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I stopped my car and read the sign at the entrance to the outfitter: Econfina Creek Canoe Livery “Go With The Flow.” I briefly

Embracing Foliage on the Econfina Creek

reflected on the river-life metaphor as I drove down the driveway and parked.

I chose Econfina Creek as my second river to paddle in the Panhandle.  Huff describes the scenery as “superb,” with giant cypress that arch overhead.  Carter et al. claims that many consider the Econfina the “most beautiful and challenging stream in Florida.” It sounded like a waterway I needed to paddle.

So, I selected my kayak from a generous inventory at the outfitter, and I put in right there at 10:30 a.m.—to be picked up at the end of my seven-mile trip at CR 388.  Although the water level seemed low, I paddled away on a strong steady current, through the twists and turns of the Econfina.

Econfina comes from a Muskogean Indian word meaning “natural bridge.” (Carter et al.) The Econfina Creek originates in the southwest corner of Jackson County, Florida, where a number of creeks add to the flow. Along the way, springs and runoff contribute even more until it finally discharges in Deer Pointe Lake in Bay County. (Boning). The upper portions of the creek run swiftly through limestone and high bluffs with a 7.9 gradient. A gradient 4 and lower banks on the lower portion where I paddled make for easier navigation.

Huff’s description of the creek held true; tall, arching cypress, along with magnolia, several varieties of oaks (including Shumard oak and laurel oak) and pines, dogwood, and red maple embraced the waterway.  Similar to the Chipola River, the landscape varied with swampy wetlands on one side and high limestone banks/cliffs—these, dripping with lush ferns—on the other.  Lots of sandbars along the way made for an easy dip to cool off or pause for a snack.

Spring Along the Econfina Creek

Some of the land around the creek is privately owned; however, the few houses that appeared seemed to blend in with the surroundings.  The Northwest Florida Water Management District has acquired about 14 miles along the creek and has built viewing structures so people can access the springs.  I paddled past several of these springs along the way.  At Pitt Spring, I met two local women, Gail and Rose, who came to cool off on a hot day. During our chat, they described the beauty of the creek when the dogwoods and azaleas bloom.  At Emerald Spring (the main source for Econfina Spring water), a young family snorkeled at the base of the 25-foot limestone bank to view the spring’s powerful flow.

What a great place to be on a slow, lazy day! I hung my legs over the side of my vessel, dipped my feet in the clear, cool water and let the flow take me beneath the canopy, around the twists and turns of the river, returning to reality only momentarily to maneuver around a deadfall or a sharp corner.  I love vacation!

(Outfitter: Econfina Creek Canoe Livery. 5641A Porter Road, Youngstown, Florida. (850) 722-9032)

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From the Caverns on the Chipola River

Summer vacation, here at last!  I headed to the Panhandle to paddle a few rivers.  These would be my first in this area, and first up—the Chipola River.

I rented a kayak from Bear Paw Canoe Rental in Marianna—a local outfitter with a good selection of kayaks. The owner, Ricky, drove me just north of Marianna, to the put in at Yancy Bridge on FL 166. I began my peaceful paddle (9.8 miles) at 9:30 a.m., the only person on the river—what could be better?

The Chipola River, located in the Central Panhandle, starts north of the Alabama border.  It runs 80 plus miles to eventually merge with the Apalachicola River, close to the Gulf.  As it passes through the Florida Caverns State Park, the Chipola goes underground for awhile and then re-emerges.  Along its journey, various springs (over 60!) and creeks flow into it. (Boning) The Chipola is an Outstanding Florida Water, and 51 miles of it is a Florida Designated Paddling Trail.

Indeed outstanding, the Chipola did not disappoint me!  Almost immediately, a great horned owl flew over the river in front of me, landed on an overhanging branch, and watched as I floated beneath him.  Belted kingfishers and warblers darted here and there as ibis and herons chilled on the riverside.

Even with the recent rains, I could see the sandy bottom through the beautiful milky blue-green water, thick reeds and eel grass moving with the current.  I paddled the cool waterway shaded by thick foliage of oak (several varieties), cypress (draped in long tresses of moss), maple, magnolia, and dogwood, plus many others that I could not begin to identify. How strange not to spot a single cabbage palm!  The landscape varied with low swampy woodlands on the east side and limestone banks, bluffs, and caves on the west.

I did encounter one strange phenomenon—a constant humming coming from the woods for much of my paddle, perhaps some kind of insect. Ricky later suggested locusts.  (I believe the Florida version is called cicadas.)  Regardless, I imagined that a magical wood nymph, attempting to keep the river serene and peaceful, placed them there to help cover the sound of distant traffic sometimes present.

I stopped to climb and play when I reached the limestone caverns on the west bank—what a great spot for a picnic! However, I stayed close to the entrance of the caves, not wandering into the dark depths.  Further downriver, I followed a short spring run to my left and paddled around Dykes Springs, trying to capture the swirling blues and greens with my camera.  Back on the river, I paddled further and passed Spring Creek.

Just Along for the Ride

The thunder had already started, but I made it back to the outfitter at 1:30 p.m., just before the skies opened up and the thunder, lightning, hail, and rain began.

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

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The Crystal Clear Rainbow River

I brought my vacation to a close with a paddle down the Rainbow River in Dunnellon.  What a lovely way to go!  

This crystal clear river is a favorite of both tubers and paddlers.   The river begins at the springs in Rainbow Springs State Park and runs for about seven miles before it joins the Withlacoochee River.  Although paddlers can start in the state park, many access the river at KP Hole in Dunnellon.  From there, they can paddle upstream the mile or so to the springs and back before completing the 3.6 mile stretch between KP Hole and CR 484.   

I paddled on a Tuesday, and I was one of the few kayakers on the river; tubers were abundant!  I paddled the stretch between KP Hole and CR 384, expecting it to take me over two hours.  However, I was finished in 1.5.  I feel as if I cheated! 

Regardless of the length, it was a fun paddle.  I saw my first otter; he was swimming in the water to the left of me, little bothered by all the people on the river.  For that matter, none of the wildlife seemed bothered by all the people in the water.  The ibis and egrets watched from the sidelines while the cormorants stood on the rocks in the water, flapping their wings in time with the water fun.  Anhingas crossed in front of me,  their long necks like snakes in the water, slithering about.  I floated and paddled with the current; to the  left of me, the bank was lined with trees while to the right, the bank was lined with homes.  Homeowners seemed accustomed to having tubers and paddlers floating by in their backyards.

So, after two weeks, my vacation was over, and I packed up my car and headed home.  Rather than sadness, I was feeling excitement and exhilaration about the journey I have begun and the many Florida river adventures still waiting for me.

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