Of the most pristine rivers in the United States, the Blackwater River is sited as the only pristine sand river left in the nation. Designated as an Outstanding Florida Water, its headwaters begin in southern Alabama and flow for 58 miles before emptying into Blackwater Bay in Santa Rosa County, Florida.
(Right) In this beautiful stand of Longleaf Pine, the white band and number painted on this tree identifies it as an active nesting site for a pair of Red-cockaded woodpeckers.
The river flows through the Blackwater River State Forest which, in combination with the Conecuh National Forest to the north and Eglin Air Force Base to the south, is the largest contiguous Longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem left in the world.
(Above) The Blackwater River State Forest is home to the fourth largest Red-cockaded woodpecker population which is a Federally- designated endangered species.
(Above) Wiregrass (Aristida stricta) depends on regular burning in order to stimulate flowering and seed production. It provides cover for many birds, small mammals, and reptiles, and is a favorite food of quail and the gopher tortoise, another endangered species.
This rare and diverse ecosystem supplies the forest floor with decomposing organic materials. Nutrients along with acidic tannins are carried into the Blackwater River from rainwater runoff, flooding, and seepage. The tannins are responsible for giving the river its name "Blackwater" which is a translation of the Choctaw word oka-lusa, meaning "water black".
Approximately 860 square miles of land make up the Blackwater River watershed including its three major tributaries, Big Juniper Creek, Big Coldwater Creek, and Pond Creek. As a whole, they provide for the movement of wildlife through the Florida Wildlife Corridor system.
(Above) The Blackwater River State Forest is a critical part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor system which provides for the movement of wildlife. To learn more about the importance of the Florida Wildlife Corridor system, visit http://floridawildlifecorridor.org/about/.
Historically, the Blackwater River was named Rio Del Almirante in the late 17th century by Spanish explorers. From 1763 to 1781, it was known as Middle River due to its location between Yellow River to the east and Escambia River to the west. From that period to the present, the river has been known as the Blackwater.
(Above) Acidic tannins give the river its name "Blackwater" which is a translation of the Choctaw word oka-lusa, meaning "water black".
(Above) The Southern Beeblossom, also known as Guara angustifolia, is a native plant species found in the Blackwater River State Forest. It is the host plant for larvae of the gaura sphinx moth and also the clouded crimson flower moth.
(Right) The Azure Blue Sage, also known as Salvia azurea Michaux, occurs naturally in the flatwoods and sandhills of the Blackwater River State Forest. Its flower attracts a variety of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
The Blackwater River was vital to Santa Rosa County's thriving lumber and shipping trades. Logs felled up river were floated down and sawn into fine lumber at the mill towns of Milton and Bagdad.
Manufactured goods, textiles, and agricultural produce were also shipped from their ports.
The lumber was then loaded onto barges, schooners, or other vessels and shipped to other ports around the world.
Blackwater River State Park
Click on the logo above to link to the Florida Greenways & Trails System.
As part of a statewide system of Greenways and Trails, 31 miles (50 km) of the upper reach of Blackwater River is a Florida Designated Paddling Trail. The river flows at an average of 2 to 3 miles per hour (3.2 to 4.8 km/h) which attracts recreational enthusiasts from all over the world to take in the unique beauty of its sandy white beaches and dark water.
The lower reach of Blackwater River is part of the Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail. By using the trail's website, one can experience a comprehensive virtual tour guide that highlights the ecological, recreational, and cultural points of interest along this portion of the Blackwater River.
Click on the BMHT logo above to link to the Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail website.
(Right) Bagdad Mill Site Kayak Launch is one of four trailheads for the Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail along the lower reach of the Blackwater River.
The Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail continues along the river through the historic towns of Milton and Bagdad and extends into Blackwater Bay.
Bagdad Mill Site Kayak Launch
Water levels on the Blackwater River can fluctuate rapidly depending on rainfall amounts. Seasonal rains cause the river to break its banks filling the floodplains with vital nutrients. These nutrients support a particularly rich ecosystem for both flora and fauna where quantity and diversity are remarkable.
Preservation of the Blackwater River and its surroundings ensures that threaten and endangered species will have the best chance of survival.
(Right) The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) is recognized as a critically imperiled species and is protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss and fragmentation of their range presents an on-going challenge for the Florida panther's recovery.
Photo courtesy of FWC
Some examples of these are the Bald Eagle, Gopher Tortoise, Gulf Sturgeon, Florida Black Bear, and Florida Panther. Sighting one these while exploring is a highlight for residents and visitors alike.
(Above) The Gopher Tortoise is a protected species found in the uplands of the Blackwater Forest. Its burrow provides a home for more than 350 animal species including the Federally listed Eastern indigo snake which depends on the burrow for survival. Because of this, the Gopher Tortoise is known as a keystone species.
(Left) Northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus) are a game species found in the frequently burned uplands of the Blackwater River State Forest. The release of this pair's offspring will boost declining numbers in the forest due to habitat loss.
Many of the species that reside or migrate through the Blackwater River watershed are protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and have well-developed programs designed for their conservation, management, or recovery.
Photo courtesy of FWC
Click on the FWC logo above for link
As always, use care on the waterways. Be aware of weather and river conditions before you launch. Adhere to FWC Regulations and Boating Safety Requirements. Understand that much of the Blackwater River is remote wilderness where you are in control of your own personal safety. Have a float plan and let someone know where you are going and when you are due back.
By following these suggestions, one can expect to have a memorable experience exploring the unspoiled beauty of the Blackwater River.
On behalf of BWFP and FPAN, we hope you visit the Historic Village of Bagdad. From our shores, you are welcome to launch into your own adventure on the beautiful Blackwater River and use the Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail to enrich your experience.