Background: Blackwater River State Forest is one of the largest state forests in Florida and is named for the Blackwater River, which begins to the north in Alabama and meanders approximately 30 miles southwestward through the forest into Blackwater Bay near Milton, Florida. Blackwater River is one of the few shifting sand bottom streams to remain in its natural state for nearly its entire length. The topography of the forest is gently rolling and contains various natural communities. The forest contains a wide variety of recreational facilities and hosts a variety of activities.
Blackwater River State Forest is known for its longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem which, in combination with the Conecuh National Forest to the north and Eglin Air Force Base to the south, is the largest contiguous ecological community of this type in the world. This system once covered over 60 million acres in the Southeast’s coastal plain. Less than 3 million of the original acreage now remains. Longleaf pine communities are rich in plant and animal life, including species that are endangered, threatened or of special concern.
Blackwater Airfield 8FD3 is a Florida Forest Service airfield to which the FFS is willing to permit public access on a ‘request’ basis, should its condition be judged safe and not otherwise in use. The Blackwater staff and the RAF have developed a cooperative relationship to make this access possible and to further improve the airstrip. This promising future of continued public use depends greatly on the pilot community’s behavior when using this airfield. “Leave No Trace” camping is permitted by your aircraft, at the south end of the field when remaining overnight. A variety of campground amenities are readily accessible nearby (see more below).
Receiving Permission to Land: Blackwater Airfield is used on occasion for local events, military operations and Forest Service purposes, so prior approval from the Forest Service must be sought before landing there. Several days before your planned arrival, call 850 957 6140 and select ‘0’ to reach the Dispatcher with your request. A return call to confirm permission to use the airstrip, after it has been checked, will likely be required. Plan to make these calls from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday.
Precautions & Aviation Info: While beautiful, long, and of low density altitude, Blackwater Airfield still presents a series of hazards the backcountry pilot will want to consider. Pilots choosing to use this airfield do so solely at their own risk.
· Surrounding Airspace: Heavily traveled by commercial, recreational and especially military aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary, often at lower altitudes. Pilots are encouraged to study the New Orleans sectional, use VFR Corridors where applicable and remain updated on the status of SUA airspace along their route. It is important to be receiving flight advisories from Eglin or Pensacola Approach when entering this area of the Panhandle.
· Airstrip: The marked turf landing area is roughly 2,500’ and located in the middle of the cleared strip. It has edge and end markers made of painted/half-buried tires, and has long turf thresholds at both ends. Parking of aircraft should be done at the extreme south end of the south threshold, which is closest to the campground amenities. Runway hazards include depressions caused by decomposing underground root balls, ant hills, gopher holes and deer on the runway. Wind indicators on poles near both ends of the intended runway are difficult to see from the air. CEW’s ASOS (119.275) is a good source of local wind information. Field drainage is generally good. Pilots need to bring their own tie-downs.
· Traffic Pattern: Runway 36 – Left Pattern; Runway 18 – Right Pattern. This will keep aircraft from overflying the improved camping areas adjacent to the airfield.
· Communications: CTAF 122.9
· Fees: The normal FFS fees apply to airfield visits. $2/person for day visits; $10/night for primitive camping and use of the restrooms; $15/night if also using the showers. Payment slips can be found outside both campground restrooms on the bulletin boards. Payment slips should be deposited in the ‘Iron Ranger’ (a slotted metal tube) also at that location. If you are an RAF member, it would be helpful to note that on the payment slip.
· Emergency Contact: Cell phone coverage is ‘iffy’ on the airfield. Fortunately, a Camp Host is a very short distance down the pathway exiting the southeast end of the field, and they can arrange emergency services. If you have cell phone service: In a true emergency, dial 911. In either case, then call, 850 957 6140 (Blackwater Forest Center), then ‘0’ for Dispatch and advise them of your issue. Dispatch is staffed daily until 10:00 p.m. after which the call is transferred to a more distant dispatcher. Alternatively, after 10 p.m. you may call the Santa Rosa County Sheriff at 850 983 1100. Note: Dispatch has the combination for the airstrip gate lock that will need to be opened to provide vehicle access to the airstrip.
· Other Info: Alternate public airstrips with fuel are available nearby at Brewton 12J, Prince 2R4 and Sikes CEW; working with Pensacola Approach in that dense airspace is recommended. Out of area visitors should remember Florida’s significant seasonal weather patterns, including strong afternoon thunderstorms in summer and periodic strong frontal winds during the winters with occasional morning & evening dense fog.
Amenities adjacent to the Airfield: There are plumbed restrooms with showers in Krul Recreation Area’s Campgrounds #1 and #2, which are adjacent to the field. They can be reached by taking the trail leading off the southeast corner of the airstrip, which will also take you to the improved camping sites. A dumpster to deposit your trash can be found on the way to Campground #1. There are both individual and group camping sites adjacent to the airstrip, which makes it possible for those arriving by aircraft to join those arriving by vehicle.
The Krul Recreation Area is a camping and ‘Day Use’ area built next to a 6.5-acre man-made lake. It is recharged from springs located on the north ends of the lake. It is an attractive and popular swimming area. The Sweetwater Trail starts at the Krul parking lot and runs 1.3 miles to Bear Lake. The first half mile of trail is a handicapped accessible boardwalk with a suspension bridge over Sweetwater Creek. A gristmill is located along the boardwalk. Sweetwater Trailwalker Trail map [ 431.68 KB]
There is much more to know about this large, diverse forest and its many recreational opportunities. A good place to start is here: www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Our-Forests/State-Forests/Blackwater-River-State-Forest#contact
Supporting the RAF’s Work: The RAF is partnering with Blackwater River State Forest, both in helping to maintain the airstrip through occasional work parties and by helping to fund airstrip improvements as they are approved by the FFS. (The addition of windsocks, a potable water tap on the field, permanent fire hub, and picnic tables are all such examples). One way you can support these RAF efforts is by joining the RAF and making a donation consistent with the pleasure you received while visiting this unique and special destination by aircraft. To do so, please visit www.theraf.organd click on ‘Join Team RAF’.