The rolling sandhills of Watermelon Pond Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA) cover 4,231 acres in southwestern Alachua County and northern Levy County, approximately 18 miles southwest of Gainesville. Watermelon Pond lies at the northern end of the Brooksville Ridge, an ancient, linear dune line that extends to southern Hernando County and is characterized by high-quality tracts of longleaf pine sandhills. Elevations along the ridge range from 70 to 300 feet above sea level. The WEA is part of a network of public and private lands that helps protect the regional groundwater supply, as well as native plants and wildlife associated with longleaf pine sandhills, upland sandhill lakes and marshes in southwestern Alachua County. These plant communities have been much reduced by agriculture and residential development.
Acreage within the WEA includes portions of the Watermelon Pond Unit of the adjacent Goethe State Forest. Watermelon Pond County Park lies immediately to the south. In 2007, the WEA was established on 1,287 acres through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Mitigation Park Program. FWC biologists tailor habitat management (see management page) to benefit protected species such as the gopher tortoise, fox squirrel and other upland wildlife. In 2010, an additional 2,944 acres of the adjacent Goethe State Forest were added to the WEA.
Prior to its purchase by the state in 2007, the property in the WEA's original 1,287 acres was known as Barry's Ranch. Ranch operations included logging and commercial timber production, row crops and other agricultural plantings, turpentine harvesting, and cattle grazing. The 2,944-acre tract of Goethe State Forest that was added to the WEA in 2010, was originally acquired by the state in 1997-98 from Loncala, Inc., a Florida corporation that used the land for phosphate mining and timber production. The land was acquired to protect Watermelon Pond and its associated uplands.
View the Conceptual Management Plan for Watermelon Pond Wildlife and Environmental Area.