The Other Side of Panhandle Tourism

By: Jason Davis
By: Jason Davis

Each year thousands of tourists flock to the Panhandle for the fishing and the sugar white sands, but a local environmental group it trying to attract more visitors inland.

They say if you never leave the beach, you're missing out on some real gems.

There's more to the Panhandle than sugar white beaches and spring break bashes. Just ask Karl Studenroth.

Karl Studenroth, a biologist, says, "We have more species of animals and plants are here in the Florida Panhandle than anywhere else in the United States."

Studenroth is the president of the Northwest Florida Environmental Conservancy. The organization is educating the public about the more than 200 species of native plants and more than 800 species of vertebrates that call the Panhandle home.

You'd have to travel to southern Mexico to find a more diverse collection, not to mention the 57 different types of ecosystems that support them.

"We have over 300 caves in and around Jackson County in the Marianna lowlands here, and caves are extraordinary for the species of animals and plants that grow in them."

"Some of the creepy crawly things you can find inside of caves, this is one of them here. This is called a fishing spider. The fishing spiders live around water and are actually a semi-aquatic spider that will actually go into the water and catch small fish and tadpoles and insects."

Karl says there's something to be learned from every environment, even this sinkhole.

"Millions of years ago this was the bottom of the ocean floor. This limestone is basically a mixture of decomposed seashells and creatures."

The conservancy is planning an eco-tourism park in Jackson County, featuring day camps, cave tours and much more.

Jackson County has already donated the land to start the northwest Florida Conservancy to build a nature center.

If you'd like to learn more about the Northwest Florida Wildlife Conservancy, you can contact Karl Studenroth at nwflec@yahoo.com.


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