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Places We Protect

Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve

Florida

A wide river bends through a forested landscape with trees along the banks and a misty blue sunset.
Apalachicola River View from Alum Bluff at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. © Ralph Pace
CCI
CCI Center for Conservation Initiatives © TNC

Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve is one of four campus preserves under TNC Florida's Center for Conservation Initiatives, advancing conservation through education and training, outreach and volunteerism, science and research, and land stewardship. Learn more.  

Overview

Description

Notice of Impacts due to COVID-19
: For staff and visitor safety, the preserve office is closed and all preserve events have been cancelled until further notice. The Garden of Eden hiking trail remains open to the public—see trailhead location. Please check back for the latest information.

Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve protects some of the rarest habitats: these natural communities include sandhills, slope forests, seepage streams, and massive exposed bluffs along the Apalachicola River. The unusual geologic features present on the preserve provide refuge for rare and imperiled plants and animals—some found nowhere else on Earth, making this region one of five biodiversity hotspots in North America. The preserve also protects longleaf pine sandhill uplands, breathtaking river bluffs, and million year-old fossils.

In 1982, TNC began the long journey towards nurturing the preserve back to health; industrial timber production had left a much disturbed landscape where once was a vibrant longleaf pine forest. Now, after decades 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 adaptive management, showcasing landscapes in all stages of restoration and rebirth.

Access

Limited Access

Highlights

Our trail opens to a spectacular view of Alum Bluff, 135 feet above the Apalachicola River. 

Size

6,430 acres

Explore our work in this region

Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve Photos

Tag your preserve visits on Instagram with #ApalachicolaBluffsAndRavinesPreserve to have your photos featured here!

A controlled burn ignites the wiregrass in the longleaf pine forest at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
Gopher tortoise crawling on the ground at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
A black fire crayfish crawling on the ground in the wetlands at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
A brown butterfly lighting on purple Liatris ghosoni wildflower in bloom at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
Two baby longleaf pine seedlings poking up through the earth in the germination stage at the start of their life at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
Eastern Indigo Snake in the grass at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
Alabama Milkvine wildflower in bloom at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
White Apalachicola Rosemary wildflower at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
Group of young longleaf pine trees in the forest at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
Beautiful orange Oakleaf Hydrangea flower in bloom at Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.

Explore the Preserve

  • What to See
    • Plants - Explore the preserve’s majestic longleaf pine uplands widely spaced trees, dense groundcover of grasses, flowering plants, and diverse hardwood shrubs. In autumn, flowering plants display their full colors including butterfly pea, blazing star, and several species of aster. Alum Bluff offers sweeping views of the floodplain forest along the Apalachicola River from 135 feet above the river. The steep-sided slope forests are home to the Florida torreya, the second rarest conifer in North America. The preserve’s diverse habitats support a vast number of plants and animals, some found nowhere else. 
    • Animals - The preserve is home to several rare species of resident and migrating birds including the bald eagle, Mississippi and swallow-tailed kites, wild turkey, pine warbler, hooded warbler, Bachman’s sparrow, eastern bobwhite quail, and American woodcock. Gopher tortoises are common at the preserve; they are a keystone species whose burrows provide homes to hundreds of other species including insects, rodents, and other reptiles. The preserve also provides habitat for numerous snake species including Florida pine snake, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, copperhead, both grey and red rat snake, black racer, coachwhip, and the recently reintroduced Eastern indigo snake.
  • Hiking Trail

    The Garden of Eden hiking trail is a 3.75-mile round-trip, self-guided trail through forests 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 opposite slope back to sandhills. The trail eventually opens to an iconic view at Alum Bluff. At 135 feet above the Apalachicola River, Alum Bluff is the largest natural geologic exposure in Florida.

    Download the trail guide to access information about the unique natural beauty of the preserve. Look for the numbered posts along the trail corresponding to the guide’s information. Plan on a minimum 3-hour hike. Bring 1-2 quarts of water per person, more during hot summer months. Please keep in mind that climbs are steep and arduous. Many find a hiking stick helpful. For your safety, please stay on the trail, observe all signs, and do not follow service roads. Stay well back from the edge at Alum Bluff as you follow the orange-blazed trail along the river. Pets are strictly prohibited.

  • Preserve Rules

    For your safety and enjoyment, please observe our preserve rules:

    • Due to the fragile nature of the local soils, the trail is open to foot traffic only—bicycles and horses are not allowed.
    • Pets are not allowed on trail.
    • All plants, animals and other natural resources on the preserve are protected. Collecting of any kind is prohibited.
    • The bluff is unstable and dangerous, please stay off.
    • No littering, camping or fires allowed on the preserve.
    • Hunting occurs in the local area and on portions of the preserve, so brightly colored clothing is advised during hunting season (November through February).  
  • Our Conservation Work
    • Longleaf Pine and Groundcover Restoration - The southeastern U.S. was once dominated by over 90 million acres of longleaf pine forest, but today, approximately five percent remains. For over 35 years preserve staff have worked to perfect the methodology and tools needed to restore the entire longleaf pine ecosystem from the iconic pine canopy to the vital and diverse grassy understory. These tools have been adopted by public and private partners across the longleaf pine range, resulting in the restoration of tens of thousands of acres. Groundcover restoration involves local seed collection and planting to restore the natural sandhill habitat on the preserve, as well as at Torreya State Park and other regional conservation lands.
    • Prescribed FireFire is as essential as rain for native plants and animals to thrive; this critical and naturally occurring ecological process has shaped many plant and animal communities in Florida long before roads and houses existed on the landscape. Today, the preserve’s land managers conduct prescribed fires to mimic wildfires that would have been started naturally by lightning every 1-3 years. Fire serves several important ecological functions, and all species on the preserve rely on the presence of fire to maintain natural community balance. In addition to prescribed fire management on the preserve, our team responds to calls from partners to assist with prescribed fires on neighboring lands, often accomplishing 100,000 burned acres each year. 
    • Invasive Species Management - Invasive species damage habitats by competing directly with native species for resources. The preserve leads a Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA), working with partners to identify and prioritize invasive species to manage and monitor in the region. The preserve’s ongoing invasive species efforts focus primarily on cogon grass, Japanese climbing fern, small leaved spiderwort and Chinese Tallow Tree.
    • Research and Monitoring – The preserve provides a learning laboratory for scientific research in conservation. Numerous on-going monitoring projects increase our knowledge and effectiveness of our work at the preserve. Projects include biological monitoring for longleaf pine, tracking the Eastern indigo snake populations, effects of prescribed fire timing on wiregrass seed production and species recovery of the rare and ancient Florida Torreya tree.
    • Partnering for Conservation – The preserve staff partner with regional government and non-profit organizations to further collective conservation efforts. These efforts are highlighted by the comprehensive sandhill habitat restoration at Torreya State Park, adjacent to the preserve. TNC organized the first meetings of the Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance (ARSA) nearly 20 years ago and continues to coordinate the partnership today. Partners work together on longleaf pine and groundcover restoration, prescribed fire, invasive species management, water conservation and funding of these efforts through cooperative grant proposals. Partners include:
  • Indigo Snake Reintroduction

    The Eastern indigo snake is the largest snake in North America and an apex predator, sitting at the top of the food chain. The indigo’s main prey other snakes: both venomous and non-venomous, preying upon snakes that may reduce the preserve’s songbird population. TNC and partners have rolled out a ten-year reintroduction plan on the preserve to achieve a sustainable population of indigos. Learn more about the indigo snake reintroduction efforts.  

  • Get Involved

    For more information about visiting or volunteering, or if you are a researcher and would like access to the preserve please email VisitABRP@tnc.org or call 850-643-2756.

Couple stands at the Garden of Eden trailhead.
Garden of Eden Historical photo of a couple at the Garden of Eden trailhead. © State of Florida Archives

History of Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve

Several million years ago, the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico stood between Torreya State Park and today’s location of Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. When the sea receded about two million years ago, the old coastal sands were exposed, creating deep cul-de-sacs in the landform, known locally as steephead ravines. These unique geological formations are rare, occurring in only a few other locations globally. 

In the early 19th century, Hardy Croom and John Torrey (namesake of the Florida Torreya tree) conducted pioneering botanical surveys that documented rare plants in the area.  This and future work culminated in the region’s designation as one of the five biodiversity hotspots in North America.

During the Civil War, the bluffs were strategic defense positions for Confederate troops, used to block Union naval ships from accessing the Apalachicola River. The bluff occupation ended when the Confederate Army sank obstructions downriver to prevent Union ships from coming upstream.

Acquisition of the Preserve began in 1982, and by 1984 the parcels of the preserve containing the steephead ravines were protected. At that time the preserve was not staffed, and oversight was limited to visits from TNC Tallahassee staff. From the mid-1980s to the mid-90s TNC staff and partners determined that to protect the rich biodiversity contained with the preserve’s steephead ravines, action needed to be taken to restore the surrounding longleaf pine forest. TNC scientists focused on restoration of the sandhill and returning fire to the landscape. This period of adaptive management lasted another 10 years (1998-2007), resulting in the modern methods that are currently employed today across the longleaf range.

In 2007, TNC and partners removed a dam and stream crossing from the preserve’s Kelley Branch. These obstructions were causing significant ecological damage and blocking the natural passage of fish species. The preserve pioneered this type of dam removal and stream restoration, setting a standard for similar projects in the Southeast. Hikers can learn more about this stream restoration success by following the Kelley Branch spur trail adjacent to Alum Bluff.

On October 10, 2018 Hurricane Michael roared ashore as a category 5 storm with 150 mph winds; the strongest storm ever to hit the Florida Panhandle. Just 50 miles from landfall, the preserve was in the storm's fierce eastern eye wall and was subjected to extreme winds causing catastrophic forest destruction and major building damage. A massive clean-up effort is still underway to restore the preserve and its ecosystems to their former glory. 

Today, after decades of careful restoration, the return of the preserve to its natural state continues to set a standard for conservation methods and practices across the region.  

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Explore Other CCI Campus Preserves in Florida

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