The waters of the Gulf of Mexico moderate Wakulla County's climate, as breezes cool the air in the summer and provide warmth in the winter. Within the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, with its famous white lighthouse, and the adjacent Apalachicola National Forest, lies a natural paradise: crystal lakes, clear springs, dense woods, saltwater ponds, and marshes. Both preserves allow fresh and saltwater fishing.
The rivers of Wakulla play an important part in the area's history. Early habitants such as the Apalachee Indians settled along river banks and bays where fish and shellfish were in abundance.
In the 1800's the St. Marks River provided the basis of a lucrative cotton transport business which in turn supported the establishment of five towns along the river bank. In 1843, Newport on the St. Marks River, was the fifth largest town in Florida with a population of 1,500. At the turn of the century, many sawmills were established along creeks flowing into the Ochlockonee River.
Today, the beauty and recreational opportunities of the rivers in Wakulla play an important role in drawing visitors and residents to the area. The communities of St. Marks, Newport, Sopchoppy and Ochlockonee Bay are each located near a river in Wakulla.
The St. Marks, Sopchoppy and Ochlockonee Rivers are classified as blackwater rivers, Blackwater rivers are characterized by a tea-colored look. Waters that drain through swamps and marshes, picking up dissolved organic matter, have this naturally dark appearance.
The Wakulla River looks very different. It is crystal clear. The water in the Wakulla River originates underground and flows to the surface at Wakulla Springs . The crystal clear waters of the Wakulla River make it a popular place for boating, fishing, and conoeing.
The St. Marks, Sopchoppy and Ochlockonee Rivers originate from overland waters. At the southern end of the St. Marks River, clear spring water joins the dark water, making the St. Marks River partly blackwater and partly spring-fed.
The St. Marks River disappears underground near the historic site of Natural Bridge , and reemerges in Wakulla a short distance to the south of St. Marks Spring. The area where the river flows underground forms a natural bridge across the water, thus the name. The river meanders for about fifteen miles before entering the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachee Bay. The Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers join a few miles north of the bay at point where Spanish explorers built Fort San Marcos De Apalache in 1679, near the city of St. Marks
The Sopchoppy River located in the western portion of Wakulla, is a beautiful little river with high, narrow limestone banks and unique cypress tree formations. Water softly trickles from these banks giving a sense of a more mountainous terrain. Picturesque gnarls and hollows of the old cypress tree trunks give the area a feeling of a natural magical fantasyland, where the comings and going of fairies seems a possibility. The river is under federal consideration for designation as a Wild and Scenic River . A short distance before the river enters the Gulf, it joins the Ochlockonee River to form Ochlockonee Bay.
Originating in Georgia, the Ochlockonee River flows 300 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico. The river forms the western boundary of Wakulla County and is a vital link in the production of seafood. During flood stages the river picks up organic matter and tranParks it downstream into the estuary of Ochlockonee Bay. The estuary serves as a nursery for numerous species of fish and shellfish which are the basis for recreational and commercial fishing as well as the world-famous seafood that this area is known for. The Ochlockonee River is a state designated Outstanding Florida Water and a well-known canoe trail.
There are two major geologic regions that divide Wakulla into east-west sections; the Woodville Karst Plain and the Apalachicola Coastal Lowlands.
The Woodville Karst Plain, is east of the north-south line formed by Highway 319 through Crawfordville and Panacea. The land surface is made of sand that generally is not more than 20 feet thick. Underneath the sand is a layer of limestone. Like Swiss cheese and sponges, the limestone in Wakulla has lots of holes in it, making it a very porous material. Water can easily permeate and flow through the underground limestone structure. Limestone is also soluble, meaning it will dissolve in water over time. This type of limestone topography is called karst.
The Apalachicola Coastal Lowlands region is west of the approximate bisecting line formed by Highway 319. This region is also known as the "Apalachicola Flat Woods." The surface of the Apalachicola Coastal Lowlands is generally flat and sandy. Unlike the Karst Plan, a thick layer of sandy clay and peat lies bewtween the sandy surface and the underlying layer of limestone. Surface water here does not sink readily into the clay and peat, thus the region has a high water table and much of the surface areas are characteristically wet.
Driving or biking through the area, you will notice that pine trees make up a large part of the landscape in Wakulla County. Look closely and you will also see hardwood forests and beautiful hardwood hammocks. Hammocks are raised areas of very fertile land that support clusters of hardwood trees that give Wakulla a touch of autumn color in November ; and a fairy-tale look in Spring, as dogwood trees adorn the forests with beautiful white blossoms.
Wakulla is fortunate with winter temperatures mild enough for trees that favor southern climates, such as magnolia, live oak, Florida maple, sweetbay and cabbage palmetto ; and cold enough to support northern species such as white oak, black oak, elm, black walnut, white ash and flowering dogwood . Another edge for Wakulla-where coolness from the north meets the warmth of the south.
The pine and mixed hardwood forests have a direct connection to water quality and quantity in Wakulla. The upland forests serve as recharge areas for our natural underground water system, the Floridan Aquifer. The sandy soil allows rainwater to sink quickly beneath the earth into underground rivers and streams. The trees and other vegetation hold the sandy soil in place and also act as natural water filters by absorbing small amounts of pollutants as water drains underground.
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