Local couple restoring long leaf pine habitat in North Walton

February 13, 2018

Longleaf pines. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Owners of Little Creek Woods a testament to good land stewardship

Bob Reid and Betsy Clark are on a mission to bring back long leaf pine habitat to their land in North Walton County. Both avid naturalists, the couple has been working on land stewardship since acquiring acreage north of Mossy Head in 2000. Now more than 1,200 acres, Reid and Clark stay busy with their efforts.

Stewardship Landowners of the year in 2003, Reid and Clark understand the process of maintaining and developing a healthy habitat through prescribed burns and replanting longleaf pine with native grasses such as wiregrass, bluestem and pineywoods dropseed. Restoring and managing longleaf pine forests provide healthy habitat for a variety of plant and animal species.

One of the many active gopher tortoise burrows at Little Creek Woods. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The restoration is an ongoing process at Little Creek Woods; the namesake of the creek that runs through their property. Most recently, a 120-acre area previously a planted loblolly plantation, has been clear-cut and replanted with wiregrass and longleaf tubelings.

Since the couple started the Stewardship Program with the Florida Division of Forestry and the University of Florida Extension Service, the land has been the focus of studies by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Long Leaf Alliance. Most recently, the Long Leaf Alliance is doing a comparative growth study at Little Creek Woods. The growth study is designed to see how each pine species fares under identical growing conditions on the same sandhill site. The planting consists of one acre of loblolly, one acre of slash and one acre of longleaf pine to monitor over the next 15 years.

Gray catbird one of the many wintering and resident birds at Little Creek Woods. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

The land is rich in biodiversity with a mix of upland and bottomland forest habitats. It hosts an abundance of wildlife including gopher tortoise, bobcat, turkey, grey fox, coyote and deer to name a few. Currently, there are more than 200 gopher tortoise on the property, with more than a dozen active burrows within a 100-yard radius of the cabin at Little Creek Woods.

Reid and Clark hope to conserve their land for future generations.

“I’ve had a fascination with long leaf since I was growing up in Georgia,” Reid said.