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Posts Tagged ‘Carrabelle’

The Dwarf Cypress Stand at Tate’s Hell

By Ric Sitler
 
Over the years, probably a half-a-dozen people have told me to go there, so visiting hell in the Florida panhandle –Tate’s Hell State Forrest that is – was an obvious and overdue choice. Five or six arrow-straight dirt trails dissect this coastal swampland creating a large grid pattern. And some of these routes even have names like Dry Bridge and John Allen, the two roads I hoped would lead to my goal, which according to the sign was straight ahead.

These dwarf trees - some only six feet high - are the main visitor attraction in this part of Tate’s Hell.

Unlike legendary farmer Cebe Tate, I had the comfort of my RV, something in the cooler to drink, and a map of this foreboding terrain bordered to the south by State Highway 98. It was improbable that like ole’ Cebe I’d be lost here for weeks only to eventually exit the swamp screaming my name and proclaiming, “I just came from Hell.”

The brochure claimed this was the only remaining stand of Bonsai or Hat-Rack Cypress trees, which isn’t exactly so. Other mini-cypress samples can be found in the Everglades and many parts of the Big Cypress National Preserve, but these dwarf trees—some only six feet high—are the main visitor attraction in this part of Tate’s Hell.
 
The strange thing is that these trees, some which are 300 years old, are no different genetically from normal full-size cypress trees. Their seeds appear to be the same and when planted in other areas grow to typical full-size trees. Why they flourish as a dwarf species here remains something of a mystery, but it appears to be a combination of soil, nutrients, year-round flooding and a clay-bedrock foundation.
 
Since 1999 a cooperative project involving various state and federal agencies has been underway to restore the natural hydrology of the area and improve growing conditions for swamp grasses and preserve the small trees.
 
As desolate and remote as Tate’s Hell is – more than 202,000 acres  – a handicap access boardwalk provides an excellent treetop view of the swampy miniature tree stand. There’s parking for five or six vehicles, no porta-potties or picnic shelters or water, but hey, this ain’t Disney World. An easy 100-yard stroll takes you to the boardwalk for a panoramic view of the little trees, assorted birds, wildlife and grass-filled brown tea waters. The cypress tree tops below the boardwalk look fuzzy, kind of like a well worn green and gray wool blanket, their twisted trunks submerged in the dark swamp water. If you’re patient…and quiet…you’ll most likely see turtles, a snake or two and an amazing variety of birds.
 
When you return to the parking area, you may spot the site’s one amenity, one forlorn charcoal grill. No tables or benches, just one unipod grill stuck in the ground. Unless you’re absolutely compelled to roast a hotdog here, a better option is get out of Hell and drive into nearby Carrabelle where you can order the fresh catch of the day at Old Salt’s Café & Oyster House just down the street from another mini-attraction, The World’s Smallest Police Station.
 
Freelance writer Ric Sitler is a retired military public affairs specialist and former ad agency writer with an interest in “practically everything except sushi.” His diverse writing and photo credits include Musician, Stars and Stripes, and Old Cars Weekly.

 

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