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Archive for the ‘Wild and Scenic Rivers’ Category

Having spent the last two months moving and renovating my new condo, I have not had time to take my usual summer

Barb Paddles Riverbend Park

Barb Paddles Riverbend Park

paddling vacation to the far corners of Florida. However, I have made a couple return trips to some of my favorite paddling destinations closer to me—one of them Loxahatchee River in Jupiter, Florida. This time, I brought along a good friend, Barb.

We’ve had a rainy summer in Florida this year, and the rain started as Barb and I drove I-95 to get to the park. We vowed then to paddle rain or shine! Magically, the sun poked through by the time we arrived at the park, and the rain stayed away for the next few hours. All this South Florida rain did have its benefits, though, as the Riverbend trip is not always open at the park as it relies on the higher water level.

What I like best about the Riverbend paddle (besides the beautiful scenery and safe location) is that the scenery changes every few minutes. It’s a 5.5 mile paddle that begins and ends in the Loxahatchee River but travels through various sections of the park in between. It passes through fun-sounding places such as Picnic Loop, East Slough, Cow Pond, West Lake, Hunters Run and South Pond. Within the paddle are two portages—easy enough. Along the way, we spotted bikers, walkers, and even a painter! We stopped along West Lake for a stretch and a snack before moving on. I had looked forward to our paddle through the large culverts and the cypress knees, but dang if we made a wrong turn somewhere and ended our trip without passing through them!

Even without the culverts and the knees, we had a great paddle and a fun day at Riverbend. We ended our outing with lunch at Guanabanas in Jupiter—what could be better?

(Canoe Outfitters at Riverbend Park. 9060 W. Indiantown Road, Jupiter, FL 33478. (561) 746-7053).

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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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The Popular Cypress Canopy

Between the dry spell we had in Florida and my summer travels, I had not been on a river since the Hillsborough in May.  I had hopes of paddling Fisheating Creek next, and I was watching the water level.  Feeling a bit impatient, I took a quick trip back to the Loxachatchee in Jupiter, to try out another section.  Previously, I had paddled the Riverbend stretch of the river.  When I arrived this day, I found that the Jonathan Dickinson Park run would not open until the following week (The outfitters shuttle you from Jonathan Dickinson back to Riverbend Park.), so I opted for their most popular paddle, Cypress Canopy.

My trip began at the Canoe Outfitters in the Park.  I entered the cypress swamp and paddled the twisted waterway to the I-95 overpass and returned, apparently only 3.5 miles.  (It took me 3.5 hours.)  Along the way, I passed many other paddlers, an occasional turtle sitting on a fallen log, a limpkin, and an alligator.  Although the birds shied away from the busy river, I could hear them in the trees and spotted an occasional heron and woodpecker in flight.

This stretch of the river has two small dams to navigate–either over or around.  I was able to paddle over each.  (For the larger one, several paddlers below me promised to catch my gear if I capsized.)  I learned that the secret to success was not to pause at the top but to pick up some speed and shoot straight through!

The moderately swift current made stopping for pictures difficult, although the scenery was well worth the challenge.  Beautiful bald cypress shaded the river in canopy, their knobby knees decorating the river banks like some kind of medieval-

Cypress Knees on the Loxahatchee River

themed chess pieces.  Ferns hung over the banks, and swamp lillies poked their blooms from the brush.

Admittedly, I like the serenity of a quiet river, one with fewer people on it!  That’s when the wildlife comes out to play.  However, on this hot Saturday afternoon, I enjoyed watching families spend time together, two or three to a vessel, paddling one of Florida’s lovely rivers.

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The Alluring Loxahatchee River

The Loxahatchee River was the first of two Florida rivers designated as a Wild and Scenic River (the second being the Wekiva River), a well-deserved designation.  Its name comes from an old Indian name which means, “river of turtles.”  This area has historic relevance.  During the Second Seminole War in 1838, the Battle of Loxahatchee was fought in the area now known as Riverbend Park.  I saved the Loxahatchee River for a Sunday in September because I wanted to paddle the Riverbend Park section which had been closed in August due to the low water level.

From the beginning, I knew this would be a fun paddle.  The man at Canoe Outfitters pulled out a map–which had been copied way too many times–and with a line forming behind me, he very quickly outlined the five mile run.  It went something like this: “After you put in, go to the left and paddle about three quarters of a mile.  You’ll see a small sandy beach on your left where you need to drag your kayak out and to the other side.  From there, you will turn right and head toward West Lake.  On the south side of West Lake you exit to Hunter’s Run which will take you under Reese’s Bridge to South Pond.  Continue on Hunter’s Run to the East Grove Bridge.  You’ll see a spot where you can beach and stretch your legs, and from there you will paddle to Cow Pond Lake and exit to Gator Slough run.  Here, you will paddle through the cypress knees and then reach a portage where you will have to drag your kayak up and over the path again.  After paddling through two culverts, you will exit to your right…” you get the picture.  I felt as if I was embarking on an obstacle course!

So, I headed south as directed, paddling along the slow moving, tannin river, yellowed lily pads floating atop the water.  The Loxahatchee was the narrowest river I had kayaked to this point.  I had to keep paddling to keep from drifting into the sawgrass along the side.  One moment I was in the wilderness, preparing myself for an alligator or wild cat sighting, and then suddenly, I floated under a walkway, a reminder that civilization was nearby.  I spied an occasional turtle, great blue herons, hawks, and anhingas.  Cabbage palms and cypress were plentiful.  I continued my paddle along the edge of a small, marshy lake, tree islands testing my skills until I came back to the narrow twisty river.  With the low level of the water and the thick grasses on the bottom of the river, I found myself, at times, pushing my way through the water.  And just as quickly, I was back in the open, paddling across a lake, the wind challenging me.  My trip ended with a zig and a zag through the cypress knees and a paddle through the culverts.

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Paddling the Wekiva River

How delightful to spend a day paddling one of the prettiest rivers in Florida, the Wekiva River.  Wekiva means “flowing water,” and Boning explains that it is the only Florida river to receive the recognition of a Wild and Scenic River at both the state and federal level. 

I paddled the Wekiva with my sister, Missy.  Our experience was wonderful.  We put in at the Wekiva Marina late morning and paddled north for two to three miles on a quiet little river canopied with vegetation. We did not see a lot of wild life, (except the teenagers that appeared later in the day), most likely because we paddled on a Saturday, and by the end of our day, the river bustled with kayakers and canoers.  We did see egrets, a great blue heron, and a few other species that we were unable to identify.  Turtles sunned themselves on logs.  Beautiful lilies and deadly water hemlock (it resembles Queen Anne’s lace) encroached the waterway, giving us only a narrow passage in some parts of the river.  Oak, cypress, and cabbage palms decorated the banks.  Below us, golden eel grass swayed with the clear current.

Someday, I would love to return to this river to continue the paddle!  We did not paddle the south end from the Wekiva Marina to King’s Landing which according to Huff is considered the most scenic part of the Wekiva–what she describes as the “paddler’s dream.”

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