Situated in north central Florida, the Goethe State Forest is a valuable natural resource and destination.
Spanning over 53,000 acres across Levy and Alachua counties, the forest’s land was originally purchased by J.T. Goethe in 1992 under the Conservation and Recreation Lands program. Today, it is used for the production of timber, habitat for wildlife, and as a place for outdoor recreation and ecological restoration. Most of the forest is located as a long strip in southeastern Levy County with a smaller portion, the Watermelon Pond Unit, on the Levy/Alachua county line. Black Prong Equestrian Village sits right up against the forest. The Goethe consists of various ecosystems including Flatwoods, swamps, and sandhills with pine forests, palmettos, sawgrass, oak trees, and cypress trees, including one fondly called the Goethe Giant. With its rural tranquility and natural charm, the forest is enjoyed by many and is largely the reason some residents chose the area. Karen, a cyclist and horseback rider from New York, stated, “In Florida, you can literally, in the Winter season, ride a different trailhead every day of the week, and you would not run out of trailheads in Florida. And I am talking Orlando north, even Tampa north. And we’ve probably […] ridden almost every single one. But once we got here, we got spoiled. Everything was here.” The area is enjoyed by many residents, including the wildlife.
“In Florida, you can literally, in the Winter season, ride a different trailhead every day of the week, and you would not run out of trailheads in Florida. And I am talking Orlando north, even Tampa north. And we’ve probably […] ridden almost every single one. But once we got here, we got spoiled. Everything was here.”
With thousands of acres of forest, many animals call the Goethe home. These include various birds, mammals, and insects. In fact, the Goethe State Forest is a part of the Great Florida Birding Wildlife trail. The state of Florida sits along the Atlantic Flyway, which is a 3000-mile flight path spanning from the Arctic tundra to the Caribbean with ecosystems that support a variety of birds. The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is a program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that consists of 510 wildlife viewing sites throughout the state and is partially supported by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida. The Goethe is one of these sights. The goal of the trail “is to encourage conservation of Florida’s native habitats and species” (Home Page). Wildlife that can be seen in the forest include birds such as the brown-headed nuthatch, red-headed woodpecker, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Bachman’s Sparrow, Bald Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker, as well as the Florida Black Bear, Sherman’s Fox Squirrel, gophers, tortoises, armadillos, otters, alligators, deer, turkey, and butterflies such as Henry’s Elfin, and the Great Purple Hairstreak. This wildlife can be viewed during various activities in the forest.
The Goethe State Forest has 126 miles of marked multiuse trails. These include 16 marked trails that span across the Tidewater, Apex, and Black Prong Trailheads. The trailheads have parking for cars and horse trailers, primitive campsites, and restrooms. Trails include gravel roads and smaller, dirt trails. Biking, trail riding, carriage driving, birdwatching, hiking, and hunting are all activities enjoyed by forest-goers. Cyclists can easily utilize the gravel roads, with the dirt trails being an option for the especially adventurous. Gravel biking events are hosted every year, including the Grit, Gravel, & Roll event that will be held in April of 2023. Specifically around Big Cypress, there are trails especially conducive for pedestrian traffic. Trail riders and carriage drivers can enjoy marked and unmarked trails throughout the forest. For hunters, the Goethe has specific dates posted throughout the year. The community surrounding the forest embraces its presence and the lifestyle it provides. With so many activities and opportunities, there are many ways to get involved.
There are various programs and tips one can follow for a great adventure in the forest. For trail riders, the Florida Forest Service offers a program called the Trailtrotter program where riders can log their trail riding to earn patches and certificates after reaching certain milestones. The Tidewater and Black Prong trails are a part of this program. Similarly, hikers can participate in the Trailwalker Program for patches and certificates. The forest service also offers a photo contest throughout the year for participants to submit photos with the chance to win prizes. For cyclists, not only can they use typical bikes, but eBikes can also be helpful. Karen stated, in reference to trail riding and eBiking, “We don’t ride as long, and then we discover[ed] eBikes, and it was all phenomenal. […] We just love biking in the forest because we’re too old to get our horse to go that far. […] We can go safely into our forest with those bikes.” She enjoys biking in the forest with an informal community group. Florida Gravel Biking is a statewide group where bikers can connect. For trail riders, groups such as Levy County Horse Club, Sun Country Trailblazers, and Ocala Saddle and Paddle can be resources to connect with others. Events such as the Taste of the Goethe that was hosted at Black Prong Equestrian Village also have brought forest-goers together for a cause to enjoy the forest. To help in feeling safe on the trail, the forest does provide some maps, and navigation apps such as All Trails offer routes and ways to record the path of outings. The Goethe offers so much to the community from economically for timber to environmentally for wildlife habitats to leisurely for fun activities. With it right in the backyard of Levy County, it is worth having the adventure and working to protect this part of Florida’s landscape.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences
Florida’s State Forest Trailwalker Program: https://www.fdacs.gov/Forest-Wildfire/Our-Forests/State-Forests/State-Forest-Recreation/Hiking
Goethe State Forest: https://www.fdacs.gov/Forest-Wildfire/Our-Forests/State-Forests/Goethe-State-Forest
The Florida Trailtrotter Program: https://www.fdacs.gov/Forest-Wildfire/Our-Forests/State-Forests/State-Forest-Recreation/Horse-Trails
Great Florida Birding Trail
Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail Trip Planning Tool, Goethe State Forest: https://app.myfwc.com/maps/birdtrip/default.aspx
Home Page: https://floridabirdingtrail.com/
Horse Trail Riding in the Goethe State Forest: https://horseandrider.com/horseback-trail-riding/horse-trail-riding-goethe-state-forest/