Deep in the heart of Goethe State Forest – more than 53,500 acres of conservation land stretched long and thin between Bronson and Inglis – lies a cluster of green giants that few people have ever seen. They are well off the beaten path, down a series of forest roads that might seem a little confusing to follow. Nourished by the floodplain of Cow Creek, these tremendous trees grow to towering heights.
At the trailhead on Cow Creek Road, a kiosk shares stats now a decade old for the Goethe Giant, the centerpiece of this cluster of ancients. There’s a reason this is called the Big Cypress Trail. The Goethe Giant is a bald cypress more than 900 years old. It’s nearly 29 feet around and more than 105 feet tall.
On the way to the Goethe Giant, the half-mile round-trip Big Cypress Trail interprets the trees around you. Many of them are giants in their own right. There are immense Southern magnolia and American hornbeam. The pines – longleaf and loblolly – seem to scrape the sky. One sports a lightning slash down its bark.
Ironically, it’s a microscopic threat that has brought mighty trees to their knees. As you reach the boardwalk, a marker proclaims that it is made of wood salvaged from pines destroyed by the Southern pine bark beetle, one of the most destructive forces to tramp through our Florida forests. Thankfully, most of the ancients in the Cow Creek Swamp are not pines, and so they stretch their mighty boughs to create a high canopy.
The Goethe Giant towers overhead at the end of the boardwalk It was taller, once, quite obviously as you look skyward to follow its trunk. Florida’s hurricanes have a way of topping off the grandest giants of the forest. Scan the surrounding forest, and you’ll see more massive cypress, more ancient trees. Breathe deep and reflect on the perspective of centuries of growth and survival, an oasis in an otherwise ever-changing landscape. These living monuments speak of the past, and of the future.
To find the Big Cypress Trail, follow Cow Creek Road north from SR 121 in Levy County, 1.2 miles east of the intersection of SR 121 with US 19. Follow the unmarked, unpaved Cow Creek Road for 3.2 miles north to the parking area on the left, GPS coordinates 29.223550, -82.622667.