Ralph E. Simmons State Forest (previously known as St. Mary's State Forest) was renamed in 1996 as a memorial to a former St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board Member who was instrumental in the purchase of the forest. The St. Johns River Water Management District purchased the parcel with funds from the Preservation 2000 and the Save Our Rivers Programs. The Florida Forest Service currently manages the property through a management agreement established in 1992 with the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Through multiple-use management, the Florida Forest Service maintains a balance between resource conservation and public use with special emphasis on ecosystem management and ecological restoration of native communities.
Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest is located in Nassau County, in northeastern Florida on the St. Mary's River. If traveling from the town of Hilliard, go north on U.S. Highway 1 for 7 miles to the town of Boulogne. From Boulogne go east on State Road 121/Lake Hampton Road.
The forest parking areas are located:
- At the forest entrance, 1 mile north of Lake Hampton Road on Penny Haddock Road.
- Two miles east of Highway 1 on Lake Hampton Road at the power line right-of-way.
- One mile east of Highway 1 on Lake Hampton Road at Scott’s Landing Road. Access for canoeing and boating on the St. Mary's River is available at the Scott’s Landing Road gate.
Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest offers visitors the scenic beauty of the St. Mary's River which also provides the northern boundary of the forest and serves as the primary water source. The river and two oxbow lakes along with numerous cypress stands, ponds and swamps provide an abundance of fish as well as a water source for the many types of wildlife that live on the forest.
The forest features many excellent examples of natural communities which include: longleaf pine/wiregrass, low pinelands, seepage slopes, herb bogs and ravine.
Many species of wildlife are found residing on the forest. Wildlife that is frequently seen include: fox, wild turkey, bobcat, gopher tortoise and otter.
Timber management practices on Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest are important to the restoration and maintenance of forest ecosystems and provide a variety of socioeconomic benefits to Floridians. Longleaf pine is being reintroduced in an effort to restore the forest for the enjoyment of future generations. An aggressive prescribed burning program is in place to assure that maximum benefits are attained in timber production on the forest.
Ralph E. Simmons Memorial State Forest provides excellent opportunities for resource-based recreation. The water resources and upland forest communities provide excellent wildlife viewing. Hiking, horseback riding and off-road bicycling are available to forest users on established trails and roads throughout the forest, except during hunting seasons (see information on hunting below).
Two primitive campsites are located along the St. Mary's River and are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Access to these sites is available from the river only and requires no permit. During established hunting seasons (except small game season) camping is not allowed at these sites.
Camping for organized groups is available by State Forest Use Authorization, and can be obtained from the Florida Forest Service at the Hilliard Work Center. During established hunting seasons, camping is reserved for hunters with a valid hunt permit. Two group campgrounds are available. Scotts Landing Road Campground is located on the southwest side and offers tent camping and a basic shower. The cabin is located on the northeast side adjacent to the St. Mary’s River.
The forest is managed as a Wildlife Management Area by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Hunting is permitted during designated seasons for whitetail deer, hogs, wild turkeys and small game by permit only. Hunting is restricted to only those individuals who hold a valid hunt permit. Other forest recreation activities, including horseback riding, are prohibited during established hunting seasons. Specific regulations and hunting season dates can be obtained at myfwc.com/hunting.
In keeping with its mission to protect and manage Florida's forest resources, the Florida Forest Service has developed rules which apply to all State Forest visitors. Find out more about state forest fees and rules.