For more than 12 thousand years people have inhabited the land around the Aucilla and Wacissa rivers. Indians hunted and fished the abundant resources in and around the rivers, where archeologists documented many seafood middens and prehistoric artifacts. To protect these and other cultural resources, artifact removal is illegal.
Before the first Europeans arrived, the climate was drier and the sea level lower than today. Dry land extended miles into what is now the Gulf of Mexico and water levels were lower in rivers and lakes. The Aucilla was a series of separate sinkholes that were a major source of fresh water, attracting mastodons and other large animals. North Florida’s first inhabitants used chert (quartz) spear points attached to shafts to hunt for big game around these watering holes. In 1993, archeologists from the University of Florida recovered a 7.5-foot mastodon tusk from a prehistoric site along the Aucilla River. Eight long cut-marks at the base of the tusk indicated it had been removed from the skull by humans. Radiocarbon dated the tusk at 12,200 years ago, one of the earliest records of human activity in Florida.
Harley and Ryan Means Native American artifacts from the Aucilla and Wacissa rivers. Arranged chronologically from left to right, they are Clovis (spear point), Bolen, Kirk, and Newnan (knives), Lafayette and Hernando (projectile points, probably thrown with the aid of an atlatl), and Pinellas (a true arrowhead shot with a bow).
As Florida’s climate became wetter and forests replaced grasslands, the Indians hunted deer and other animals in the forests, fished and gathered freshwater snails and other mollusks. By A.D. 400, villages were built up, and people had constructed ceremonial mounds. Archeologists refer to this as the Weedon Island culture, named for an archeological site found in the Tampa Bay area. In the spring of 1902 and 1918, archeologist Clarence Moore excavated two mounds along the Aucilla River that he associated with a nearby village. Moore uncovered numerous burials containing skeletal remains as well as decorative ceramic burial goods.
The rich resources and the accessibility of two rivers attracted those determined to profit from the bounty. Slaves deepened a natural channel between the Wacissa and the Aucilla rivers, but the Slave Canal was abandoned. Later, Seminole Indians used the dense swamps to successfully attack the Army soldiers who could not defend against the guerrilla tactics.
Lumbermen removed most of the old-growth cypress from the swamps early in the 20th century. They constructed raised roadbeds (trams) for locomotives to haul huge timbers out of the swamps. Stands of native longleaf pine were replanted with fast-growing slash and loblolly pines for pulpwood. Today, some of these trams still provide roadways for vehicles, while others are smaller pathways for hikers, bikers and wildlife.
In 1988, the state of Florida obtained the core property (about 14,000 acres). Later acquisitions were made in 2000 and 2003 from St. Joe Timberland Company and now the area’s natural plant communities are being managed and ongoing restoration is underway.