An amaz­ing lo­cal re­source for out­door re­cre­ation

RSWLiving - - Contents - BY WIL­LIAM R. C OX Wil­liam R. Cox has been a pro­fes­sional na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher and ecol­o­gist for more than 35 years. Visit him on­line at williamr­cox­pho­tog­ra­

An amaz­ing lo­cal re­source for out­door re­cre­ation

The land­scape of what is now the Fred C. Bab­cock/ Ce­cil M. Webb Wildlife Man­age­ment Area (WMA), lo­cated just west of Punta Gorda, was cre­ated more than a mil­lion years ago when the sea re­ceded. The Calusa In­di­ans oc­cu­pied this area for 10,000 years. They were dis­placed after the Span­ish in­va­sion of Florida in the 1500s.

In 1914 the land was pur­chased by Ed­ward Bab­cock for a hunt­ing pre­serve and cat­tle ranch. In the 1930s the Bab­cock family leased the tim­ber rights of the prop­erty. All old-growth pine was har­vested by the lum­ber in­dus­try and trans­ported out via the rail­road grades built through­out the pine flat­woods area. In 1941 Bab­cock sold 19,200 acres to the Com­mis­sion of Game and Fresh Wa­ter Fish, now known as the Fish and Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion (FWC). The WMA was orig­i­nally named for Ce­cil M. Webb, who served as com­mis­sioner from 1948-1953. The Bab­cock name was added in 1995.

To­day the Bab­cock/Webb WMA en­com­passes 67,758 acres. This large prop­erty is a mo­saic of many dif­fer­ent na­tive habi­tats, in­clud­ing the 395-acre Webb Lake and six ar­ti­fi­cial ponds. Other habi­tats in­clude dis­turbed ar­eas, dry prairie, fresh­wa­ter marsh, ham­mocks and pine flat­woods. The di­ver­sity of com­mu­ni­ties al­lows for a va­ri­ety of wildlife, in­clud­ing en­dan­gered species. Through roller chop­ping, pre­scribed burn­ing and hy­dro­log­i­cal man­age­ment, FWC man­ages the area to mimic what un­de­vel­oped ex­panses of hy­dric (wet) pine flat­woods once looked like in South­west Florida. Pre­scribed burn­ing repli­cates fires cre­ated by sea­sonal lightning strikes. FWC also works to con­trol in­va­sive plants such as melaleuca, Brazil­ian pep­per and co­gon grass through­out Bab­cock/Webb.

This unique WMA pro­vides many out­door recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing horse­back rid­ing, fish­ing, hunt­ing, bird­ing, wildlife view­ing, bik­ing, hik­ing, shoot­ing range, photography, scenic driv­ing and camp­ing.

Horse­back en­thu­si­asts are at­tracted by the Bab­cock/Webb’s many named and num­bered trails that tra­verse na­tive habi­tats, which in the 1800s were trav­eled by Florida cow­boys search­ing for wild cat­tle. Eques­tri­ans can find horse­back rid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and lo­ca­tions of fa­cil­i­ties by call­ing FWC at 863-648-3200.

Fresh­wa­ter fish­ing is al­lowed via boat (not gaso­linepow­ered), pier or wa­ter’s edge. There are three marl ponds that can be used for bank fish­ing. Most fish­ing—for bluegill, speck­led perch, large­mouth bass, chan­nel cat­fish and black crap­pie—is con­ducted on Webb Lake, which has three boat ramps for non­mo­tor­ized boats, ca­noes and kayaks. Catch and re­lease is the rule for large­mouth bass, which can­not be kept. Bluegill is also sought after, as it can reach 8 to 10 inches in length.

Hunt­ing is pre­dom­i­nantly con­ducted from late Oc­to­ber through mid-Novem­ber. Good habi­tat man­age­ment has re­sulted in plen­ti­ful deer and quail. The Field Trial Area of Bab­cock/Webb is used for north­ern bob­white hunt­ing from horse­back or tra­di­tional wag­ons. The Yucca Pens Unit in the south­ern por­tion of the WMA is also avail­able for hunt­ing, and there is a shoot­ing range for shot­gun, ri­fle and pis­tol prac­tice.

Bik­ing and hik­ing are pop­u­lar here. A twom­ile na­ture trail along the marshes and ponds is fre­quented by deer and other mam­mals, wad­ing birds and al­li­ga­tors. The WMA has 37 miles of paved and un­paved roads that can be tra­versed by foot, bike or ve­hi­cle. The en­tire prop­erty can be driven dur­ing hunt­ing sea­son, which ex­tends from mid-Oc­to­ber through mid-Jan­uary. Only des­ig­nated roads il­lus­trated on WMA maps can be trav­eled at other times of the year. In­ter­pre­tive signs, pic­nic tables and a fish­ing pier are lo­cated along a paved trail on the west­ern bor­der of Webb Lake. Prim­i­tive camp­ing is also avail­able along this trail dur­ing hunt­ing sea­son. Out­side hunt­ing sea­son, camp­ing is al­lowed ev­ery week­end from Fri­day (5 p.m.) through Sun­day (9 p.m.), as well as Me­mo­rial Day, In­de­pen­dence Day, La­bor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Bab­cock/Webb, which is part of the Great Florida Bird­ing and Wildlife Trail (florid­abird­ing­, of­fers bird and wildlife ob­ser­va­tions all year long. The di­verse man­aged habi­tats are home to more than 140 avian species that can be ob­served through­out the year. More than 40 of these bird species breed in the area. Sev­eral of these species are listed as threat­ened and are state and fed­er­ally pro­tected, in­clud­ing many wad­ing birds and the red-cock­aded wood­pecker.

Plan your visit to Bab­cock/Webb by go­ing to­cre­ation. This web­site also pro­vides the cost of a daily-use or WMA per­mit. Hunt­ing or fish­ing li­cense in­for­ma­tion can be ob­tained at­cense.

FWC man­ages the area to mimic what un­de­vel­oped ex­panses of hy­dric (wet) pine flat­woods once looked like in South­west Florida.

The day dawns at the Bab­cock/Webb Wildlife Man­age­ment Area.

Clock­wise from top left: Bab­cock/Webb is home to sand­hill cranes, the fed­er­ally en­dan­gered red­cock­aded wood­pecker and white-tailed deer. Its lakes and ponds of­fer fresh­wa­ter fish­ing. Much of its acreage is wet pine flat­woods.

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