Our hearts go out to our friends, readers, and residents of the Florida Panhandle whose towns and lives have been turned upside down by Hurricane Michael.
Important: if you haven’t been able to contact a family member in the affected area, the Florida National Guard can help. Use this website.
We’ve heard that with the exception of Mexico Beach – where the storm surge utterly destroyed nearly everything along US 98 – surge levels were otherwise thankfully lower than predicted. They still brought flooding, muck, and debris to the coast from Cedar Key to Panama City Beach and the many bays and bayous. Coastal damage due to battering waves stretches across the entire Florida Panhandle.
The destruction of property and infrastructure – from major highways to power lines – is nearly inconceivable. We’ve waded through news stories, but learning what happened to friends – buildings destroyed, trees through homes, forests leveled – is simply overwhelming.
As one friend whose home was in the hurricane‘s path wrote, “it will be weeks before they get power again. Not only are the powerlines snapped, the wires themselves are frayed. They will have to respool the lines.”
It will be quite some time before any sense of normalcy returns to Panama City, Panama City Beach, Port St Joe, St. George Island, Apalachicola, Eastpoint, Blountstown, and Marianna. Winds and surge also impacted all of Franklin, Gadsden, Leon, and Wakulla Counties.
With so much to be done, expect slow movement on reopening public lands. Here’s what we know right now on what’s affected.
Florida Trail Closure
The Florida National Scenic Trail has officially been closed from Aucilla WMA west to Pensacola Beach, a distance of 376 miles. This includes all side trails, including Blackwater River State Forest.
Says the Florida Trail Association, “Conditions are not safe for anyone to be out on the trail. We know that our incredible FTA volunteers want to be the first eyes on the ground to assess damage, but we ask that you please DO NOT ACCESS THE TRAIL until we are able to receive official confirmation that conditions are safe and secure. Your safety and well-being are important to us.
We are prepared to respond and rebound from whatever impacts the trail has experienced. As soon as the closures are lifted, our trail maintainers and staff will be first to respond in assessing and repairing damages.”
National Forests in Florida
The Apalachicola National Forest is closed for safety reasons until further notice. This includes all roads, campgrounds, and trails.
Florida State Parks
Essentially, every state park in the Panhandle is closed with the exception of those closest to Pensacola: Big Lagoon, Tarkiln Bayou, Perdido, and Blackwater. A full list of park closures can be found here.
Evacuees, please check this list of state parks accepting dry camping for self-contained rigs. Be sure to call ahead to the park to ensure they can take you.
Florida State Forests
All of the following state forests are closed, including their campgrounds, roads, and trails. For updates visit www.FloridaForestService.com
Pine Log State Forest
Point Washington State Forest
Lake Talquin State Forest
Plank Road State Forest
Tate’s Hell State Forest
Wakulla State Forest
US Fish & Wildlife
St. Marks NWR is engaging in debris cleanup so the refuge is closed. The visitor center and lightkeeper’s home survived the storm, the steps to the lighthouse did not. It will take some time to survey damage to trail bridges and boardwalks. Biologists will visit St. Vincent Island to check on wildlife once it is safe to do so.
Florida Fish & Wildlife
All FWC offices are closed as staff is redirected to the important task of checking on residents of impacted areas. Most of the WMAs in the Panhandle and Big Bend are closed due to hurricane impacts, as are Chassahowitzka and Chinsegut in Central Florida. For a full list, visit this page.
Northwest Florida Water Management District
All district lands are closed until further notice. FWC reports severe flooding and impassible roads at Econfina Creek WMA. Updates here.
County Parks & Campgrounds
It’s safe to assume that all county-managed public lands in the areas of greatest impact – Bay, Gulf, Franklin, Wakulla, Calhoun, Washington, Holmes, Jackson, Gadsden, Liberty, and Leon – are closed and will remain so until all infrastructure (roads, power) is repaired. Some of these counties presently have nighttime curfews and some (Bay, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes) want no one to enter (especially evacuees) other than safety personnel, until they get safety issues under control.
We will continue to share updates to closures as we learn about them.