Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve in Florida.
Florida's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve in Florida. © Eric Blackmore

Places We Protect

Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve

Florida

Located within a biological hotspot, this preserve protects one of the rarest habitats on Earth

Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve (ABRP) protects one of the rarest of habitats: steephead ravines and streams. The Apalachicola River and Bay region is one of five biological hotspots in North America. It is unique to Florida and home to a disproportionate number of imperiled species. The preserve’s longleaf pine sandhill uplands have undergone a complete transformation over the past 30 years. The groundcover restoration techniques developed at ABRP are currently being used across the southeastern U.S.

Hiking Trail

A 3.75-mile, round-trip, self-guided trail takes you through an enchanting area that local legend claims is the original Garden of Eden. Beginning in longleaf pine/wiregrass uplands, the trail soon skirts the top of a dramatic steephead ravine, descends steeply through the slope forest to cross a seepage stream and then ascends the slope forest back to sandhills. The trail eventually opens to a spectacular view at Alum Bluff. At 135 feet above the Apalachicola River, Alum Bluff is the largest natural geological exposure in Florida.

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Why the Conservancy Selected This Site

Steephead ravines and associated seepage streams are among the rarest of freshwater habitats. These unusual geologic features provide refuge for a number of Florida’s plants and animals—some found nowhere else on Earth—including two of the world’s rarest evergreens, the Florida torreya and Florida yew. Other species more common in the Appalachians, such as mountain laurel and ash magnolia grow at the southern end of their range here. The preserve also protects longleaf pine sandhill uplands, breathtaking river bluffs and million year-old fossils.

How We've Restored the Site

We undertook a massive project in 1985 to restore the property. Industrial timber production had left little of the once-vibrant sandhill community. Now, after 32 years of restoration, the sandhill community is returning to its former glory and again boasts healthy populations of wild turkey, bobwhite quail, Bachman’s sparrow, Florida pine snake and gopher tortoise. The preserve is a model of vibrant landscapes in all stages of restoration and rebirth. 

Prescribed fire has been returned to this fire-dependent landscape so that native plants and animals can thrive. Regular fire supports longleaf pine habitat, stimulates the growth and flowering of critical groundcover species such as wiregrass, and keeps hardwood species in check.

Staff and volunteers have hand-planted millions of longleaf pine seedlings and wiregrass plugs. All groundcover species are started from seed collected on the preserve. Currently we direct-seed 350 acres per year to restore the natural sandhill habitat on the preserve, Torreya State Park, and other regional conservation lands.

Conservancy staff has developed a process here that transforms prepared, bare sand into an intact, fire-ready wiregrass habitat in 40 months. These and other techniques are now being shared with land managers all over the southeastern United States.

Innovative Projects
  • Dam removal at the preserve’s Kelley Branch and at Fred Gannon Rocky State Park. The Conservancy pioneered these successful dam removal and stream restorations that are setting a standard for similar projects in the Southeast. 
  • Restoring fish passage and river connectivity. We're working with three states and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to modify dam operations, allowing imperiled Alabama shad, striped bass and other important species to swim up the Apalachicola to historic spawning grounds.
  • Reintroduction of the indigo snake. We're working with numerous state, federal and private partners to reintroduce the federally threatened Eastern indigo snake to ABRP. The return of this longleaf pine icon has been more than 10 years in the making and was the first reintroduction in Florida. Two releases returned indigos to the preserve. 
  • Groundcover restoration. The fine art of groundcover restoration in the Southeastern U.S. started right here. Over the past 25 years, staff has developed techniques that are practical, economical and can be applied on a large scale. Start to finish, it only takes 40 months and less than $500 per acre to restore ecological integrity and balance that supports numerous  indicator species such as gopher tortoise, Bachman’s sparrow, Florida pine snake and Northern bobwhite. 
  • Providing land management at neighboring Torreya State Park. Significant steephead ravines lie across a shared boundary line to the preserve. We have been helping the state park to restore their longleaf pine uplands and thus protect this important ravine habitat. 
  • Controlling invasive, non-native species. The Conservancy is leading an effort to coordinate invasive species management and control throughout the Apalachicola River and Bay region, joining with more than 24 public and private partners.
  • An Ecosystem Restoration Team provides prescribed fire assistance, invasive species removal and other land management assistance to private, state and federal conservation partners within the Apalachicola region. More than $2 million in partner funds have been dedicated to support the team’s activities.
What to See: Plants

The preserve protects two of the world’s rarest evergreens, the Florida torreya and Florida yew. Yews are seen along the botanical loop trail, but live torreyas are no longer visible along the trail. Other plants of interest include the large-leaved, large-flowered Ashe’s magnolia; pyramid magnolia; Florida anise; mountain laurel; oakleaf hydrangea; spring ephemerals such as trillium and wild ginger; Gholson's blazing star; numerous ferns; and an array of fall-blooming sandhill wildflowers and grasses including toothed basil and lopsided Indiangrass.

What to See: Animals

The preserve is home to several rare species of resident and migrating birds including the bald eagle, Mississippi kite, swallow-tailed kite, wild turkey, worm-eating warbler, hooded warbler, Bachman’s sparrow, Louisiana water thrush and Swainson’s warbler. Gopher tortoise burrows are common along the trail; tortoises are more commonly observed out and about during mild temperatures. The preserve is also home to numerous snake species, including Florida pine snake, Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, copperhead, both grey and red rat snake, black racer and coachwhip.

Things to Do

You will love the trails. Only foot travel is permitted. To protect the preserve's rare plants, animals, and cultural and geologic features and to better assure a pleasant experience for all, the following are not allowed: pets, smoking, littering, camping, climbing on the bluffs, collecting, firearms, fires and hunting.

Plan on a 3-hour hike. Bring 1–2 quarts of water per person, and maybe a hiking stick to assist with steep climbs and descents. Please keep in mind that climbs are arduous.

For your safety, please observe trail signs at Alum Bluff and stay well back from the edge as you follow the orange-blazed trail along the river bluff. The bluff is an active erosion area and abandoned sections of trail are badly undercut and prone to collapse.

Dogs are not allowed on the trail.

For more information about visiting or volunteering, or if you are a researcher and would like access to the preserve, email Stephanie Hunnicutt, North Florida Operations Coordinator, or call (850) 643-2756.