In
Their Own Words

Weekend,
January 14-16, 2006 Well, another fine Florida rivers paddling
weekend has come and gone. This was the most memorable MLK trip in
many ways. The scenery, wildlife, and paddlers were outstanding. We
started Saturday on the Silver River at the state park put-in, .6
mile from the parking lot. All along the paddle up to the head
springs we were greeted by stunning visual pictures of nature and
environment. That afternoon we paddled the Rainbow River from K. P.
Hole county park to the head spring and back. Sunday morning we were
on the Crystal River looking for manatees and enjoying the experience
of Three Sisters Springs. Sunday afternoon we paddle-toured several
springs on the Chassahowitzka River. On Monday a smaller group of
four decided to paddle the Weekee Wachee. I asked for impressions of
the GCA/ MLK paddling experience from the participants and here’s
what I got!

Angela
Sauve wrote this for her third grad class:

Today,
January 15th, Crystal River, Florida… bubbles and whiskers, I
paddle closer to observe. Why are all those snorkelers huddled
together? What has captured their attention? Are you curious? Does it
make you wonder?

Paddling
carefully, I look down into the clear bubbling spring water. Rocks,
algae, scurrying fish float by and no shadows appear of my
anticipated mammal. Enjoying the sparking sunlight dancing on the
surface of the river, I glance at all those diving tourists swimming
on my left. As the crowd opens, I see his tail waffle above the
water.

My
paddle pushes the water below me as I follow his trail. A gray, rough
and scratched hump rises above the wake and waits for my kayak to be
still. “Oh!” I stop. Out pops whiskers. Two large round
nostrils spray air and gulp a new breath. “Do I see a smile?”
I smile as I reach out my hand.

My
fingers run up and down his wrinkled yet strong gray face. He tilts
his whiskers up into the air and then submerges. My hand slides down
the back of his broad head and neck. Rub. Scratch. His skin is as
coarse as sand paper, yet with sandy green ocean ground covering.
Next, the manatee rolls his round body under my kayak and his two
elephant-like fins grasp my boat. Protruding from the front of my
boat is his vulnerable stomach. I guess he likes his tummy rubbed.
Again, reaching down I rub, scratch, and wonder how many others have
petted this puppy of the sea?

Nancy
and Elvin Hilyer:

The
trip was great! Nancy and I enjoyed it — just as last year. We have
been going to Crystal River for years and have never seen as many
manatees. And this was certainly our first trip to have a large
manatee turn upside down beneath our boat, put a flipper up on both
sides, and just hang out for a while.

Vincent
Payne:

Mo,
this is a stellar trip. Megan and Elizabeth loved it.

Helen
from Tallahassee wrote:

I
enjoyed the weekend very much and found I was most comfortable with
your “management style”. Determining the paddling
locations, setting the starting time and place, offering information
on what to expect on the paddle, and then letting us have some
freedom to explore, was delightful.

Allen
Hedden sent me his summary:

The
early start on the Silver River resulted in fewer power boats
encountered than on any of my recent trips there. More birds to be
seen as well, whether for the same reason I don’t know.

There
was a notable lack of ‘gator sightings, possibly due to the cool
weather. More manatees than on my previous trips — caused by cooler
weather also? Spotted two bald eagles. Saw several osprey, one
holding a freshly caught fish in its talons. We saw more, and a wider
variety of water birds than on any previous trip: anhingas,
cormorants, white ibis, great blue heron, little blue heron,
kingfishers, osprey, bald eagles, pelicans, great white heron, snowy
egrets, great egrets, brown buzzards, turkey buzzards, and several
varieties of ducks.

Monday
on the Weekee Wachee:

Elvin
and Nancy Hilyer accompanied Gaby and me on the Weekee Wachee on
Monday. We got a pretty early start so we could head back early, and
so Nancy and Elvin could make a dinner engagement at 6:00 in
Sarasota. We were actually on the water at 10:15 after dropping off
boats and setting shuttle downstream at Rogers Park.

I’ve
driven past Weekee Wachee many times on the way to other Florida
river destinations and never given a thought to paddling it. There’s
a big theme park looking place right on the highway there with a huge
parking lot and signs advertising watching the mermaid show. We had
decided on Sunday evening at dinner to try it because it was fairly
close and in the right direction for Nancy and Elvin’s dinner
engagement. We chanced upon a local paddler at Chassahowitska
Campground Monday morning and asked about Weekee Wachee. He gave it
high marks and filled us in with all the logistical details of putin,
take-out, shuttle and good directions, including a good eatery close
by (more on that later).

This
was arguably the prettiest Florida river I’ve paddled so far, and
I’ve been on a lot of them. It rivaled the Wekiva / Rock Springs Run
and Juniper Springs. The clarity of the water and the white sand
bottom was reminiscent of Juniper, but with a much wider riverbed and
a stronger flow.

Birds
and other wildlife were everywhere. The fish were even more visible
than in the Silver River / Silver Springs. And the manatee we saw
grazing on the aquatic plants was so clearly visible in the shallow
ultra-clear water, it was almost surreal. We watched nesting herons
feeding their young. As we drifted under a tree limb about 10 feet
over our heads we watched an anhinga sitting on the limb drying its
feathers as a cat bird mewed in the brush by the river.

We
passed a raccoon who was calmly washing his paws in the water on
river left as we drifted by only a few feet away. He barely even
noted our presence until I got my camera out. By the time I got ready
for a shot, he had climbed up the bank and disappeared into the
brush. For several miles, we had the river to ourselves. No other
paddlers, no power boats, no fishermen, no stream side visitors.
After 1-1/2 to 2 hours of solitude, we encountered a single
recreational kayaker paddling upstream. Then soon afterward the spell
of solitude was absolutely crushed by a jet ski cruising upriver (at
idle speed) piloted by none other than a Ranger — incredibly
disappointing. You’d think they could patrol the river in human
powered craft. Soon we found out why they used motors — we started
seeing more and more power boats the closer we got to the take-out.

The
upstream paddle boat traffic also increased toward the end of the
run. It seems putting in at Rogers Park and paddling upstream and
back down is a popular run. There was a section of private homes part
way down the run, then more of the wild area, and then for the last
mile or so there were lots of private homes. Most of them had been
there a while and were tastefully done, but we’d have been happier if
they were not there at all.

The
clarity of the water remained remarkable for quite a distance
downstream until finally a pretty sizable black water stream came in
from river right, followed by a couple of smaller ones on the left.
Soon after that, the stream showed signs of being tidal, with some
exposed mud banks and root systems (it was low tide).

After
taking out at Rogers Park, we followed the river trip up with a
wonderful lunch at the Bayport Inn on Rte 50 on the outskirts of
Hernando Beach. Their grouper sandwich came highly recommended, and
did not disappoint us. The fried ice cream dessert was wonderful as
well. The biggest problem with the place was the large number of
really good looking items on the menu.

As
we said our goodbyes, we all agreed that Weekee Wachee had been well
worth the time we spent getting there, and we’d all do it again in a
heartbeat.

Thanks
for sharing your thoughts. I hope some of you who haven’t experienced
Florida’s spring fed paddling can join us next year.

by
Morris Friedman, The Vagabond

From
The Eddy Line, March 2006