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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)

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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)

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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)

 

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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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Hello, old friend. Happy New Year!

I paddled my first Florida river in July 2010 and have paddled over forty Florida rivers since. Unquestionably, Fisheating Creek holds a place in my top five. I love this waterway!

Entering the Cypress Swamp

Entering the Cypress Swamp

As I have done in the past (because I have yet to buy my own kayak, and I need a drop anyway), I rented a kayak from the Fisheating Creek Outpost in Palmdale. (The people are great; the kayaks, a bit worn.) They dropped me, along with five others, around 10:00 a.m. at the Burnt Bridge put-in, giving us an eight-mile paddle back to the outpost—about four hours. I waited to put in last, standing on the shore and taking it all in. Fish jumped as if playing a tune on a xylophone, and then, seemingly on cue, an alligator glided slowly along the top of the water in the distance. It all appeared to be an opening number of a musical, a glimpse of something wonderful yet to come.

This would be my third paddle on Fisheating Creek. I paddled it in October 2011 and July 2014—both times with a much higher water level. The level on New Year’s Day was just over three feet. To paddle without portaging requires a minimum of one and a half feet. I would not want to portage on this creek with as many gators as I saw this day.

I paddled away from the shore, feeling somewhat secure that I had remembered to bring my snake knife this time! Tall cypress, turned brown and draped in moss shrouds and air plants, framed the waterway. Twenty minutes into my paddle, I entered the cypress swamp—my favorite part—and paddled among the cypress trees, twisting left, then right, the landscape deserving the front cover of a nature magazine. Paddling this creek for the third time, I have discovered that it’s pretty darn important to watch for the small kayak signs to stay on the trail. More than once I had to turn around and find the trail again.

White Ibis on Fisheating Creek

White Ibis on Fisheating Creek

The other paddlers had gone ahead, so I was alone in the swamp, enjoying the sweet melody of bird sounds—such as the honking of the ibis and croaking of the great blue herons. (I know, melodious, right?) I paddled past wood storks—happy to see them amongst the others, and lots of vultures, egrets, anhinga and cormorants. Gators sun bathed on the shore, not bothered when I paused to take a picture–while others bobbed in the water as I floated by. I spotted more gators than ever—perhaps due to the low water level forcing them closer to the trail. At times, I had to choose my path—to the left or right—based on gator sightings.

About three hours into my paddle, I spotted a patch of sand on the side of the creek and pulled up for a quick stretch before paddling the last hour on this beautiful waterway. (Sigh) What a great way to begin the New Year!

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

 

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Seeking a little nature and serenity and needing a bit of exercise after the Christmas holiday, my sister, Missy, and I grabbed a quick paddle at De Leon Springs. De Leon Springs forms the

Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant at De Leon Springs

Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant at De Leon Springs

headwaters of Spring Garden Creek in Volusia County–which flows for four miles from the springs to Lake Woodruff and another six miles to the St. John’s River. We intended only a short paddle this day–an out and back, about two hours.

We rented kayaks at the onsite concession in the park, walked past the beautiful live oaks and the many sunbathers along the banks of the springs, hopped aboard our vessels, and paddled away. Missy spotted a manatee immediately and paddled along side if for a bit. Then, we headed down Spring Garden Creek towards Lake Woodruff. We had yet to have winter weather here in Florida, so it was a pleasant day–if not a little warm on the wide waterway. We kept to the shore, trying to catch a little shade.

The waterway was quiet–with the exception of an occasional boat. No surprise that we spotted many birds along the shore–herons (great, blue, tri), egrets, ibis, coots, cormorants, anhingas, and osprey, as the park is on the Great Florida Wildlife and Birding Trail. We never did make it to the lake, but we enjoyed the paddle and our brief encounter with nature.

(Outfitter: DeLeon Springs State Park Concession. 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd, De Leon Springs, FL 32130. (386) 985-4212)

 

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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)

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