Ralph E Simmons State Forest Park
Ralph E Simmons State Forest may be the most northerly site on the GFBWT. It can be found south of the Georgia line on HWY 1/23, along the St Mary’s River near the city of Hilliard.
The Ralph E Simmons Memorial Wildlife Management Area is primarily forest, although as you near the river you will find cypress swamp, bogs and ponds. There are two main trails and both are open to driving, biking, and equestrian. One path leads to the river, while the other is a 6.5 mile loop through the forest.
Bring water and insect spray if you plan on walking. Primitive camping is available. The park is open from dust to dawn all year long.
On this dark and dreary January afternoon, Telephoto Florida (TPF) drove the main 6.5 mile white trail. We encountered only a small group of wild turkey and a red-shouldered hawk during our stay. Telephoto Florida suggests you walk some of the loop and see what surprises the forest reveals. The river area should offer additional birding opportunities, although on our visit we never did find the water. The trail leading to the water was at an alternate entrance a mile or so down the road.
If you happen to be travelling through the back roads between Jacksonville and Savannah, GA and have time on your hands, and a hankering to see a forest, stop by. Otherwise the park does not warrant the long drive from wherever you are.
The GFBWT guide book states:
“Throughout the forest, songbirds like Eastern Towhee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, vireos and warblers are common; Northern Bobwhite, Bachman’s Sparrow, Wild Turkey, White-tailed Deer and Gopher Tortoise also are likely. Look for American Robin in winter and early spring; Dark-eyed Junco is an occasional winter visitor. Butterfly enthusiasts will want to search here for Frosted Elfin and Sleepy Duskywing from late February to early April.”