkey), a Chuck-will's-widow, several pairs of cardinals, some
robins (late in the season), and a turkey. This is only an average day for
animal sightings in Potts. Usually, when I am hiking alone ( of course), I
see more. When I have just one more person with me, the animal sightings
drop to a few armadillos and a few birds. People make too much noise!

I am worried about the fate of Potts WMA. DEP has not made a decision about
the bridges and berms yet, and speculation is that the issue is so
politically charged the the decision might go to the Governor and Cabinet.
So far, the airboaters have been lobbying very hard, first for access, and
now for (effective) exclusion of other groups by urging removal of the
means of access by those groups to the west side. The entire west side of
the property is a wet area with dry islands connected by earthen berms (or
causeways). Taking the berms out means locking out everyone except the
airboat and motorboat people. Conceivably, you could launch a canoe at a
public ramp in the Inverness area, and then paddle miles to get to the
western edge of Potts. If you knew the way. If you were in very good
condition. If you had a couple of days to spend. Maybe.

- Carl

P.S. Comments appreciated.


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