Archive for the ‘Central’ Category

Standing on the dock, looking down at the small, winding river, my thoughts drifted to childhood images of summers in Vermont, fishing from the banks of Joe’s Brook with my siblings. We would sit amongst the tall grasses—in the middle of nowhere—where we had moments ago caught grasshoppers and dug for worms to use for bait.  I love small rivers like this, the kind that twist and turn with banks dripping with foliage, trees casting shade for paddlers.

Blooming Vines on the Sebastian River

A funny thing about this river, the Sebastian, it seems no one agrees on what to call it. My guidebooks call it Sebastian River, Sebastian Creek, and St. Sebastian River.  At first I thought they all referred to different waterways, and I nearly passed this one up. So glad, I didn’t!

So, I rented my kayak from All About Kayaks—right across from Wimbrow Park, just off Airport Road, in Sebastian, Florida.  Steve drove me to my put in on the South Prong of the Sebastian—off Fellsmere Road (CR 512), giving me a three-hour paddle north to Wimbrow Park, about 4.5 miles. I would paddle the South prong which flows south to north and eventually meets up with the North Prong and empties into the Indian River.

I put in under a beautiful clear sky, the crisp air and tinges of orange and gold along the river’s edge signaling that fall had finally arrived.  I paddled away from the dock on the dark, cool water, already captivated by this charming river.  I pushed aside branches to get through here and there and took in the uncoiffed landscape— tall grasses, leather ferns, oaks, cabbage palms, pines, and saw palmetto—all crowding the river—and blooming vines pouring off trees like waterfalls.

Paddling north, the St. Sebastian River State Buffer Preserve appears on the left, so it was on the east side where the houses popped up—usually not disturbing the serene surroundings, at least in the beginning. More than once I headed down a branch of the waterway, only to find that it dead-ended, and I had to turn back.

For nearly two hours, I paddled a narrow river where nature reigned.  My paddle was peaceful, serene, and fragrant. Water seeped into the woods over the low banks; occasional sand bluffs appeared on the west side of the river.

The country charm eventually gave way to a more estuarine quality as the river widened…and then, a dolphin slid in and out of the water in front of me.  I continued to enjoy the solitude of the river and the fish that jumped around me—sometimes near misses to my vessel.  Lazy turtles sunned themselves on fallen logs as great blue herons lifted themselves into the air. Before long, I spied colorful skydivers floating on the air currents in the distance—much the way the osprey floated.  Wimbrow Park was just ahead.

(Outfitter: About Kayaks (Steve). 25 Airport Drive West, Sebastian, FL 32958. https://www.aboutkayaks.net/. (772) 589-3469)

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At last, the sun graced Southeast Florida for a day, so I took off from work and headed to Palm Bay for a paddle on Turkey Creek.  This is an out-and-back paddle, with a put in on either end.  I put in at the Palm Bay Marina on U.S 1.  My destination: Turkey Creek Sanctuary, a nature reserve run by the Audubon Society.

Marsh Grasses on Turkey Creek

I paddled away, passing the boats docked at the marina and the Palm Bay Estates—a small modular residential area. I paddled under the railroad trestle and into a series of braided channels. “Take the middle waterway,” the man at the marina had told me—and about the time I cursed myself for leaving the map on my car seat, I saw an aqua blue sign directing me.   I believe this is called “Willow Swamp,” perhaps after the Carolina Willows which adorn the banks.

I paddled upstream (west) against a current and a breeze, feeling guiltless for missing my morning workout. I spied a great egret peeping out through the tall marshy grasses and an osprey keeping watch from a high tree. Homes dotted the banks on the outside of the channels.

Just over a mile into my trip, a dolphin dipped into the dark waters in front of me, marking my passage into the sanctuary. Shortly thereafter, I paddled under the Port Malabar Bridge where the scenery changed.  The creek became a winding stream, shaded by oaks, maples, elms, and palms and embraced by various wetland scrub plants including leather ferns and swamp lilies.  Sand pines clutched high bluffs on the right as I paddled around a bend in the creek.

Pathway Through Turkey Creek Sanctuary

Mullet jumped around me, cooling me with their splashes.  Suddenly, a huge (yes, huge!) fish surged from the water–an Aquaman wanna-be–directly in front of me.  He did a little squiggle, and went straight back down, tail first.   He was a few feet long with a wide girth—I would not have been able to put my hands around him.  I’ve asked four people what it was and got four different answers—the best being a large bass.

With my meandering and a bit of chatting with other yakkers, it took me over an hour and a half to reach the sanctuary.  I paused at the sandy beach, stretched my legs and snacked on nuts and fruit.  I didn’t take the time to walk along the board walks and nature trails, but I understand they are lovely.

Before heading back, I took a quick paddle to the dam—less than 15 minutes upstream. I realized that the water pouring from the four large sections accounted for the stronger current as I neared the sanctuary beach earlier.

My outing was just over 4 miles, and with my leisurely paddle, it took me three hours.

(Outfitters: Palm Bay Marina, 4350 Dixie Highway, Palm Bay, FL 32905. https://www.palmbaymarina.com/. (321) 723-0851)

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What a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day paddle! I kayaked Arbuckle Creek with a friend, Rick Murphy. (Rick paddled Fisheating Creek with me as well.) We paddled from the boat ramp in Avon Park on Arbuckle Road, north to Lake Arbuckle and then back, about five miles total. What a sweet river! I had read that it can get congested with vegetation in a couple spots when the water level is low, but we had no problems getting through.

The Enchanting Arbuckle Creek

Arbuckle Creek is a 23-mile blackwater creek that runs from Lake Arbuckle in Avon south to Lake Istokpoga in Sebring. Arbuckle State Park fishing and campgrounds border parts of the upper river with the U.S Airforce Base (which we never saw from the river) along the east side of the river. My guidebooks describe the 2.5-mile stretch from the Avon Park boat ramp to Lake Arbuckle as the most scenic, so I called the Sebring Kayak Tours (the only outpost I could find in the area) and made arrangements to meet up with Nelson. There isn’t an outpost on this creek, and Nelson was nice enough drop two kayaks at the boat ramp, so we didn’t have to pick up the kayaks in Sebring.

For the first two hours, we paddled north on the narrow creek, against a light current. It was a perfect day, sunny and warm but cool in the shade. Spring had sprung on the creek! The Cyprus, dressed once again in their greens (just in time for St. Patty’s), cast beautiful reflections on the water while cypress knees clustered like crowds of little people gathering for a parade. Oaks and red maples seemed to embrace the narrow, twisting creek, with a magical sense of a fairy tale. Lilies and irises were just beginning to bloom.

When we reached Lake Arbuckle, we stretched and snacked on nuts and fruit and watched a silly sandhill crane family grassing. The trip back, a breeze now with the current, treated us to a new perspective of the creek with great herons lifting off from the bushes and lots of baby alligators. These alligators ranged from one to three feet long, and at one point, we passed through a pool where little eyes poked out of the water around us—perhaps eight or ten sets. We kept watch for momma gators, but never spotted any.

The river had a lazy feel. We passed a few men fishing from the shore or from small, quiet boats and watched as one man pulled in a nice-sized catfish. Birds called to each other from the trees: ospreys, great herons, ibises, limpkins, great egrets, kingfishers, and hawks. Beautiful dragonflies and damselflies hitched rides on our yaks as we paddled.

Arbuckle Creek made my list of “awe” some Florida waterways. It captured me from its first twist and turn with its mystical charm; it took my breath away!

(Outfitter: Sebring Kayak Tours. https://visitsebring.com/partners/sebring-kayak-tours/ (863) 202-0815)

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The rain came in torrents the night before, and I woke to partly cloudy skies and a chance of more rain.    I called Canoe Escape in Thonotosassa for a weather report, and I was a bit surprised when the guy on the other end chirped, “Skies are clear here!”  So, off I went to discover the Hillsborough River.

The Wild Hillsborough River

Originating in the Green Swamp, the Hillsborough is a black water river and largely spring fed by the waters of Crystal Springs (south of Zephyrhills), accounting for its clarity—even after a hard rain.  Along its 54-mile journey, several tributaries feed into it before it empties into the Tampa Bay.  Throughout the years, this river has had  several names, but it was finally named Hillsborough River by the British in 1769 after the Earl of Hillsborough who served as colonial secretary of state (Boning).

On this Sunday morning, I rented a sit-inside kayak from the Canoe Escape outfitters and was dropped at Sargeant Park, where I had an option of paddling two hours downstream to Morris Bridge Park or four hours to Trout Creek Park.  I opted for the four-hour paddle, and was rewarded with a journey through a river wonderland.  This river was absolutely beautiful—an A+–with water often clear enough for me to see not only the eel grass swaying along the sandy bottom, but many bass, gar, and sucker fish as well.

And there were many, many alligators.  Within my first 30 minutes on the river, I  had already sighted 20 gators.  It appears that alligators are to the Hillsborough what turtles are to the Santa Fe.  By the end of my paddle, I had seen somewhere between 50 and 100.  It was obvious that these gators were at home in their habitat, and although they were not aggressive, they weren’t moving from their favorite spot just because I was there, either.

Beautiful, serene, and wild.  My paddle was—AWEsome.  I was in the midst of a bird paradise with a sweet symphony playing in the trees as the water pulled me gently along like a ride at Disney.  A great egret turned toward me, looking silly with white sand on the end of his bill, having just dug for some treasure.  A momma limpkin enjoyed a day at the river with her two young ones. Anhingas spread their wings to dry them in the sun.  Egrets, herons, limpkins, roseate spoonbills, woodpeckers, wood storks, and ibis were plentiful.  At one point in the journey, I passed Nature’s Classroom, and hundreds of vultures, seemingly wicked as they flapped their wings and congregated along the bank, took it all in.

The river was shaded, canopied for much of the trip by oaks, red maples, cypress, and an occasional sweetgum.  At times, the river was narrow and twisted and turned.  (I thought I had made a wrong turn at one point.)  When the river widened, water lilies and hyacinths decorated its edges.

It was impossible to see it all.  Watching a gator slither into the water to my left, I heard a huge splash to my right and turned just as an osprey lifted himself from the water.  An otter frolicked in the water, finally emerging with his hair slicked back, looking ready to don his smoking jacket.  The harmony and balance of nature amazed me.

I paddled just two small sections of this river, but there is so much more to it.  Other sections include a six-mile run from Crystal Springs to Hillsborough State Park (not for the beginner; there are three Class II drops/rapids and many portages in this section.)  The section from Hillsborough State Park to Sargeant Part where I put in, contains the Seventeen Runs with numerous deadfalls and carryovers. At this time of year with the low water levels, the Seventeen Runs section is closed.  However, for anyone interested, Canoe Escape takes a group out once a year in September.

Another beautiful Florida river, the Hillsborough is a wonderfully and surprisingly scenic and serene escape.

Outfitter: Canoe Escape. 9335 East Fowler Avenue, Thonotosassa, FL 33592. https://www.canoeescape.com/. (813) 986-2067)

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Taking advantage of a work-related trip to St. Petersburg, I stopped in Venrico on my return to  paddle a stretch of the Alafia River—from Alderman Ford Park to the Alafia River Canoe Rentals—about a 10 mile paddle.  Carter et al rated the scenery on this section of the Alafia a mere “B,” and Ohr and Carmicheal emphasized the phosphate pollution of the late 1900s, so I wasn’t expecting much.  However, this river had me at the first twist and turn.

The Twisting, Winding Alafia River

The water level of the Alafia can range greatly.  Too low, and a kayaker would not be able to paddle through.  Too high, and the water would be into the trees, and one better have the skills to maneuver!  On this day, the water level was on the low side, but high enough for me (and others) to get through. 

As the waters of the Alafia twist and wind, they pass over limestone shoals, creating short white water rapids that hurried me along.  I was glad to be traveling down river and not up!  I found the downed trees and logs in the water a bit challenging as I was forced to choose between either scooting under a fallen tree or paddling over a fallen log, and risk getting stuck.  (I suspect this may be why this river received a B rating, but I found it added to the charm and adventure of the river.)  It occurred to me more than once that a companion would have been nice, if only to survey my hair for bugs and snakes after ducking under a fallen tree.

The Alafia is narrow compared to rivers such as the Santa Fe and Suwannee.  Cypress knees, like miniature fortresses, guard its banks, while giant roots cling to the sides.  Oak, cypress, and cabbage palms decorate the banks and often canopy the river.  With the water level quite low, the banks ranged from just a few feet to five and even ten feet high at times.  The woods were alive with sounds, although I saw only a few birds. 

As I paddled along this Sunday afternoon, vivid reflections in the river tricked me to believing that I was paddling into the river rather than on the river.  I wondered why anyone would every choose Disney over this.  The water cleared at times, and I could see the weeds waving below me.  I felt as if I could have kayaked this river forever.

(Outfitter: Alafia River Canoe Rentals. 4419 River Drive, Valrico, FL 33594. (813) 689-8645)

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