Tate's Hell State Forest is located in the panhandle of Florida
, and borders the Apalachicola National Forest
to the north and Apalachicola Bay to the south. The preserve's current area of 144,508 acres harbors vast regions of flatwoods, cypress swamps, creek
s, streams and rivers. It is managed by the Florida Division of Forestry
, and its continued protection is vital to the commercial and recreational fisheries of the bay's estuary
, one of the most biologically diverse and productive areas in the northern hemisphere.
Tate's Hell Swamp got its name from a local legend that dates back to 1875. According to folklore, a panther had been killing the livestock of a farmer named Cebe Tate. Fed up with the beast, he went out into the forest with his shotgun and hunting dogs to track it down. Numerous variations of the tale exist, but most center around Tate getting lost in the swamp for seven days and nights, surviving the heat by drinking from the murky waters, and being bitten by a snake. He finally emerged in a clearing near the town of Carrabelle, where he was found near death. The only words he spoke before expiring were, "My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came through Hell!"
Established in the 1950s to aid in the production of pine timber for the paper industry, Tate's Hell State Forest has grown incrementally since 1994 through land acquisition by the state. Aided by various enviromental groups and funds from Florida's Conservation and Recreational Lands Program (CARL), future land purchases are projected to encompass the entire 214,901-acre area of Tate's Hell Swamp. Combined with the federally controlled Apalachicola National Forest, it creates a 750,000-acre tract of government-owned land (an area larger than the state of Rhode Island).
The hydrology of the state forest was significantly altered during the 1960s and 1970s with the construction of roads and associated ditches to facilitate the development of the land for sylviculture. Though the interest in timber production for The St. Joe Company (Florida's largest private landowner) died out in the early 1990s, the network of roads has increased public access to the land and made it a popular location for outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing and camping.
While past management practices have disrupted the natural ecosystem of Tate's Hell State Forest, the current objective of the Florida Division of Foresty is restoration and preservation. Due to the unique and varied natural community types found in the region, the diversity of plant and wildlife species is striking. Rare plants such as the Small-flowered Meadow beauty, Florida bear grass, Chapman's Butterwort and Thick-leaved Water-willow are found here, as well as stands of dwarf cypress trees that are documented to be over 150 years old. Among the wildlife that make this forest their home are several species listed as endangered, threatened, or species of special concern, including the Red-cockaded woodpecker, Florida black bear, Gopher tortoise and Bald eagle.
Along with the nearby Apalachicola River, Tate's Hell Swamp plays a vital role in sustaining the marshes in the upper bays south of the forest, which serve as nursery areas for Apalachicola Bay. The dark waters that run through its 35 miles of streams and creeks feed the New, Ochlockonee and Crooked Rivers along the forest's eastern section. There are many shallow ponds throughout the region, but no lakes.
Outdoorsmen of all breeds will find Tate's Hell to be a paradise. Fishing and hunting is regulated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and separate state licenses are required for each. Picnicking and primitive camping (the kind with tents - not RVs) is permitted in designated areas without fee, except during hunting season.
For further information, contact:
Florida Division of Forestry
Tate's Hell State Forest
1621 Highway 98 East
Carrabelle, FL 32322