Newswise — GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Feel an itch to see the “Real Florida?” Summer is just about here, so you can take the kids to theme parks, but the Sunshine State offers much more, if you want to venture outdoors. You might even try a forest.

With the start of ecotourism season, visitors to Florida can explore everything from vineyards to farms to scenic trails. The Sunshine State even offers forests.

“The forests are natural draws for outdoor recreationists looking to see native Florida,” said Taylor Stein, a University of Florida professor of forest resources and conservation. Forests in Florida are home to all kinds of fascinating plants, trees and animals.

Foresters can help ensure visitors enjoy their experience because they manage the habitat and recreational activities simultaneously, said Stein, a faculty member with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

A new study from Stein illustrates this point, and forest managers can apply the new research results nationwide, he said.

In the study, Stein surveyed campers and other recreation enthusiasts at the Ocala National Forest to find out how much they liked the beauty and recreation of areas of the forest that are managed for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

Because the birds are endangered, forest managers use prescribed burns and tree harvesting to help maintain suitable habitats, he said. Fire and forest management might not correspond to what visitors want, Stein said. Therefore, he wanted to know whether visitors were pleased with the results after forest managers did both.

Stein and his team surveyed 209 hikers, campers, boaters, hunters and others and showed the participants photos of certain areas of the forest. The pictures depicted different types of forest management treatments, including recent prescribed fires and harvesting, Stein said. Some pictures showed forest recovery time from treatments, which made them look different.

Survey results showed that overall, outdoorsy folks like the beauty and enjoy the recreation that a high-quality, red-cockaded woodpecker habitat provides. Depending on the recreational activity, however, some respondents liked the areas managed for the bird more than others.

Campers perceived high scenic quality for all pictures but significantly lower recreation quality.

“This tells us campers are actively thinking more about their overall recreation experience,” Stein said. “They need more than just scenery. They will think it’s pretty, but they might complain about other things, like bathrooms.”

Stein’s study is published in the journal Forests.


By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, [email protected]

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

Journal Link: Forests