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Bear Lake at Blackwater River State Forest

The ranger staff at Blackwater River State Park turned me on to the Bear Lake Campground in Milton, Florida, part of the Blackwater River State Forest complex.

Like most Floridians immersed in the throes of a torridly hot and humid Summer, I was in search of a change of seasons. 

My mind was fixated on Grayton Beach, or Henderson Beach State Park… or Fort Pickens – always thinking that the only respite to the heat could be found along the Gulf.

When I shared with the ranger staff I was thinking of headed out west for a cooler climate, they recommended Blackwater River State Forest campgrounds.

My initial thought was dismissive – in an inland forest near Alabama….on a river…in the dead of Summer?

In the past, anytime I looked at Blackwater River State Park and Forest on a map, I always overlooked it.

And the name! 

Blackwater River evoked only swampy, hot, secluded and mucky thoughts.

Boy was I wrong. 

I’ve naturally gravitated to coastal destinations. In the first few months of travel, I kept dismissing locations that were away from the Gulf or near the Atlantic in Florida, Georgia, North or South Carolina.

Most of my campground stays are 7-14 days in duration, so the idea of being in the forest with no quick escape hatch to the beach was something I’d been resisting.

There aren’t any nearby amenities either… a grocery store, laundromat or coffee shop within a short drive. 

Fortunately, my inner George Costanza kicked in – when I found myself being unreasonably stubborn about heading into the woods, I decided to do exactly the opposite!

Blackwater River State Forest – Bear Lake Campground

The Bear Lake Campground is located within the Bear Lake Recreation Area, in the Blackwater River State Forest , about 1-hour northeast of Pensacola, FL. 

Blackwater River State Forest is the largest state forest in Florida, over 210,000 acres of forest.

It is named for the Blackwater River, which begins in Alabama, and trails downward into and through the forest.  

The decomposing tannins from the forest vegetation leach into the river water – combined with the sandy bottom, the water takes on a black tea stain, not unlike rivers in the Amazon.

My favorite(amongst many others) aspect of the trails in the Bear Lake Recreation Area are the longleaf pines.

Blackwater River State Forest, Conecuh National Forest to the north and Eglin Air Force Base all make up the largest longleaf pine – wiregrass ecosystem in the world.

Solitude

My experience walking the trails alone in the forest helped me to realize how easy it is to get away from “being quiet”.

Each step along the trail takes me one step away from my cell phone, email, business, concerns and worry.

And once I settle into a rhythmic walk on the trails, nature’s sounds perk up.

It’s not that they weren’t there already – I just wasn’t ready to hear them.

An occasional Whitetail deer raises an alarm when it hears me crunching leaves underfoot.

Turtles and alligators dive underwater when they hear footsteps.

And then there’s the wind finding resistance from the Long Leaf Pines.

Matzukaze

When I first experienced the sounds of the breeze passing through the Long Leaf pines, my first thought was Augusta National and The Masters.

Players and historians all speak of the tricks the pines and winds play in the hollows of Augusta National.

Once a year, players have to take extra care to understand and become one with how the breezes percolate and pass through the pines.

The winds add to what makes the tournament so special.

In my personal golfing experiences and now traveling in my Airstream, I’ve found myself gravitating to regions rich with pines.

I could never verbalize what I found so satisfying until I spent time on the trails at Blackwater River….it’s the sounds of the breeze.

There’s a name for the sound – matzukaze , or “wind in the pines”. The Japanese use this term to express melancholy and a sense of solitude.

If you’re interested in the science of what makes the sounds of the wind in a pine forest, you can read more here – matzukaze.

But if you want to just experience the wind in the pines, find a secluded trail at Blackwater River State Forest and enjoy the experience.

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