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“A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.” ~Laura Gilpin

I consider myself a novice kayaker.  I’ve been kayaking for nearly two years now, and I haven’t left the Intracoastal in my backyard.  For two years, I have been saying that I need to venture out into Florida’s rivers.  Well, I’m finally doing it.

In July, I am going to spend two weeks launching my “up the river” kayak project. In those two weeks, I plan to kayak as many rivers in Florida that I can. After those two weeks, I will continue throughout the year to paddle as many rivers as possible with the ultimate goal of paddling all of Florida’s rivers. Come along with me, and share your own adventures!

I do have some help with the planning. My sources of information are the following, and I will refer to them throughout my journey:

Alden, Peter, Rick Cech and Gil Nelson.  National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1998.

Boning, Charles R. Florida’s Rivers. Sarasota: Pineapple Press, Inc., 2007.

Carter, Elizabeth F., et al. Canoeing & Kayaking Florida. 2nd ed. Birmingham: Menash Ridge Press, 2007.

Huff, Sandy. Paddler’s Guide to the Sunshine State. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

Ohr, Tim and Pete Carmicheal.  Florida’s Fabulous Canoe and Kayak Trail Guide.  CA: World Publications, 2008.

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Whiskey Creek (07/19/2018)

Another hot, sunny summer day in South Florida, and I had not been kayaking for over six months. Determined to paddle, I checked my list of rivers not yet paddled

Heading South on Whiskey

and found one within an hour’s drive—Whiskey Creek. Honestly, I hadn’t even known it existed.

I love when I find these unexpected treasures in Florida. A Florida Designated Paddling Trail, Whiskey Creek flows through the Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park in Dania Beach, dividing a stretch of land situated between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. A tidal waterway, its water levels fluctuate with the tides. At low tide, the water level is too low to paddle the entire creek without getting out at some point to pull the kayak. This creek has so much history behind it. That which I find most interesting—during Prohibition times, it was these very same shallow waters that made the perfect escape for the rum-runners when the Coast Guard was in pursuit.

The morning I paddled, low tide was 8:18 a.m., and high tide was at 2:34 p.m. I arrived shortly after 10:00 but waited until 11:15 to put in to ensure the water level was high enough. I put in at the BG Whiskey Creek Hideout, the outfitter inside the park and at the north end of the creek. I paddled south, possibly the same route the rum-runners once took. Mangroves lined the right side of the waterway and sand dunes and sea grapes lined the left, Just over the dunes on the east side, 2.5 miles of Dania Beach welcomed tourists to its warm sands. Planes from the nearby Ft. Lauderdale airport flew overhead, a constant reminder of the city nearby.

Into the Mangroves

The thing about paddling mangrove waterways, there is little or no shade unless you paddle into the mangroves. So, I took my time and paddled the tea-stained waterway, moving in and out of the mangroves, enjoying both the shade and the quiet of nature. Herons (blue, tri-colored, black crowned night), ibis, and brown pelican found comfort in the same shade as I. Tiny crabs scuttled up huge mangrove root systems as I paddled by them.

The creek runs just under two miles to the south and connects with the Intracoastal Waterway. A paddler can paddle south to the Dania Marina and return on the same route or paddle the loop. I chose the loop and exited the creek just after the Dania Beach Pier, paddling to the Intracoastal and north to loop back to my put in—a total trip of about 3.8 mil

The loop took me about 3.5 hours to paddle, a long time for a 3.8 mile trip. However, I spent a lot of time discovering the mangroves and was slowed down by the waves of the Intracoastal on my return. I know I’ve said it before, but although the open waters are not my favorite paddle—I love the shaded, canopied waterways—there is never a bad day on a Florida waterway. I felt exhilarated.

I left the creek, exhausted from the sun and paddle and very thankful. We are so fortunate that the State of Florida has preserved these natural environments for us to enjoy.

(BG Whiskey Creek Hideout. 6503 N. Ocean Drive, Dania Beach, FL 33004 (954) 929-4970)

I put in mid-morning, three days after Christmas, under overcast skies in chilly (brrrrr…60 degrees!), breezy weather. Winter had arrived in Florida!  My location,

the Chassahowitzka River Campground—probably the best, if not the only put-in on the “Chaz.”

It took me some time just to be able to pronounce the name of this river—Chassahowitzka—and I’m still not certain I have it right. The Chaz is an Outstanding Florida Waterway. The river is wide, wide enough for boats, but shallow in many areas, keeping bigger boats away. It’s about six miles from the river’s source, just east of my put-in, to the Gulf. (See map.)

I had delayed my paddle on the Chassahowitzka expecting little shade from the hot sun during the summer months. However, I learned that what makes this waterway so special are the many spring runs along it—which are narrow and shaded and full of sweet surprises.

Jesse put me in at 10:30 a.m., securing my snake knife and cooler. (Others had told me there were many snakes on the river. However, I did not see one.) I paddled away, the water below me clear, heading just east to the Seven Sisters Spring. I passed a few small houses at the entrance to the spring and paddled into the little cove and over each of the seven sisters, all easy to see just below the clear surface.

ps://kayakingcaldwell.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/img_2631.jpg”> Searching for a Bite to Eat

[/caption]Exiting the springs, I paddled west along the wider river, spying schools of fish scurrying about below me. I later discovered that they were most likely mullet or mangrove snapper. Cypress, oaks, palms, and river grasses stood tall along the banks, bending slightly with the breeze. I saw tents pitched along the north side, smelling the campfires even before I saw the campers.

Jesse had described two “must see” areas that would provide me a peak at nature along the river, and that’s where I headed, eventually paddling into a narrower loop to the right toward Salt Creek. I spent an hour or so here, paddling up each of four narrow waterways, feeling rewarded when I spotted a raccoon couple making its way to the water, searching for a late breakfast. Birds huddled along the shallow banks and on branches—anhingas, small herons, egrets, and ibis. Wood ducks paddled along the water’s edge.

Forced to Portage on Baird Creek

Time went by quickly on the waterway—over two hours had already passed. I felt the refreshing cold on my face, the kind that turns your nose and cheeks red. I headed back towards the outfitter and up another spring run on the south side of the river, Baird Creek. I came upon a wood stork on the side of the narrow creek, searching for food, not bothered by my presence at all. I paused as I watched a playful otter dipping in and out of the water around the stork and my kayak. No fear. I carefully paddled around them, and continued until the waterway widened over Blue Spring. A bit further, and I was once more in a narrow, shallow waterway and was forced to get out and portage until a downed tree finally stopped me. From here, I sloshed about 150 feet through ankle deep water until I arrived at a clear pool of aqua water and the Crack.

In all, I was in the river four hours and never got far from my put in. On my return to the outfitter, I was treated to three colorful mallard ducks dipping in the water. A light rain began just as my trip ended.

(Chassahowitzka River Campground. 8600 W. Miss Maggie Drive, Homosassa, FL 34448. (352) 382-2200)

Shingle Creek (12/26/2017)

Originally from New England, I find that Florida often surprises me with its knack of squeezing beautiful glimpses of nature in among the hub of civilization. Shingle Creek is one of these surprising glimpses.

Entering Shingle Creek

I took exit 242 off the turnpike and drove west through the Kissimmee sprawl on US 192 for several miles. Finally, my phone nagged me that Shingle Creek was just ahead on my left. “You’re kidding me, right?” I responded, not believing. I must have entered the address wrong. However, I made a U-turn at the light and took a right as directed, driving down a short, cypress-lined driveway to the outfitter and put in.

Considered the “headwaters of the Everglades,” Shingle Creek originates around Orlando and travels about 23 miles before it empties into Lake Tohopekaliga, (Ten of the 23 miles are part of the Florida’s Designated Paddling Trail system.) The creek makes up a portion of the Kissimmee basin—the waters that eventually flow into Lake Kissimmee and then the Kissimmee River. The Kissimmee River drains into Lake Okeechobee which flows into the Everglades and the Gulf. (Shingle Creek Regional Park)

I rented a kayak from The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek and pushed away from the shore on the small, still creek, heading south towards the lake. At the point of my put-in at Steffee Landing, I would only be able to navigate two to three miles of the creek (north and south of my put-in), a three-hour paddle at the most.

I paddled the creek, dead leaves fallen from overhanging trees floating on top the cool water. Although sounds of traffic and the local Kissimmee airport seemed to compete with the calming, rhythmic sounds of nature on the waterway, the wildlife appeared undisturbed.  Birds sang from the trees and waded along the banks. Turtles sunned themselves on downed trees. I put my head back looking up to the clear sky, breathed in deeply, and decided to ignore civilization as well. I focused on my surroundings—the dark water below me and the cypress, pine, and oaks along the creek’s banks.

Paddling Among the Cypress

Hurricane Irma had left the waterway a bit haggard here and there with downed trees and dead brush, while the Florida winter had stripped the trees of much of their foliage. However, the creek was lovely. Ten minutes into my paddle, I passed the banks of the Shingle Creek Regional Park on my left. I continued my southern paddle as the creek narrowed, and soon I was paddling among the cypress trees. Ahhhh…

Nearing the end of the clear trail, a posted sign warned me to stop and turn around. I admit I ignored the sign and paddled another 15 minutes. The trail, now winding among the cypress trees narrowed further while the flow of the water picked up a bit.  Another sign warned me that it was unsafe to continue—perhaps due to downed trees in the path. I paddled just a wee bit further before turning around, seeing the path blocked ahead.

On my return paddle going north, I passed the outfitter and under the US 192 bridge. The creek widened here but was still bordered by tall cypress. A shorter paddle this time, I eventually came to another outfitter sign instructing me to go no further. I continued until the creek became impassable—just a short distance.

Shingle Creek turned out to be a pleasant surprise and the perfect getaway—a two-hour paddled stretched into three for me. I found beautiful pieces of nature in the least likely place. I left reluctantly, spying the walkways and bike trails through the woods as I loaded my car, wishing I had time to linger.

(The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek. 4266 W. Vine Street, Kissimmee, FL 34741 (407) 343-7740)

Spring Creek (6/14/2017)

Spillway/Dam to Magnolia Bridge

Having spent the majority of a four-hour paddle in the rain the day before, I opted for a shorter paddle on Wednesday. Ricky drove me to the Spring Creek spillway on US 90, shoving me off

Clear Waters on Spring Creek

about 10:00 a.m., just as the sun pushed through the clouds. (Woo-hoo!) I paddled away on the clear, shallow waterway, the spillway and Mill Pond to my back. From this point, I had a two-mile paddle to Chipola River and then another two miles to the outfitter where I had left my car. (See page 2, map).

What a sweet paddle! If I lived close by, Spring Creek would be my “after work before it gets dark” paddle. This is how I would de-stress from a crazy day. (I never think about work while paddling.) Recent rains had pushed the water over the low banks of the creek and into the woods. However, it remained clear and low enough that the sandy, shell-covered bottom was within an arm’s reach. Fish scurried by below me while egrets waded in the shallows along the banks, searching for a tasty snack. The many fallen trees along this twisting, turning waterway created comfy spots for turtles to sun themselves. Birds sang cheerfully in the trees as I paddled by.

Back on the Chipola River

Less than an hour into my paddle, I saw the very distinct line where the clear waters of Spring Creek met the murky Chipola River. I had passed this point when I paddled the Chipola the day before. The sun still shone, and I was disappointed that the end of the creek had come so soon! I completed the entire trip—about four miles—in less than two hours.

(Outfitter: Bear Paw Canoe Rentals. 2100 Bear Paw Lane, Marianna, Florida 32448. (850) 482-4948)

Yancey Bridge to Magnolia Bridge

We had not quite reached Yancey Bridge when the first raindrops hit the windshield. Ricky, my ride to the river and Bear Paw owner, glanced at me encouragingly, “Even a bad day on the river is

Raining on the Chipola

better than …” He didn’t need to finish. “Of course,” I agreed.

After paddling Florida rivers for more than five years, I have pretty much exhausted my list of rivers with outfitters located on or near them, leading me to revisit some previously-paddled waterways. This summer, I chose to paddle one of my favorites, the Chipola River in Marianna, Florida. The Chipola originates in Alabama and travels south close to 90 miles—with 51 miles being a designated Florida paddling trail. It passes through the Panhandle and eventually merges with the Apalachicola River which empties into the Gulf. It’s a beautiful river and one of my favorites.

I had paddled the Chipola about five years ago—and what a wonderful experience! I looked forward to paddling it again—rain or shine. My intention was to spend three days paddling different sections of the river. I wanted to re-paddle the Yancey Bridge to Magnolia Bridge trail on the first day (first paddled 7/17/12) and then paddle south of Magnolia Bridge to the Peacock Bridge on the second. On day three, I would paddle Spring Creek which flows into Chipola about two miles above the Magnolia Bridge. (Map, pages 2-3.)

It was spitting rain as Ricky shoved me off– just before 10:00. Twenty minutes later, I heard the first crack of thunder. I decided I would hold off the worry until lightning appeared—but briefly wondered if it would be better to be in the water or under the trees—my only choices—if it did. Heavy rains had turned the aqua blue water into a murky moss-colored waterway coddled by lush green trees. Birds chattered away in the woods as I paddled the dark waterway with no one else in sight; life couldn’t be better! About thirty minutes into my paddle, the steady rain gave way to a brief period of sunshine, giving me time to dry off before it began again.

There is something so peaceful and cleansing about paddling in the rain; there’s no time for other thought, just the mindful experience of listening to the sound of the rain hitting the water and trees. The rain didn’t bother me at all, although I did give myself a mental “high-five” for remembering to bring my rain jacket.

Beautiful Greens Reflect in the Water

Whether the skies are blue or gray, the entire paddle on the Chipola is a calendar-worthy experience.  I passed limestone banks and cypress swamps with various shades of green reflected in the dark water. I spied great herons, ibis, and even a red-tailed hawk.  I made it to the “ovens” (caverns) about an hour and a half into my paddle and stopped for a stretch. I took a peek into the dark caves but did not wander far inside not knowing what creatures might await me there. No doubt this is a common stop-off for many paddlers. I was disappointed to see the litter others had left.

Back on the waterway, I continued my journey. A gentle flow to the water kept me moving, and I came upon the spring to the left. Five years ago the water was clear, and I was able to take pictures of the spring under water. This time, the water was too murky and dark, and I couldn’t even make out the spring. It had begun to rain harder. I exited the spring just as an owl flew overhead.

It did begin to lightning as I neared the end of my trip nearly four hours later. As much as I loved the paddle, I was happy to arrive at my destination.

(Outfitter: Bear Paw Canoe Rentals. 2100 Bear Paw Lane, Marianna, Florida 32448. (850) 482-4948)

After this political season, the Peace River seemed an obvious escape from the constant debating, bickering, posting and tweeting of the last few months. I needed to leave Facebook and Twitter behind and return to a place of solitude

Peace River in the Fall

Peace River in the Fall

and serenity.

I had paddled the southern portion of the Peace River from Brownville to Arcadia (8 miles) on New Year’s Day 2011. I wanted to paddle another section this time, and I decided on a northern section from Paynes Creek State Park in Bowling Green to Pioneer Park in Zolfo Springs, an 11-mile paddle. Jace, from Peace River Paddle Sports and Adventures, met me at the park and dropped me at the SR 664 Bridge about 11:30 a.m. I paddled away, looking forward to the next 5 hours of tranquility on the river. My first thought as my paddle sliced the water–”’Aaaahhhhhh….”

What a beautiful sunny fall day! There is something mystic and wonderful about being the only person on the river. Just nature and me. A slight fall breeze kept me cool under the clear blue sky. I paddled the dark water, staying to the edges and the shade of the tall cypress and oaks. The cypress had already begun their preparation for winter, brown foliage cloaked in moss. The low water level had left the sloping banks with roots and limestone exposed. Cypress knees pointed to the sky. Welcoming sand bars tempted me to pause in my paddle.

I enjoyed an easy paddle on the waterway—with the exception of a few “woo-hoo” moments when I passed over small rapids formed by the low water passing over limestone shale beneath me. Noisy birds (herons, ibis, egrets, vultures, hawks) called from the trees and banks—enjoying the weather as much as I. Ibis strutted along the banks, curved beaks dipping in the sand. Vultures gathered around their decaying treasures. Two wood storks sat on a tree branch, taking it all in, turning towards each other as if making snarky remarks about the others.

Limestone Banks on the Peace

Limestone Banks on the Peace

Several hours passed before I saw or heard anything other than the birds and the rhythmic sound of water hitting my kayak. I paddled past a man who stood on a sandbed in the middle of the river sifting for fossils. A while later, I came upon a small family fishing on the bank. Then, as I neared Zofo Springs, a kayaker passed me, and finally some campers appeared on the banks.

I floated back to where I had parked my car just before 4:30.

(Peace River Paddle Sports and Adventures. (863) 832-2102)

 

I call “do-over” on this one. I was never quite sure where I was!

The Put-in at Ochlockonee River State Park

The Put-in at Ochlockonee River State Park

I had hoped to paddle the upper Ochlocknee, a more narrow and twisted river. Failing to find an outfitter who would drop me, I decided on the Ochlockonee River State Park located on the lower Ochlocknee for a put-in. I intended to paddle the short distance from the Park’s put-in to Bear Creek. (Bear Creek connects two parts of the Ocklockonee on a loop.) I would then emerge back onto the Ocklockonee with a short paddle back to the put-in—about a 7.5 mile total paddle according to the Park’s map.

The Ocklockonee River originates somewhere in the swamps of Georgia. Its scape changes as it travels southeast and sometimes southwest and eventually the waterway twists and turns and empties into the Ochlockonee Bay. At the point of my put in, the river creates a camel’s hump. Bear Creek crosses through the hump.

I put-in mid-morning, and although wide at this point, the river was quiet and peaceful and beautiful. I love being the only one on a river; there is nothing else as serene. I paddled south, southwest, the Park on my right–tall straight pines bidding me farewell from the shore. Birds called from the trees; blue herons waded by the water’s edge; and a swallow-tail kite flew overhead, a tasty breakfast in his talons.

After about 20 minutes on the wide waterway, I entered Bear Creek on my left, immediately surrounded by tall swamp grasses. The creek was perhaps 50 to 70 feet wide with no shade, so I was grateful for the clouds overhead. Tall dead trees silhouetted the sky-many with either osprey or eagle nests on top. One tree had several eagles perched in and around the nest.

The sky darkened, and a slight, cool breeze caused me to think that it might rain. Alone on the dark waterway, I paddled, expecting my surroundings to change. Steven, the man at the Park’s guard gate (and coincidentally the son of an author of one my guide books) had told me that I would come to some shade and small cliffs. However, I continued to paddle through the tall swamp grasses.

Something I did not expect—at two points in the creek, I had to decide—go right or left? The first time, I went left. Ten minutes into my paddle as the tall grasses encroached to the point where I could touch them on both sides, I realized I had made the wrong choice. Whoops! Below me in the water I could see a lone fish, long and pointed with spots, his fin above water. He paddled beside me for a bit, but was no help at all.

Tall Swamp Grasses on Bear Creek

Tall Swamp Grasses on Bear Creek

The second time, I turned left first, scouted it out for a bit, then doubled back and went right. This is where I believe I went wrong. However, I can’t tell for certain with the maps I have found. I may have somehow connected with the Cow Creek. I’m not sure, but after about an hour of paddling, I knew I was not on Bear Creek. I checked my location on my phone the best I could (before I dropped my glasses into the water, that is), and it appeared I was in a waterway to the right of where I should have been. I called the park folks, and to their credit, they did not hesitate to tell me that they would send someone out to find me. But I wasn’t going to give up yet. I paddled awhile longer and eventually came out…strangely, just south of where I went in—Cow Creek?

I had put in that morning at 10:45, expecting to return around 3:00. Here, I was back by 1:15. Sadly, I never saw Bear Creek Bluff, and I didn’t have the time to start over again. Thus, my need for a “do-over.”

The red trail on the park map shows my intended trail. The waterway to the south of where I entered Bear Creek (left) I believe is Cow Creek and where I came out.

For some great reading about the Ochlockonee River, try this site.

(Ochlockonee River State Park. 429 State Park Road, Sopchoppy, FL 32358. (850) 962-2771. Stephen Carter)

 

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