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Archive for the ‘Florida Designated Paddling Trail’ Category

Yippee for summer vacation! I headed to North Florida to paddle a few rivers. I had selected three: the Withlacoochee River North, the Wacissa, and Holmes. I stayed two nights in Live Oak, a very

Lush Green on the Withlacoochee River North

Lush Green on the Withlacoochee River North

tiny town—and apparently “recently wet.” (a new term I learned from a bartender at what I believe was the only restaurant that sold liquor in Live Oak)

Sunday morning, I headed to Withlacoochee River North, renting a kayak from Lucas at the Suwannee River Canoe Rental. Lucas dropped me at Blue Spring about 10:30 a.m.—not nearly early enough to beat the many families already splashing around in the clear cool water. Where else would one go on such a hot day? It was in the 90s, but it would feel in the 100s by mid-afternoon. Lucas would pick me up at the Suwannee River State Park—a 12-mile paddle from here (longer than usual for me!). It would take me about 6 hours—did I mention how hot it was?

There are two Withlacoochee Rivers in Florida. I have paddled the Withlacoochee River South—which originates in the Green Swamp—twice. I loved it. The Withlacoochee River North originates in Georgia. Its black waters flow about 70 miles in Georgia and then another 32 miles in Florida before the river finally flows into the Suwannee River. I would be paddling the final 12 miles of the river.

Lucas had told me that given the choice, most people chose the Suwannee over the Withlacoochee. He explained that the Suwannee has higher limestone banks and more sandy beaches for paddling picnics. I paddled the Suwannee a few years ago, and although beautiful, I had been surprised at the amount of trash along the river. The price of being popular, I suppose.

I paddled south and took in the “Withs” limestone banks, etched out by the movement of the water over the years which created beautiful designs and little caverns. The surrounding green forest of cypress, oak, maple and tupelo trees shaded the edges of the river, giving me a little break from the hot sun. Moss hung from the trees as if stretching to reach the river. Dark green ferns poured down the banks. This picturesque scene only needed a plantation to complete it. What a beautiful river!

Shoals on the Withlacoochee

Shoals on the Withlacoochee

Large fish jumped around me as I paddled. I laughed, thinking one would land in my kayak. Herons, hawks, turkey vultures, ducks and turtles braved the heat. I passed only an occasional paddler or flat-bottom boater along the way. I stopped by other springs, smaller than Blue: Pott, Tanner, and Suwanacoochee.

I heard the shoals before I saw them. Seriously, I thought I was approaching a sizeable water fall! But alas, most of the shoals were quite harmless. The final two shoals were much more fun, and the last one included a little white water as well! The small soaking I received helped to cool me down. Just after the last shoal, I spotted a deer on the west bank that had come to the river for a sip of cool, spring water.

As much as I loved paddling the Withlacoochee, after six and a half hours, I was happy to see the Suwannee River. Lucas was already there waiting for me.

 

(Outfitter: Suwannee River Canoe Rental. U.S. Highway 90, 4404 193rd Drive, live Oak, GL 32060. (386) 364-4185. Lucas)

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Spring term at the College had ended, and I desperately needed a get away! Don’t get me wrong; I love my job. However, the time had come to pull out my river guide books and my map and find a

A Quiet Day on the Cotee

A Quiet Day on the Cotee

new paddle destination. I selected the Pithlachascotee River on the west coast.

It has taken me several years to get around to paddling the Pithlachascotee River—or the “Cotee” as those who know it well refer to it. I love the winding, twisting, secluded rivers—drop me in the swamp with no humans for miles around, and I’m happy. Much of the Cotee is an urban river, flowing through the town of New Port Richie—with the houses and busy boat traffic that accompany a wider, urban river. Thus, the delay.

So, I paddled the Cotee on a Friday morning, and I managed to avoid human contact almost completely. I put in at the James E. Grey Preserve–renting a kayak from Gill Dawg Marina (They dropped off and picked up!). I headed east, towards the river’s source, curious to see how far I could paddle before the fallen trees forced me to turn around.

The blackwaters of the Cotee flow about 25 miles from its source to the Gulf. The five-mile paddle from the Rowan Road Bridge to the Francis Avenue City Park is the official canoe trail. I planned to travel from the Preserve, east to Rowan Bridge and beyond, and then turn around and paddle west past my put in to the Francis Avenue City Park, and then, back to the Preserve.

I found the portion from my put-in at the Preserve to the bridge (east) and beyond, challenging—but lots of fun! I made the bridge in about 20 minutes and was able to paddle for another 30 minutes before I was forced to turn around. Along the way, the trees and brush dusted me with twigs and webs as I scrapped between fallen branches. I got stuck on submerged logs several times, and I was grateful to be in a sit-on-top kayak and able to hang my legs outside the kayak to shove myself off (a pretty picture, I know!).

A Heron on the Cotee

A Heron on the Cotee

I saw little wildlife as I paddled—an occasional heron and a few turtles sunning themselves. Fish jumped around me in the murky waters. Heading west, the canopy disappeared, and the river widened and took on an estuarine quality, tall sea grasses lining the banks. Once I reached the Francis Avenue City Park, I made my turn and paddled back to the Preserve.

 

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For the New Year, I chose Withlacoochee River South as my “old”

Bare Cypress Adorned with Moss

Bare Cypress Adorned with Moss

river—one which I had previously paddled. Coincidentally, I had paddled this river for the first time two years ago on the same day—December 28. I love, love, love this river; this is a “must paddle” river for anyone who enjoys nature, peaceful serenity, and paddling.

Withlacoochee is a Native American term that means, “little big water” or “crooked river.” When I paddled the “With” two years ago, the water level was low—a “little water.” Although Jacqui, operator of the RV

Water Like Glass on the "With"

Water Like Glass on the “With”

Park, dropped me as close as she could to the river’s source, the Lacoochee Park put-in, I had wanted to be closer. This time, with the water level higher, a “big water,” she dropped me deeper into the forest, at the High Bluff put in—closer to the river’s source but still about a two-hour paddle away. From High Bluff, I expected at least a 3-hour paddle back to the RV Park, so I decided not to paddle deeper into the swamp before heading west and back to the outfitter.

On the drive to High Bluff, Jacqui pointed out the site where the Cummer Sons Cypress Company sawmill once stood. The Cummer brothers built the mill in 1922, and for nearly four decades until the mill closed in 1959, Lacoochee prospered and grew (East Pasco Historical Society) —at the expense of the cypress, of course.

So, I paddled away from the High Bluff put-in. I wore an orange vest as I did two years earlier; it was hunting season (hogs and deer). It felt like winter on the river. Tall cypress, now bare except for moss that hung like tinsel on last year’s Christmas trees, surrounded me. I felt grateful that the Cummer brothers had left some cypress for me to enjoy. What a beautiful river!

Lost in the river’s magic and to the outside world, I moved with the swift, gentle current. The high waters had flooded over many banks and into the trees, leaving me to wonder, at times, whether I was still on the river or had floated into the watery forest. Dark bands around tree trunks revealed to me that this “little big river” could get bigger

An Occasional Bird Appears

An Occasional Bird Appears

still. High waters had forced the wading birds (cormorants, egrets, and ibis) deeper into the woods, and the river remained quiet with the exception of the occasional splash of a gator’s belly flop.

The river was awesome, and I was awestruck. Old wood-framed houses began to pop up as I neared the outfitter—way earlier than I expected. I arrived at the outfitters in less than two hours from my put-in.

(Withlacoochee RV Park and Canoe Rental. 39847 State Road 575, Lacoochee, FL. (352) 583-4778)

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I stood at the water’s edge of Katie’s Landing State Park with my paddle buddy, Bill Belleville, looking across the

Splashes of Color on the Wekiva

Splashes of Color on the Wekiva

Wekiva River, so glad I had remembered to bring my rain jacket. The wind had picked up, and the cloudy sky promised rain sometime soon. For the first time this season, I felt a chill in the air—the kind that nips your nose and makes you think about hot cocoa and fireplaces. Brrr…

The Wekiva is one of only two National Wild and Scenic Rivers in Florida. (Loxahatchee is the other.)  Twenty-seven miles of this waterway is also a Florida Designated Paddling Trail. Three years ago, I paddled the Upper Wekiva with my sister, Michele.  On this day, Bill and I planned to paddle the Lower Wekiva.

So, we put in, trying to keep our feet dry, and paddled away from the shore, crossing the river. Bill wanted to show me around a little island in the river, but we had to push and pull our way through the thick pennywort to get there.  Amazing how the winter brings a completely different kind of beauty to the rivers.  The gray sky darkened the water, creating an eeriness as I looked at the eel grass waving from the river bed below us.  The cypress, bared of their foliage, draped themselves in silvery moss shawls.  Green ferns and tall grasses, along with yellow-flowered spadderdock lilies, added splashes of color to the wintry brown and gray landscape.

We didn’t really believe we would make it the eight miles to the St. Johns and eight miles back, but we did think we might make it to the point where the Blackwater Creek empties into the Wekiva.  We paddled northward to the Lower Wekiva (the Wekiva flows north, so the lower is the north and the upper is the south), enjoying the scenic shoreline and feeling blessed to be there.

A Posturing Wood Stork

A Wood Stork Poses for Us

Of all the rivers I’ve paddled, the Hillsborough River gets the prize for having the most birds.  However, after this paddle, I would give Wekiva the prize for the most variety.  Great blue herons waded through the tall grasses, little disturbed by our presence. A wood stork seemed as curious about us as we were about him, turning on his branch, moving this way and that, so we could see him from various angles.  We spied egrets, ibis, anhingas, moorhens, and even a red shouldered hawk and a pileated woodpecker.  Tiny warblers filled the trees as we paddled beneath them. I felt a bit like a “nature voyeur,” peeking in Mother Nature’s windows, quietly watching her do those things she does when we humans aren’t around.

Of course, we didn’t make it to the St. Johns—or the Blackwater for that matter.  And the rain did come (thank you, handy rain jacket).  So, we turned around after a couple of hours and headed back to Katie’s Landing, still chatting about all we had seen.

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I paddled away from the bank of the Caloosahatchee River Regional Park, maneuvering around the cow lilies and into

An Oxbow on the Caloosahatchee

An Oxbow on the Caloosahatchee

the wide river. A bird called out from a large oak behind me. The sky was clear, and I could just feel a touch of fall in the air. I loved this—Friday morning, and no one else in sight on the river.

Named for the Calusa Tribe that inhabited the area (500 to 1700 A.D.) and traveled the river long ago, Caloosahatchee means, “river of the Calusa.”   At that time, this much shallower river originated from sawgrass meadows west of Lake Okeechobee, and the Calusas traveled it in dugout cypress canoes. (How cool is that!) However, the Disston Canal was constructed in the 1880s, connecting it to the lake, and then dredging began in order to straighten and deepen the river. Today, this river (C-43 Canal) runs about 76 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the San Carlos Bay. (Boning) Of course, we are well aware of the issues with the water quality this fall due to the discharge of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee!

I paddled west toward my destination, Hickey’s Creek, briefly wondering who Hickey was. I admired the tall pines, palmetto palms, and oaks dripping with moss on the north side of the river. On the south side, homes, often with comfy wrap-around porches, sat on spacious properties. Parts of the banks had been kept wild with tall grasses and leather ferns. I passed two oxbows, leftovers from the original winding river, and took the curved route to the left of the tiny islands.

Into the Hickey Creek Mitigation Park

Into the Hickey Creek Mitigation Park

Forty-five minutes into my westward paddle, I made a left before the house with the windmill and entered Hickey’s Creek—a much narrower and more shaded waterway—and part of the State-designated paddling trail. An hour later, I reached the Hickey Creek Mitigation Park and stopped for a stretch. When I continued my paddle into the park area, the homes disappeared, and the river narrowed. At times, I wasn’t certain I had taken the right path, and I longed for breadcrumbs or some other such marker to put down so I could find my way back!  However, the paddle was quiet and serene, and the herons, limpkins, and egrets seemed to not be disturbed with my presence.

Thirty minutes later, I turned around and headed back. The wind had picked up, and when I reached the Caloosahatchee, I had to put some muscle in my paddle. However, in less than an hour, I had reached my put in location.

(Outfitter: Caloosahatchee Regional Park. 19130 North River Road, Alva, Florida 33920.  (239) 694-0398)

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Dark Waters of the Blackwater River

Dark Waters of the Blackwater River

I began “Day 2”of my summer vacation with a paddle on the Blackwater River in Milton, Florida. I rented a sit-on-top kayak from the Blackwater Canoe Rental and selected the 11-mile paddle from the Bryant Bridge (north of Milton) to Deaton Bridge. The outfitter dropped me at 9:30 a.m. along with three folks from Alabama.

Boning claims that the Blackwater is among the most pristine of Florida’s rivers. Blackwater comes from the Choctaw word “Oka Lusa” which means “water black.”  At lower levels, the river is tannin-colored (rusty looking in the lowest spots) but turns black at deeper levels.  The Blackwater River begins its journey in the Conecuh National Forest in Southern Alabama.  It flows about 56 miles south, then west, on its way to the Blackwater Bay. When it reaches Florida, it passes through the Blackwater River State Forest.  The Blackwater River is an Outstanding Florida Water; thirty-one miles are Designated Florida Paddling Trail as well.

So, I paddled away on the tannin-colored water under clear, sunny sky, waving goodbye to the folks from Alabama who had been nice enough to invite me to join them. I took in the scenery and sighed—to my right, a high sandy bank, etched throughout the years by the twists and turns of the river, topped by tall, straight pines.

For over two hours, I paddled in silence, little sign of life. A couple lazy hawks flew overhead, and then I saw low-flying aircraft from the nearby Eglin Airforce Base—a strange reality check. Briefly, my mind flitted to a scene from the African Queen, but then they were gone, and I melted back into my seat and took in my surroundings: white cedar, cypress, water oak, pine, wax myrtle, and magnolia.

The river offered an occasional shady spot and a light breeze, only minimal relief from the sun. The sides of the river alternated with white sandbars on one side and sandy banks on the other—similar to the Perdido. High waters and storms had scooped out the banks, leaving tree roots exposed. A sandbar beckoned me; I stopped for a quick stretch and a dip to cool off.

Occasional Shade on the Blackwater

Occasional Shade on the Blackwater

About 2.5 hours into my paddle, tubers appeared in their blue, green, pink, and yellow tubes, decorating the white sandbars like sprinkles on a cake. My spiritual retreat ended, as I paddled past wading sunbathers and sandbars adorned with umbrellas and coolers. Teenagers stood on high banks while from the water below, others dared them to jump.  I couldn’t watch.

Four hours after my put in, I passed under the Deaton Bridge, and pulled my kayak out of the water. My outfitter connection awaited me there.

(Blackwater Canoe Rental. 6974 Deaton Bridge Road, Milton, Florida. (850) 623-0235  or (800) 967-6789)

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Sandbars on the Perdido River

Vacation time had arrived at last, and this summer, I planned to return to the Panhandle for three paddles. It was long overdue—I had originally scheduled it for July, but I fractured my wrist (handstands) and had to delay my trip. My cast came off Friday, two days before I left for the Panhandle.  I figured a few days of paddling would be good therapy.

I chose the most westerly river I could for my first paddle: the Perdido River. In Spanish, Perdido means, “lost” or “lost river.” If you look at the map, the Perdido River draws the north-south boundary between Florida and Alabama, and there is so much history here as the Spanish, British, French, and of course, United States, struggled to gain possession of these lands. (Boning) The Perdido originates in Alabama and travels about 58 miles from Alabama to Perdido Bay—which is part of the Gulf.  It includes nine miles of Florida Designated Paddling Trail from Barrineau Park to Adventures on Perdido. The Perdido is also an Outstanding Florida Water.

Adventures on Perdido (formerly part of Adventures Unlimited) is the only outfitter on the river.  Linda and Dave are the owners; theirs is a small mom and pop outfitter in the middle of nowhere. They have enough canoes to meet the needs for busloads of vacationers, but I found the choice of kayaks limited. A sit-on-top would have been nice under the hot sun (and Linda’s recommendation), but theirs were too small to hold my cooler and supplies, so I opted for a sit inside. As it turned out, it had wacky tracking, and whenever I stopped paddling, the kayak turned right–a bit like that crazy cart I sometimes get at Publix.

At 9:30 a.m., Dave dropped me at the Perdido River Wildlife Management Area access, just south of Barrineau Park.  From here, I paddled south with Alabama on my right and Florida on my left—how cool is that? I spent the next three hours alone on the tea-colored waterway under the hot August sun.  The wide river (often about 50 feet wide) and tall palms, cedar and cypress offered little shade! I made do with the sit inside kayak and flung my legs over the sides—not very ladylike, but it was very relaxing and much cooler with my feet dipped in the water.

A Peaceful Perdido River

A Peaceful Perdido River

The river was quiet—no people, no animals, no gators or snakes. Three hawks flew overhead and disappeared. I took in the beautiful white sandbars and the high sandy banks while I snacked on trail mix and fruit. However, as beautiful as these all were, the condition of the river was disappointing. Dead wood in the water collected trash all along the river—reminders of inconsiderate humans. Although the Perdido Wildlife Management Area includes 15 miles of frontage on the river, portions are also owned by individuals (evidenced by many plastic chairs on sandbars) and gun clubs. I wondered who was responsible for keeping it clean.  This river had so much potential, but it seemed neglected.

Truthfully, I can’t say that Perdido makes my “top ten” list. However, is there anything better than to paddle down any Florida river in the midst of nature?

(Adventures on Perdido. 160 River Annex Road, Cantonment, Florida. (850) 968-5529 or (888) 863-1364)

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