Assistant Park Manager, Billy Bailey, noticed changes in the wildlife after Hurricane Michael struck Florida Caverns State Park in October 2018. Changes to the forest canopy and other ecological shifts had begun to attract new species to the Marianna, Florida park.
“It was the type of event that shapes landscapes and determines what’s supposed to be here, and what isn’t,” Bailey said.
Bailey recently saw the first northern harrier he’s ever seen in the park. The harrier, also known as the marsh hawk, is a bird of prey that prefers to hunt in open fields. Bailey also saw a rare barn owl, and has noticed more wading birds, turkeys and fox squirrels. “The wildlife has rebounded,” Bailey said. “They know what to do after a storm and how to adapt.”
There are plans to restore heavily damaged areas to longleaf pine forest, the native ecosystem that existed in this area before it was logged.
Major progress has been made towards reopening picnic areas and removing debris. Geological and structural assessments of the caverns are underway. The surface-based lighting and electrical system that illuminates the caves must be repaired, and they must be cleared of mud deposited there during a flood.
The community has rallied around Florida Caverns State Park. Volunteers continue to help clean up debris and a local ice-cream shop, Southern Craft Creamery, is raising money to help plant native tree saplings.