Florida Caverns to add camping sites, mountain bike trails FeaturedWritten by Shelia Mader
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been pro-active since the arrival of Hurricane Michael left many of its parks and facilities devastated. They have outlined their vision for the future of Florida Caverns State Park and requests have been submitted to this year’s legislation for funding of the projects for the Park.
In a statement issued by Weesam Khoury, Communications Coordinator for Florida Department of Environmental Protection, she said, “Hurricane Michael’s strong winds devastated Florida Caverns State Park’s forests, and floodwaters still keep visitors from the landmark caves. Although debris and high water continues to hamper recovery, staff and contractors have cleared the main park drive and repaired several structures. The future vision for this park is an outdoor recreation and camping destination stimulating the local economy and attracting more visitors with more activities than before the storm. To get there:
Repair infrastructure for visitor access to the famous caverns
Develop a contemporary campground on the site of the repurposed golf course’s rolling uplands
Respond to requests from the International Mountain Bicycling Association for a destination class network of recreational trails
Establish a recreational gateway welcome center
We asked about the future of the Caverns Golf Course since it was closed and the lease returned from the Marianna Golf Association. Khoury said, “The Department of State Lands sent the release on March 19th. Once signed by the Golf Association, it will then go to Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) for approval to effectively update the Unit Management Plan. Additionally, there are no deed restrictions on the land use of the golf course. DRP will pursue planning for recreational opportunities, preservation of cultural significance and restoration of natural communities.”
In an interview with Assistant Director of Field Operations for Florida Park Services, Chuck Hatcher, “We are looking forward to an opportunity to re-invent the Florida Caverns State Park. If this proposal goes through as it’s being presented, it will provide a greater economic impact for Jackson County with bike trails and the increased campsites. The trail system will provide more recreational opportunity for people coming to participate in the ecotourism in Jackson County. They’re could be a possibility of doing a trail connector up to Bellamy Bridge. That is something that I started when I was here as Parks and Recreation Director. We looked at the old railroad bed running from Bellamy Bridge all the way down to the Florida Caverns. That is something that we will be looking to be a future endeavor. It would have to be in partnership with the county and the Northwest Florida Water Management District. It would be some kind of rail to trail system the way we looked at it when I was with the county, the funding and all for that would have to come through grants and funding through other agencies. This is all state land, conservation land. We want to do as much as we can around the golf course as well. We were looking at improvements regionally rather than just inside state parks.”
Hatcher and Khoury both stressed all of this is proposed and contingent on future funding.