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Reflections on the Suwannee River

The Suwannee River is the second largest river in Florida.  It is 238 miles long; 206 of these miles are in Florida.  The Suwannee originates in southern Georgia in the Okefenokee Swamp.   Approximately 200 springs flow into the Suwannee before it eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

After speaking with two outfitters for the Suwannee River, I decided to paddle the Upper Suwannee.  The Upper Suwannee is considerably narrower than the Lower, thus, fewer motor boats are able to pass through.  I wanted a quiet ride.   

I drove north to Live Oak to the Suwannee Canoe Outpost located in the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.  From here, the outfitters shuttled a group of six of us north several miles, giving us a six-mile paddle back to the Outpost—with the current.  It was late Sunday morning, and seeing the groups that had gathered at the Outpost, I knew to expect a busy day on the river.

Without a doubt, it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, slowly kayaking down the Suwannee River.  White sandbars appeared frequently on the banks, giving me a chance to get out and stretch my legs from time to time.  Cypress blanketed in moss, lined the river.  Several small motor boats passed me; I was joined by a few other kayakers and canoers.  I passed several springs, obviously local swimming holes.  On this hot, Sunday afternoon, people cooled off in the dark, tannin water.

The high limestone banks and many beautiful white sandbars distinguished the Suwannee River from the other rivers I had paddled so far.  At one point, I passed a rock wall on the left side.  Springs were on both sides of the wall, and people jumped from the top into the water.  I believe this is what is left of the town of Suwannee Springs.  Carter (et al) writes that in the late 1800s, one of the finest resort hotels in the southeast was located in Suwannee Springs.  A railroad took hotel guests to New Branford where they took a paddleboat to the Gulf.  The retaining wall and an old railroad track are all that remains of the town. 

Although the Suwannee is known for creatures such as white-tailed deer, various wading birds, raccoon, turtles, and snakes, I saw none.  The only signs of wildlife I saw were the empty beer cans left on the banks.  Of all the rivers I have traveled thus far, only this one had littered banks.  Was this inevitable with all the people who came to the river on the weekends?

I admit, although the river was lovely, I was still a bit disappointed in the Suwannee.  I felt that even with its limestone banks, the Suwannee fell short of “majestic” and “magnificent,” words often used to describe it.  My words: long, lovely, beautiful, meandering, relaxing, fun, and family.

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