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Ocala National Forest

The Ocala National Forest is the second largest National Forest in Florida and covers approximately 607 square miles (389,000 acres) in central Florida. It is located three miles east of Ocala, Florida, 16 miles southeast of Gainesville, Florida, and 18 miles northwest of Orlando, Florida. The Ocala National Forest (established in 1908) is the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River and the southernmost national forest in the continental U.S. The word Ocala is thought to be a derivative of a Timucuan Indian term meaning fair land or big hammock.

The Ocala National Forest lies between the Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers in central Florida. It has acreage in Putnam, Lake and Marion Counties.

The Ocala National Forest receives more visitors than any other national forest in the Sunshine State. Millions annually visit the forest, which is one of Central Florida's last remaining traces of forested land. The Ocala National Forest contains a high proportion of remaining Florida Scrub habitat and is noted for its sand pine scrub ecosystem. The forest contains the largest concentration of sand pine in the world as well as some of the best remaining stands of longleaf pine in Central Florida. The forest's porous sands and largely undeveloped character provide an important recharge for the Floridan Aquifer. The Rodman Reservoir system forms most of the northern and north western border as part of the Ocklawaha River Basin.

The Ocala Forest is also known for having over 600 natural lakes and ponds. The forest is riddled with slow-moving rivers and wet "prairies". They are sunny, shallow expanses of water, usually ringed by cypress trees and filled water lilies and other with aquatic plants. Between the river boundaries of this Forest lie central highlands, coastal lowlands, swamps, springs and hundreds of lakes and ponds. Near the Juniper Prairie Wilderness and Juniper Springs is "The Yearling Trail", the location where movie The Yearling was filmed.

Ocala has a wide variety of wildlife. The Florida Black Bear population has its highest concentration here. Alligators, whitetail deer, wild boar, and numerous small animals, including bats, coyote, grey fox, red fox, opossum, raccoon, river otter, bobcat, striped skunk, pocket gopher, and armadillo can be found as well. The sandy soil is home to the Gopher Tortoise.

Activities

The Ocala National Forest offers an accommodating climate for year round recreation. The mild winters are fine for family camping while a summer canoe trip down a palm-lined stream is a cool way to spend an August day. The temperatures for the dry months of November through February range from a daily average of 50 F to a high of 72 F. The summer season is much warmer and wetter. Short afternoon thundershowers often raise the humidity to about 90% while the temperatures range from 80 F to 95 F. The average rainfall is approximately 55 inches per year.

Water plays an important part in a variety of recreational opportunities in the forest. Activities range from canoeing, boating, fishing, skiing, snorkeling, swimming and the use of personal watercraft. Several boat ramps are available in the forest.

The Ocala National Forest is a wildlife management area, in which hunting and fishing activities are managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A permit is required for all hunters (except those indicated as exempt) to hunt in this area. A Quota Hunt Permit may also be required during certain time periods or certain game.

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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