February 2015: Falling Waters State Park

Chipley, Florida

At 73 feet, Falling Waters is home to Florida’s tallest waterfall. The potential of power generated from tumbling water disappearing into a cave at the bottom of a sinkhole attracted industry in the 19th century. A grist mill operated here, grinding corn into grits and cornmeal during the Civil War. After it was abandoned, timbers - some on display in the park - fell into Falling Waters Sink. In 1891, a whiskey distillery just above the waterfall provided legal hooch for nearby railway workers. When the still went away the Glen St. Mary Nursery operated here but it failed during the Depression of the 1930s, leaving behind exotic species such as mimosa, Japanese privet and date palm on the property.  

At Falling Waters you take your dog into woods of towering Southern pines and Northern hardwoods but it doesn’t take long for this hike to cease to resemble a typical forest walk. In short order you are introduced to fern-draped sinkholes, the namesake waterfall, a wiregrass prairie, and a two-acre lake. The trail system essentially links the Sinks Trailto the Wiregrass Trail to the Terrace Trail. Starting from the parking lot your dog will be working up one of Flordia’s highest hills to an elevation of 324 feet in the campground. Probably not enough to set him to panting but midway the trail passes by the lake where your dog can slip in for a quick refresher. Detailed plant identification brochures accompany the trail to explain the rich biodiversity that exists along the Branch Creek. Your dog will be trotting on elaborate boardwalks and the remnants of old country roads.  

A crack in the earth and old Indian legends triggered dreams of black gold in the head of Jose Mantanza. In 1919 he parsed together a tall, wooden derrick and steam-driven rig and sunk one of Florida’s first oil wells at Falling Water. At 3.900 feet a blow of gas shook the ground and reports of a gusher raced through the community. But no oil followed. Drilling continued to a depth of almost one mile but no oil was ever found. The well was capped in 1921.  

Three miles south of town. Take Exit 120 off I-10 and go south on SR 77 for one mile. Turn left on State Park Road and follow to the entrance.