The Apalachicola River is approximately 112 miles long. This river’s large watershed drains an area of approximately 19,500 square miles into the Gulf of Mexico. The distance to its farthest headstream in northeast Georgia is approximately 500 miles. It is formed on the state line between Florida and Georgia, near the town of Chattahoochee, by the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers. The actual confluence is submerged in the Lake Seminole reservoir formed by the Jim Woodruff Dam. It flows generally south through the forests of the Florida Panhandle, past Bristol. In northern Gulf County, it receives the Chipola River from the west. It flows into Apalachicola Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, at Apalachicola.
The lower 30 miles of the river is surrounded by extensive swamps and wetlands, except at the coast.
The watershed contains nationally significant forests, with some of the highest biological diversity east of the Mississippi River, rivaling that of the Great Smoky Mountains. It has significant areas of temperate deciduous forest as well as longleaf pine landscapes and flatwoods. Flooded areas have significant tracts of floodplain forest. All these southeastern forest types were devastated by logging between 1880 and 1920 and the Apalachicola contains some of the finest remaining examples in the southeast. The endangered tree species Florida Torreya is endemic to the region; it clings to forested slopes and bluffs in Torreya State Park along the east bank of the river.
Where the river enters the Gulf of Mexico, it creates a rich array of wetlands varying in salinity. These include tidal marshes and seagrass meadows. Over 200,000 acres of this diverse delta complex are included within the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. There are also dunes with coastal grasslands and interdune swales.
The basin of the Apalachicola River is also noted for its tupelo honey, a high-quality monofloral honey, which is produced wherever the tupelo trees bloom in the southeastern United States. In a good harvest year, the value of the tupelo honey crop produced by a group of specialized Florida beekeepers approaches $900,000 each spring.
During Florida’s British colonial period, the river formed the boundary between East Florida and West Florida.
Geologically, the river links the coastal plain and Gulf Coast with the Appalachian Mountains. During the last ice age, it likely provided a route for trees to move south from the Appalachians and take refuge from the northern cold.
Some of the remaining important areas of natural habitat along the river include Apalachicola National Forest, Torreya State Park, The Nature Conservancy Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, Tate’s Hell State Forest,and Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area, as well as the Apalachicola River Water Management Area.
The Choctawhatchee River is Florida’s third largest river system in terms of water volume discharged. Originating in the southern portion of Alabama, the Choctawhatchee River flows approximately 96 miles from the Alabama state line into Choctawhatchee Bay.
The Choctawhatchee River watershed drains a vast 5,350 square miles, less than half of it in Florida. An alluvial river, it is characterized by a broad floodplain, seasonal flooding, and a heavy sediment load. Its old-growth bottomland hardwood forests have drawn ornithologists searching for elusive Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. Its major tributaries in Florida are Holmes, Wrights, Sandy, Pine Log, Seven Run, and Bruce creeks.
The Choctawhatchee River flows through the Dougherty Karst Plain, and boasts at least 13 springs and numerous spring fed tributaries, according to a North West Florida Water Management District’s (NWFWMD) springs inventory. Favorites are Washington Blue and Potter Springs, both located off Route 79 north of Ebro. The karst plain’s permeable limestone formation allows ample local replenishment, but also makes ground water supplies vulnerable to surface activities. The Water Management District owns and manages close to 61,000 acres along the Choctawhatchee River in Walton, Holmes, and Washington Counties.
The endangered Okaloosa darter is found in several tributaries, as are the bony-plated Gulf sturgeon, Alligator gar and several other rare snails, reptiles, and amphibians. Habitats range from freshwater springs and steephead streams to tidal marshes and seagrass beds. They also encompass relic dunes, xeric hammocks, coastal scrub, and pine flatwood forests. Morrison Spring is the largest of 13 springs the District has inventoried on the river.
The Chipola River, the largest tributary of the Apalachicola, boasts 63 fresh water springs, the largest number of any rivershed in Northwest Florida. Its only first-magnitude spring, Jackson Blue Spring, discharges almost 86 million gallons a day. A NWFWMD springs inventory also counted nine second-magnitude springs and seven third-magnitude springs in the rivershed. All are located in Jackson and northern Calhoun Counties and account for a dramatic 233 million gallons a day increase in river flow between State Road 90 and County Road 274.
The Chipola River’s major tributaries, Rocky, Dry and Spring creeks, are all runs formed from first- and second-magnitude spring groups. Several springs rise directly into the river and ponds, such as Merritt’s Mill Pond, increasing flow and providing unique habitat.
The NWFWMD owns 7,377 acres in the Upper Chipola River Water Management Area (WMA), bordering 18 miles of the river and its tributaries within Jackson County. These include the floodplains of Marshall and Cowarts Creeks, which form the Chipola at their confluence. The WMA continues along the river corridor, which is a state-designated canoe trail, to Florida Caverns State Park, just north of Marianna.
The Ochlockonee River
The Ochlockonee originates in southwest Georgia and flows 206 miles before emptying into Ochlockonee Bay, and then into Apalachee Bay, in Florida. It forms the eastern boundaries of Gadsden, Liberty, and Franklin Counties, passing through the Red Hills, Talquin State Forest, Lake Talquin State Park, and the Apalachicola National Forest.
Old Spanish documents sometimes refer to the Ochlockonee River as the Rio Agna and in other instances as the Rio de Lagna, while a map from 1683 shows it as the Rio Lana. Variations continued with O-clock-ney being used in 1822 and Ockatockany in 1855. The Ochlockonee River corridor is home to many threatened fish, wildlife, and plant species. It is a State of Florida designated Outstanding Florida Water and has been identified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a Strategic Habitat Conservation Area. Rare animals that can be found along the Ochlockonee include Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, Least Tern, and the Apalachicola Dusky Salamander, as well as several rare freshwater mussels.
The Florida Maybell tree can be found only along the Ochlockonee and Chipola Rivers. Fishing for bass, perch, bream, and catfish can be excellent on the Ochlockonee River, and a state-designated canoe trail can be found both upstream and downstream of Lake Talquin.
Holmes Creek, state-designated Canoe Trail, and Water Management Area
Holmes Creek begins in Alabama and flows through areas with high sandy banks and beautiful hardwood swamps until its confluence with the Choctawhatchee River. It provides among the most diverse habitats and richest variety of fish and mollusks in the Choctawhatchee River basin. Its lower reach swells with azure springs, increasing average flow and providing distinctive stream havens for fish, reptiles, and mollusks. A major summer congregation area for the federally protected Gulf sturgeon is just below the Holmes Creek confluence with the Choctawhatchee River. Holmes Creek is also richer in freshwater snail species than any other river in the Florida Panhandle. Three as yet unnamed species of snails were found to be endemic, or confined, to the creek, Choctawhatchee, and Chipola river drainages. About a mile below the Highway 276A bridge is Burn-Out Spring, the first significant spring source of the creek. From there on, dozens of springs, seeps, and sand boils are worth exploring. The largest, Cypress Spring, is a second magnitude spring (74.8-748 gallons per second). Beckton Spring is also notable for its pristine habitat. Holmes Creek is a state-designated canoe trail and may be accessed by several public boat landings. The District recently improved the canoe launch at Cotton Landing with pavilion and a picnic area.
Econfina Creek Wildlife/Water Management Area
Econfina (e-con-FINE-ah) Creek originates in southern Jackson County and flows without any structures or interruptions some 26 miles through Washington County to the Deerpoint Lake reservoir in Bay County. The NWFWMD has purchased about 41,000 acres of surrounding land and created the Econfina Creek Water Management Area (WMA). It is restoring habitat, protecting listed species and natural systems, preserving cultural resources, and controlling erosion to numerous lakes, some linked directly to the aquifer. Globally threatened or endangered species are harbored in its steephead valleys, sandhill lake shorelines, and restored and remnant longleaf pine-wiregrass meadows. Econfina Creek offers the steepest gradient of any designated canoe trail in the state. Canoeists pass waterfalls, rock outcrops, log jams, riverbed springs, and plentiful bird life as they approach State Road 20, where the Gainer Springs Complex enters from numerous vents, filling a deep clear pool surrounded by palms, cypress, and mixed hardwoods. A 14-mile extension of the Florida National Scenic Trail traverses remnant old growth native longleaf pine and wiregrass communities, which still exist on District land near State Road 20 and at Hobb’s Pasture near Deer Point Lake Reservoir. The natural, rolling sandhills entice equestrians to ride a half-dozen blazed trails among pristine lakes, lush wildflowers, varied wildlife, and ever changing panoramas. Swimming is available at Pitt Spring, Porter Lake (Tom Johns and White Oak boat landings), Devil’s Hole, and Rattlesnake Lake North and South (Tuesday through Thursday).