In August 1998, the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge completed restoration of the Mainline and declared the trail open to the public. The present roadway was originally cut and leveled for a railroad to
give lumber companies access to the virgin trees of the California Swamp in the early 1900s. Suwannee resident Howard Hamilton, who was raised on a Brooks and Scanlon logging camp near Perry, recalls his father grading portions of the Dixie Mainline in the 1930s and 1940s. “Back then,” he said, “virgin pines were so big two men couldn’t get their arms around the trunks. Just a few trees made a full load.” For decades after the loggers withdrew, missing and burned-out bridges made the hardwood swamps and coastal salt marsh along the rail bed inaccessible to all but a few knowledgeable hunters. Since replacing the bridges and opening the trail, the Refuge has been mainly concerned with repairs and periodic grading to reduce potholes on the unpaved, hard-packed road surface. The Refuge and Dixie County now partner to maintain the road. Trees that crowd the virtually non-existent verges are selectively removed to decrease the risk of collision and to open up the road for better wildlife viewing.
Slash pine covers most of the upland areas along the Mainline. Many of these stands have been thinned and
burned to increase growth and quality; fewer trees, less competition for space and nutrients. This also let more sunlight reach the forest floor, spurring growth among plants that offer food and cover for wildlife. Some sites have been replanted in the original longleaf pine.
Just a few inches higher in elevation than the surrounding area, these slightly dryer hammocks support trees such as live oak, redbay, sweetgum and cabbage palm in addition to pine.
An edge is where two or more plant communities meet, such as a pine forest meeting a wet area. Along the Mainline, look for the many edges and their diverse plant and animal species. Wildlife use edges because they offer a variety of necessities. One area may have food or water while another offers cover. By living along edges, animals do not have to travel far to meet their needs.
Mysterious and still, swamps along the Mainline can be recognized by their standing dark water with cypress
trees and knees rising for air. Look for several types of air plants or epiphytes, such as Spanish moss and southern needleleaf. Epiphytes grow harmlessly on another plant, drawing moisture and nutrients only from the air, rain and sometimes the debris around the plant. Barred owls are year-round residents often living in swamps and bottomland areas. Occasionally, you will see them in daytime.
Look for other wetlands as you travel the Mainline: roadside ditches, meandering creeks, ponds and salt
marshes. Wetlands are essential to our environment, bestowing many benefits. They control floods by
storing and slowly releasing excess water. They act as filters for silt and chemicals, reducing pollution in our
water supply. They offer essential habitat for many species of sh and wildlife including waterfowl, wading
birds, amphibians, river otters and other mammals. Finally, we enjoy their beauty while fishing, boating, photographing or just looking.