Ross Prairie State Forest
Ross Prairie State Forest is a 3,527-acre tract of public conservation land that was acquired in 1995 through the Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) program utilizing funding from the Preservation 2000 Act. The state forest is managed by the Florida Forest Service under a multiple-use concept. The Florida Forest Service works to protect, conserve, and enhance the unique resources of Ross Prairie State Forest through a stewardship ethic to assure these resources will be available for future generations.
Ross Prairie State Forest is located in Marion County approximately ten miles southwest of Ocala. Access is off SR200.
PHOTO: Florida Greeneyes (Berlandiera subacaulis) bloom at Ross Prairie State Forest.
The main area of the wetland, known as Ross Prairie, lies to the north of the forest on properties managed by the Office of Greenways and Trails. This wetland is a freshwater depression marsh characterized by open areas of wetland grasses surrounded by live oak hammocks. These prairies will contain water in the wet season and become completely dry in the dry season. The 150-acre portion of the prairie located on the forest is made up of depression marshes varying in size from one acre to in excess of 50 acres. Various species of wading birds are commonly seen here. In addition to the depression marshes, the forest’s diverse ecological communities include sandhill, scrubby flatwoods, mesic hammock, mesic flatwoods, and scrub.
Florida’s landscape evolved with the natural occurrence of frequent forest fires. One of the many benefits of fire is that it shapes the landscape and plays a role in determining the plants and animals associated with various forest communities. Without regular occurring fire, forest communities would have a change in the species composition; unique plants and animals maintained by fire are lost. State forest managers utilize prescribe burning (a controlled application of fire to existing naturally occurring fuels under specified weather conditions) to mimic the natural occurrence of fire which is so vitally important to maintain the unique plant and animal diversity that exists on Ross Prairie State Forest.
Recreational opportunities on the forest include hiking, bird watching, horseback riding, primitive camping, and hunting. The main trailhead and access point is from the Ross Prairie Trailhead located along State Road 200 one mile south of County Road 484. This trailhead, managed by the Office of Greenways and Trails, has vehicle and equestrian parking, restrooms, and picnic pavilions.
One trail in particular, the Holly Hammock trail is a marked 2.3 mile hiking trail that meanders through mesic hammocks, sandhills, and along depression marshes. This trail provides the visitor opportunities for nature study, wildlife viewing, as well as photography. A primitive campsite is located off this hiking trail near one of the larger depression marshes for the more adventurous outdoorsman. Please contact the Ocala Forestry Station for more information on camping at this site.
For equestrian users Ross Prairie State Forest has 15 miles of designated trails along existing service roads and firelines. This is in addition to the numerous miles of equestrian trails throughout the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway property which borders the forest along its northern boundary.
Ross Prairie State Forest is also incorporated into the Wildlife Management Area system which is administered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The Florida Forest Service cooperates with the FWC in the setting of wildlife and hunting regulations on the forest. Hunting is restricted to four one-week supervised youth small game hunts each year. Hunters are subject to the specific hunting rules established for Ross Prairie State Forest as well as those that apply on private lands.
In keeping with its mission to protect and manage Florida's forest resources, the Florida Forest Service has developed rules which apply to all State Forest visitors. Find about more about state forest fees and rules.