Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

John M. Bethea State Forest

History | Natural Features | Management | Recreation | Contacts  

John M. Bethea State Forest is located approximately 12 miles north of Glen St. Mary in northern Baker County near the Florida-Georgia state line. This 37,735 acre state forest establishes a continuous wildlife corridor between the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the Osceola National Forest.

Large Image [ Adobe PDF Document 982.28 KB ]

History

The Florida Forest Service acquired John M. Bethea State Forest in 2001. This state forest is named in honor of John M. Bethea, who served as State Forester for over 17 years, from 1970 to 1987.  Mr. Bethea attended the University of Florida, and in 1941 received a bachelor's degree in forestry from the School of Forest Resources and Conservation. He was a member of the National Association of State Foresters, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, and the Florida Forestry Association, and he was inducted into the Society of American Foresters Hall of Fame.

Since state acquisition, John M. Bethea State Forest has suffered catastrophic wildfires that have impacted over 80 percent of the property. Reforestation activities have recently been completed, and over time the state forest will recover and continue to fulfill resource, environmental and recreational needs.

Natural Features

Using available historical information and also the Florida Natural Area Inventory, the Florida Forest Service has determined that the primary natural forest community on the state forest is mesic flatwoods. Prior to state ownership, the majority of this forestland was managed for timber production so some alteration of natural forest communities has occurred. However, some of the historical natural forest communities, such as basin swamp, dome swamp, wet flatwoods and bottomland forest, remain intact. The Florida Forest Service will focus on restoring all altered sites back to known historical status and on managing the natural resources under a multiple-use concept.

Located within the state forest are 3 miles of river frontage on the scenic St. Marys River, which is ecologically important and provides river access for recreation activities. This part of the river was acquired under the Conservation and Recreation Lands program and the Save Our Rivers program to protect the river’s watershed.

John M. Bethea State Forest is home to Florida black bears, river otters and bobcats. Bird species include hawks, wood storks, bald eagles, grasshopper sparrows and sandhill cranes.  There are frequent sightings of alligators, turkeys, white-tailed deer and gopher tortoises.

Managing the Forest

In the past, this forestland was used for timber production, naval stores production, and cattle grazing operations. Timber remains an important component of forest's management. Timber harvesting and other silvicultural activities follow the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services guide to Silviculture Best Management Practices (BMPs).

Prescribed burning is one of the most important and cost-effective forest management tools used on John M. Bethea State Forest. It not only helps protect this forest from future devastating wildfires but also creates improved wildlife habitat and healthy ecosystems. Prescribed burning is extremely beneficial for bringing newly planted longleaf pines out of the “grass stage." It helps them grow faster and become more resistant to disease and insects.

Recreation

Plans have been developed to increase the recreational opportunities on the forest. A canoe launch at Maple Set recreation area provides access to the headwaters of the St. Marys River. Maple Set also offers a picnic area for visitors and Maple Set Campground has primitive campsites under a heavily shaded canopy. A 7-mile horse trail has recently been developed that passes through both young and mature pine forest and makes a loop around Ellis Bay. Proof of a current negative Coggins test is required for all horses. To support the horse trail, a parking lot has been built at the trailhead on the south end of the forest.

John M. Bethea State Forest is open to regulated hunting and fishing in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and is managed as a part of the Osceola Wildlife Management Area. Small ponds are scattered throughout the forest, providing enjoyable fishing areas in addition to the St. Marys River. Non-hunting recreationists are encouraged to check the Wildlife Management Area regulations and season dates before visiting the forest.

In keeping with its mission to protect and manage Florida's forest resources, the Florida Forest Service has developed rules that apply to all state forest visitors. Find out more about state forest fees and rules.