Bulldozer Canal Area – St Johns River

The Bulldozer Canal is a manmade canal off the St Johns River. The flow of the St Johns River has been modified considerably in the area of Bulldozer Canal. Often in Florida’s past, Agricultural Engineers (I assume engineers) created canals and changed the character of the land by diverting water off the land and in directions they desired. Once what were wetlands became pastures, orange groves and homesteads. Bulldozer Canal is one of those major canals created to divert water to and from homesteader’s land. The canal these days looks nothing like what it did when it was first constructed and used. The main section off the St Johns is still passable at certain times of the year, but mainly it can only be used by airboats most of the year. I have been down there a few times in a small motorboat. One time we got right in, the other times we were either totally blocked by hydrias or the water was too shallow for the motor (did paddle at least part way down). You can see the sand piled high on one side from the original digging of the canal.

Cabins and Campsites
As you get about .7 of a mile down the canal from the St Johns River you will come to the first cabin still in existance on the canal. A little further west you will come to a second cabin. I have no idea how long those cabins have been there, but I suspect a very long time. Like everything, they have seen good days and bad days. During my visit in Feb 2012 I found them to be showing their age. The area around the cabins is kept clean and the cabins are also clean, I suspect by the local airboaters whom frequent the area. Both cabins are constructed on stilts to protect them from the high water which hits the area at times. As you proceed west on the canal a little further you will come across three separate campsites controlled (I wish maintained) by the SJRWMD. The campsites have signage which identifies them as “Bulldozer Canal Campsite”. Each campsite has at least one tent platform, as well as a fire area. Some benches and picnic tables are available, but not in the best of shape in Feb 2012. There is signage which states that they owned by the SJRWMD and only tents are allowed. The area is strictly a “first come, first serve” area. About 1.1 miles north as you follow one of the many airboat trails you will come to another SJRWMD campsite, this one is labeled “Spade Island Campsite”. Access to this campsite is from airboat trails from Bulldozer Canal or from the St Johns River directly. Depending on the water level, it might be an island (I have seen it covered with water) or just a dry hump amongst the cypress trees. I have visited this campsite a couple of times and each time I found the campsite to be fully occupied by hunters (no actual hunters, but all their gear). I suspect that this campsite is the center point for much of the hunting activity in the area. I doubt you could ever get a tenting spot in this campsite.

Surrounding Area
The area around Bulldozer Canal has seen a lot of activity over the years. The land north of it is crisscrossed with airboat trails. For those of you who don’t know what an airboat trail is, it is a path through the woods and fields wide enough for an airboat to pass through. The airboats use it even when it is dry (airboats are flat bottomed and pushed by air). Once a trail is established, it is maintained from that day forward by airboaters, they keep it clear of obstacles. If the water is high enough, even small motor boats can use them. During the dry season they can be walked and explored. The land north of Bulldozer Canal is I assume heavily hunted. I judge that by the number of hunter tree stands I have seen while wandering around. I made sure I wasn’t there during hunting season and I suggest you only elect to visit the area when there is no hunting activity. There are some beautiful cypress forests to explore. The distinct lines on the cypress trees from high water times is a wonderful site, truly picturesque. The land to the west belongs to Kempfer Ranch and is marked “no trespassing”. I suggest you don’t even consider crossing onto their land. The St Johns River is to the east and then there is the north. As you head further north from the canal you will most likely encounter water, even in dry times. When I wandered the area I kept encountering water and had to turn back, finally giving up after getting about 2 miles from the canal. The airboat trails are numerous and filled my day of exploring.

Wildlife and Wild Things
During February I didn’t see many wildflowers, just some small ones. I would hope that if you visited the area later in the spring that you might see more. I did come across some deer and signs that wild hogs frequented the area (I assume not during hunting season). The muddy spots revealed the tracks of raccoons and turkeys. I did almost step on a small water moccasin while walking an airboat trail. Even as small as it was, it still had a fierce desire to bite me. I think the cooler weather slowed it down. I have run across a few water moccasins during my exploring so I now wear sturdy snake-proof leg gaiters. There were a few songbirds fluttering around, as well as some wading birds near the canal.

Getting to the Canal
There is only one way I know of to get to Bulldozer Canal and the surrounding area and that is by boat. With an airboat you can get there at any time. With a motor boat, it would most likely have to be small and a very shallow runner. We launched the small motor boat we had from Camp Holly off RT192. It is about 7.5 miles from Camp Holly to the mouth of Bulldozer Canal. You should see a mess of gators wading birds along the river. I say a mess, but in reality, much less than what I would expect to see. I feel the river is dying and thus it no longer supports the game fish and wildlife which feed on the smaller fish that it once supported. You could try coming in from Three Forks Conservation Area by kayak or canoe, but I have no idea what kind of adventure that might be! The main river has shallow spots and also a couple of the lake areas you must cross, the open areas can get pretty rough. The channel can be hard to find, so plan ahead.

• The canal and surrounding area has an undocumented historical past (if anyone has information about that, please let me know)
• There are two full size cabins on the canal
• There are three SJRWMD campsites directly on the canal (Bulldozer Canal Campsites)
• There is a major campsite north of the canal (Spade Island Campsite)
• This is a major hunting area, so be aware of the hunting seasons – always wear bright colors
• Kempfer Deer Park Ranch owns the land to the west, so watch for their “no trespassing” signs
• This was an old homestead area, so if you’re lucky you might come across a piece of Florida history
• Airboats frequent the area at all times of the year, so if you hear one (very loud), make sure you are out of their way
• There are a number of airboat trails which crisscross the area
• According to topo maps this is wetlands, so expect some water just about all the time – during the wet season, the area is mainly a lake

Here are some of the GPS reference coordinates -
• Camp Holly Boat Launch - N28 05.089 W80 45.145
• Entrance to Bulldozer Canal from St Johns River - N27 59.857 W80 47.500
• Cabin Number 1 (other cabin right next to it) - N27 59.861 W80 48.220
• First SJRWMD Bulldozer Campsite - N27 59.870 W80 48.333
• SJRWMD Spade Island Campsite - N28 00.771 W80 48.369
• St Johns River Entrance to SJRWMD Spade Island Campsite - N28 01.833 W80 48.045

To view/download my wandering tracks - Click Here

My Tracks Map - Feb 2012 Visit -
Bulldozer Canal - Looking East -
Bulldozer Canal - Looking West -
One Of The Cabins On The Canal -
One Of The SJRWMD Campsites On The Canal -
Water Pump At SJRWMD Spade Island Campsite -
Airboat Trail Near Canal -
Airboat Trail Along The Cypress Trees -
Kempfer Ranch Property Line -
Border Line of Kempfer Ranch Property -
Airboat Trail During High Water -
Airboat Trail During High Water -
Airboat Trail During High Water -

1 comment:

Jet Ski Fails said...

Thanks for the photos and writeup. I just got back from jet skiing to the Wolf Creek campground. Water beyond that was too shallow.