Trouble is brewing for sportsmen and women, birdwatchers, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts in Florida’s panhandle. As part of the Walton County Mobility Plan, Walton County has proposed the construction of a 2 ½ mile paved road through the eastern third of the Point Washington State Forest and the Point Washington Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
The road to be known as “Seagrove Forest Road” will span the Point Washington Forest from US Road 98 to State Road 30A through the eastern third of the Point Washington WMA. The proposed route will follow an existing utility corridor easily viewed with Google Maps or OnX by entering the coordinates 30.3415320, -86.0700820 to see the proposed northern exit from the WMA and following the corridor to the proposed southern exit at 30.3117210, -86.0878640.
Point Washington lies north of Blue Mountain, Grayton and Seagrove beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, comprising more than 15,000 acres of sandhills, wet prairie, cypress bayous, and titi swamps. The Point Washington WMA is widely used for hunting, off-road bicycling, hiking and is also a site on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Sportsmen and women regularly pursue, deer, turkeys, feral hogs, and small game. It is also one of the few Wildlife Management Areas that permits access to trappers.
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In addition to game species forest provides habitat to vulnerable gopher tortoise, vulnerable white-topped pitcher plants and the world’s largest population of Curtiss’ sandgrass. Some of the bird species found on this area include southeastern American kestrel, myrtle warbler, prothonotary warbler, red-headed woodpecker, mourning dove, and common ground-dove.
It seems intuitive Florida set aside wild places like Point Washington expressly for their preservation as wild places not to be further developed. At first glance this may appear to be a municipal issue at the county level, however state forests belong to all Floridians.
If the sanctity of Point Washington as a state forest and wildlife management area can be stripped for the convenience of future development, what is to stop the development of all of Florida’s wild places? This matter is about more than a single road through one forest, the construction of this road will establish and further a precedent that Florida’s wild places are of mere inconvenience.
On March 11, 2021 there will be a hearing by the Walton County Planning Commission, to accept comments and forward the plan to the Board of County Commissioners with recommendations. This will be followed by an April 13, 2021 first reading by the Walton County Board of Commissioners to adopt the mobility plan and a May 11, 2021 second reading by the Walton County Board of Commissioners to adopt the mobility plan.
What can you do to oppose the Seagrove Forest Road and preserve the Point Washington State Forest and WMA? The Florida Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has created a petition making it easy for people to voice their opposition. Simply click this link to Protect the Point Washington WMA and e-sign the petition. After signing the petition Floridians can visit the “Take Action” page, scroll to the bottom and enter their address to find their elected officials. Take a moment to easily send an email to Governor Ron DeSantis and your State Elected Officials asking them to help keep the Wild Places Wild and help keep Public Lands in Public Hands by opposing construction of the Seagrove Forest Road.