Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Hilly Natural Wonders of Ravines

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Hilly Natural Wonders of Ravines

Article excerpt

Byline: Ron Littlepage

One of my tour guides and I were chatting when we reached one of the places I had come to see.

I couldn't help but stop mid-sentence and say, "Oh, wow."

I suspect that's a common reaction people have the first time they look down into one of the steephead ravines found in the Black Creek Ravines Conservation Area.

The drop-off was dramatic, and the ravine was lush, with tall trees and a variety of vegetation. The song of a vireo added to the tranquility.

A second tour guide described the ravine as having its own "micro climate" that fills it with rare plants and creates a home for "really cool salamanders."

OK, two of my tour guides when we visited the conservation area Wednesday have degrees in biology. They pointed out things a novice like me wouldn't have noticed.

Heather Venter is the north region land manager for the St. Johns River Water Management District, and J.B. Miller is senior land resource planner for the district. We were accompanied by Teresa Monson, public communications coordinator for the district.

Beneath those wordy titles are three delightful people who clearly enjoy their work in helping to preserve and protect such places.

When Florida's voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1 in 2014, this conservation area is the kind of place they were telling the Legislature they wanted more of.

The water management district purchased the 964-acre tract in 1996 for $2.15 million through a forerunner of Florida Forever called Save Our Rivers.

Clay County and the district co-manage the property, which is near Middleburg.

There are eight miles of trails that are popular with hikers and horseback riders.

Another attraction is the 800 species of plants found there.

"That's crazy for 1,000 acres," Miller said.

He pointed out delicate orchids growing among the various grasses, and we saw wonderful patches of carnivorous pitcher plants.

We saw whitetail deer, a wild turkey and a gopher tortoise as it scurried into its hole; and, yes, scurry is an apt description for how quickly a gopher tortoise can move. …

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