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Holmes River (06/23/15)

Olli and Robert pulled my kayak to the edge of the creek at Cotton Landing, just north of Cypress Springs. I looked to the south, at the winding waterway, shaded by cypress and oaks.

A Beautiful Paddle on Holmes Creek

A Beautiful Paddle on Holmes Creek

“Is the entire paddle like this?” I asked. Beautiful.

I’m not sure why it surprised me, but it did. And now, knowing that this would be a great paddle helped make up for the port-a-potty, my only restroom option. A quick stop, and I finished packing my gear into the kayak, secured my cooler, and climbed in. Olli gave me a shove into the water, and I paddled away, smile on my face.

I had almost missed this one, Holmes Creek. For some reason, it seemed insignificant on the map. It originates a few miles north of the Florida- Alabama border. Its length includes about 20 miles of State Designated Paddling Trail between Cotton Landing and Live Oak Landing before it flows into the Choctawhatchee River. I’m not even certain that the portion I paddled from Cotton Landing is part of the official paddling trail. I often see paddles beginning a few miles south, around Vernon.

I paddled, taking in the beautiful forest of cypress, oak, tupelo, and sweet gum which seemed to snuggle and curve around the river. I had seen the water described as “emerald green,” but today it was cloudy and murky; I could not see the bottom of the creek. Robert had explained that recent rains had churned it up. The trees around me were…noisy! The sounds of the birds grew louder as I paddled. “She’s coming! She’s coming!” they seemed to scream.

Ten minutes into my paddle, I spotted the orange dot painted on a tree and paddled to the right towards Cypress Springs (as instructed). Beautiful clear blue-green water and a white sandy beach greeted me. People swam about in the springs, and kids swung from a rope tied to a tree. Others sat atop of a kayak or small boat enjoying the sun. I chatted with some of the locals. Bud and Missy sat in low chairs in the sand, bratwurst cooking in a smoker at the end of their small boat. They let me use a raft, flippers, and homemade viewer to paddle over the vent and get a better look at the

Cooling Off at Cypress Springs

Cooling Off at Cypress Springs

springs. Missy and Larry talked about the history of the springs. Larry said that it is a manmade springs, dynamited and then connected to the creek. (I need to check this out.) I paddled around the springs for a bit, a perfect spot on a hot day.

From the springs, I had about a 3-mile paddle back to the outfitter—1.5 hours. I passed an occasional kayaker or small boat, but the creek remained peaceful. Although the current was light, it required little effort to paddle. My paddle was scenic and lovely. I attempted to find Becton Springs and paddled up another small waterway. Somehow, I managed to miss the orange dot and lost my way for a bit, never seeing the springs. Oh well, a good reason to return someday!

(Old Cypress Canoe Rentals. 2728 Traverse Drive, Vernon, FL 32462. (850) 388-2072. Dana/Olli/Robert)

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Wacissa River (06/22/15)

I paddled through the shallow, swampy waterway, around the cypress and swamp weeds, and emerged onto the Wacissa River. Long eel grasses waved in the cool, clear water beneath me. Around

Emerging Onto the Wacissa River

Emerging Onto the Wacissa River

me, the river was wide and bordered with beautiful cypress, oak, maple, tupelo and pine trees…an “Old Florida” postcard.

The Wacissa River begins close to where I put in—in the swamp with a couple small springs. However, the larger Big Blue Spring is considered the headwaters of the river. The river runs about 14 miles and ends as it flows into the Aucilla River by way of a man-made canal. About a dozen springs add to the flow of the Wacissa (Carter et al.).

I paddled south, towards Big Blue. An orchard of water plants, such as Pickerel weed, forced me to the middle of the river, away from the shade of the banks. The thought crossed my mind more than once that I should have saved this river for cooler weather! The water deepened, and below me, invasive hydrilla—like thick masses of dreadlocks—blocked much of the view of the sandy bottom.

As much as the water plants kept me from shade, they were also alive with sounds of screeching and squawking birds. I saw blue heron, common moorhen, and egrets. I paddled past the frolickers at the Wacissa County Park—splashing around, trying to keep cool on this very hot day. A couple young boys in a canoe had hooked a small gator—and neither the boys nor the gator seemed to want to give up the lure.

Big Blue Spring on the Wacissa River

Big Blue Spring on the Wacissa River

I arrived at Big Blue Spring, delighted to find shade at last. I paddled over the Spring and peered into the clear water—beautiful shades of blue and green. However, the hydrilla growing in and around the Spring kept me from dipping. The ickiness of it all did not tempt me!

On my paddle back to the outfitter, I discovered that the river had many little nooks and crannies to explore which gave me a break from the sun. It really was a lovely river.

(Wacissa Canoe and Kayak. 290 Wacissa Springs Road, Monticello, FL 32344.(850) 997-5023)

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)

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.

 

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)

In the spirit of the New Year fast approaching, it seemed appropriate

A Busy Homosassa River

A Busy Homosassa River

to select two rivers to paddle–one new river (one which I have never paddled) and one old river (one which I had previously paddled). I chose the Homosassa River in Homosassa, Florida, as my “new” river.

The Homosassa River originates at the Homosassa Springs in Citrus County. From there, the river travels about 8 miles westward before emptying into the Gulf. The Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park sits at the river’s headwaters. I toured the park this past summer and even visited the underwater viewing room to watch the fish and manatee from below. Pretty cool. The Homosassa is designated as an Outstanding Florida River, and by Florida Statute, it is “worthy of special protection because of [its] natural attributes” (Florida DEP).

From where I put in at Riversport Kayaks, I could see the considerable development along the river with homes and businesses. Small motor boats and pontoon boats filled with sightseers watching for manatees crowded the river heading east towards the springs. The sounds of puttering motors and country music filled the air, and there was no question that this would be a fun, rather than serene, paddle.

It was afternoon, and I paddled away under a beautiful, sunny sky with a light breeze—perfect weather for paddling. Kayakers and paddle boarders enjoyed the lazy afternoon keeping to the shoreline. I followed the crowd and paddled toward the springs as well, catching my first whiff of gas fumes just as a manatee ducked beneath the surface in front of me.

Outside the protected springs area, snorkelers swam in groups, hoping to make friends with a manatee. I paddled among the boats and then ventured into a couple of the river’s little nooks hoping to glimpse a bit a nature unaffected by all the commotion. I took a detour to the north and paddled under a bridge onto the Halls River, leaving the boats and country music behind on the Homosassa. Halls is a spring-fed tributary of the Homosassa, only about 3.5 miles long. It’s surrounded by tall marshy grasses. I explored a more shaded and narrower branch of the river for a while, and then I headed back to the outfitter—not spending near enough time on this river. Perhaps I will return to this river next year for a paddle to the springs.

(Riversport Kayaks. 5297 S. Cherokee Way, Homosassa, FL. (352) 621-4972 Email: rskkirk@gmail.com)

I’ve been paddling Florida rivers about four years now, and there’s no question that I would give Fisheating Creek four stars as

Beautiful Cypress on Fisheating Creek

Beautiful Cypress on Fisheating Creek

one of my favorite paddles. I first paddled Fisheating in October 2011 with a friend—and what an awesome experience! Only a two-hour drive from home, I chose this as my next “re-paddle destination.”

I rented my kayak from Fisheating Creek Outpost in Palmdale, and Mike dropped me—along with eight others—at the Burnt Bridge put-in around 9:30. This is the same paddle I did three years earlier, about 8 miles, 4 hours. On the way to the put-in, we passed through two locked gates and over the Lykes Brothers’ property. Mike pointed out a crested caracara sitting atop an old tree. He told us to watch for panthers in the fields as several had been spotted recently. I listened to the folks traveling with me as they chatted about snakes they’ve encountered on their paddles, and I cursed that I had left my snake knife in the car. We arrived at the put-in and piled out of the van, but stood aside while Mike first scooted a couple small gators away from the beach!

Fisheating Creek flows into Lake Okeechobee, apparently the only free-flowing tributary that does. Paddling it, it seemed three different waterways to me. At the Burnt Bridge put-in, the creek was wide, tall cypress dripping with Spanish moss and air plants on each side. Within 30 minutes, I paddled into the cypress swamp and twisted and turned around the cypress and their knobby knees, trying to follow the swift tannin-colored flow. When I emerged from the swamp, I entered a creek, smaller than the original but with a more definite path than the swamp trail. Now, I paddled around grass islands. For the next few hours, my paddle continued in this manner with the ever-changing waterway.

Entering the Cypress Wonderland

Entering the Cypress Wonderland

I love that Fisheating feels so wild! There are no homes along the banks, just beautiful tall cypress. Much of the creek lies within the Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area, purchased from the Lykes Brothers years ago. I heard few sounds other than the ibis honking loudly from the swamp floor. I paddled under the hot sun, appreciating the occasional cloud that gave me shade. A crested caracara flew overhead; a few small gators bobbed in the water as I passed; an anhinga stood on a log, scouting for lunch. Life was good.

I just love Fisheating Creek—still an awesome paddle!

(Fisheating Creek Outpost. 7555 US Highway 27 North. Palmdale, FL 33944. (863) 675-5999)

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