Category Archives: Paddling North Florida

Invasive species destruction team – February 6, 2017 – Womack Creek

Womack Creek, to our knowledge has only native species.   We have been given permission to destroy any invasive species on the creek.  We once dug up a taro plant in the upper swamps.  It was small enough that digging it up in the wet soil was easily done.

The Japanese climbing fern, however, requires more careful removal methods.  The underside of the fern are spores (seeds) which can easily be dislodged when ready to seed and spread through the water.  This is why it is preferable to dig them up at the times when the spores are no longer as active.  As an added protection, we were advised to cover the whole vine (where possible with a plastic bag, to the roots.  Cut the plant off at the roots and dig up the remaining root ball, taking up as much of the roots as visible.  Both the vines and the roots, opportunistically, take the path of least resistance and greatest sun and nutrients; uprooting even a single plant can take half an hour or more.

We left the put-in around 10:30 and didn’t return till around 3:40, with a short lunch break at Nick’s Road campsite — a 5 hour day.

It was gloomy and dark when we put-in on the river.

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Womack creek, looking upstream, is on the left.  The Ochlockonee River is on the right.

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But, as always, there is always something which makes one’s day.

These dew-drops on spider webs make for incredible patterns, even more if there is a bit of sun.  We had none then, but the sight was radiant.

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The target — the invasive Japanese Climbing Fern.  We were on a mission to destroy the plants we had located during our trips to the river the previous year.

Cover with bag to keep any spores from falling on soil or water, cut the roots at the base, dig up the roots, clean the soil around the rootbase to ensure all visible roots have been removed.

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Canoes would be better suited for this, but we had two bags and each was transported on our kayak decks.  We were told not to put these bags in a thrash bin, but rather to burn them.  We took them home and burned them in our backyard fire pit until they were totally consumed.

But, all was not work.  The river never fails to give back.

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That gloomy day turned out to be a beautiful.

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The hornbeam trees were budding.  As early as 2012 when we began to monitor the creek for our Florida Master Naturalist project  (www.womackcreek.wordpress.com) the gnarled, hard-sinewed, trunks of these trees intrigued us.  There was a small section of the river that had hornbeam trees on either side, forming a canopy which allowed sun to filter through.   I called it “Hornbeam Boulevard” because it reminded me of the urban boulevards which were so refreshing to walk under on a hot summer day.  Increasingly, these shoreline hornbeam trees are falling into the river and only a few hornbeam trees will remain.  Then,  “Hornbeam Boulevard” will only be memory.

It is hard for someone who respects the ebb and flow and changes of nature not to mourn their decline, but nature is ever changing; forever is never.  At the ebbing of our lives, it seems that the creek may be preparing us for the inevitable, not intentionally, but with a metaphor which may be kinder than the starkness of death.

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But starkness is something not concealed often from us.   This barred owl probably got caught in a fish hook hanging from a bush hooks hanging from a branch on a short tributary of the creek.  The owl may have gone for a fish caught by the hook and got ensnared.  The sounds of these owls at dusk, night and dawn, are part of the experience of camping at Womack Creek campground.  They become reassuring sounds and when in a tent, just before falling asleep, one listens to hear them — almost a lullaby of owl pairs calling to each other.

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We had time and the branches had water, so we explored some of them. All are currently dead-ends, so there is little chance of getting lost, unlike other areas on the Ochlockonee River further north where paddlers have gotten lost in the maze of swamps and branches like this.

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Juveniles of a species, even humans, are often less cautious, more curious.  These two were no exceptions.

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At paddle’s end, we had a glorious blue sky and calm water.

New River Paddle -March 3-4, 2017

Fifteen paddlers signed up to experience 2 days on the New River, camping overnight at Campsite 17 (previously numbered campsite 7).

The group came from Tallahassee west to Pensacola and north to Montgomery.  Some camped the night before to make the early meet-up in Sumatra.  From the meet-up, the group drove to the put-in on sandy forestry roads, dropped off the boats, and drivers drove their cars to the take-out on day 2.   The drivers were returned to the put-in in an outfitter’s van.  In normal shuttles, the car(s) carrying the drivers back would be parked at the put-in and retrieved at the end of the paddle.   However, the put-in spot seems to be a local party spot with beer cans and bottles strewn around.  And this was a weekend.

Those who remained at the put-in while the drivers drove their cars to the final take-out spot, carried the kayaks down a steep, sandy path to the creek.

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When the drivers returned, the trip was on.

 

The temperature was perfect, the sky was blue, the water 18 inches lower.  Uh…oh, the 4 scouts the previous week thought — those scoot-overs are not going to be be scootable.

A section of the river looks  like a sculpture garden, formed by wind and water.

As we paddled, the scouts were befuddled — this was turning to be an paddle without the challenges of the previous week.  Where were all those scoot-overs, pull-overs, and there was only one limbo?   The adventure we had talked up was not to be had — we’ve had more technical and tougher paddles in other frequently paddled creeks and rivers.

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We got to the campsite with lots of time for people to set up their tents, set up their chairs and socialize.    Each person prepared her/his own meal,  the logs in the fire pit lit.  Those who were tired went into their tents, the campfire addicts monitored the fire and enjoyed the starry evening.  We lucked out on the weather!

The next day, for the final, easy 12 miles downriver, we didn’t have to rush to get on the river, stopped for lunch at Gully Branch, and proceeded the rest of the New River, no barriers, no strainers, no fallen trees.  That section was as advertised.

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I asked a paddler what he thought of the paddle: “Piece of cake”.

Unfortunately.

If we do it in 2018,  we probably should not  scout — let every paddler enjoy an uncleared, un-scouted adventure.  That’s probably the best way to enjoy the upper section of the New.

 

New River: scouting prior to a group trip February 26, 2017

The New River challenges area paddlers.

It runs out of the Federal Mud Swamp Wilderness Area into Tate’s Hell State Forest.  The river is replenished by rain and seepage.  It’s the water source for the evergreens and deciduous trees which line its banks.

Rule of thumb on paddling that river is:  go before the deciduous trees start greening.  Deciduous trees gulp more water than evergreens and when fully leafed a paddler could be pulling his/her boat.  In the summer, before the rains, there are only deep pockets of water in the top 9 miles of the New before it hits campsite 17 in Tate’s Hell.  (In 2017 Tate’s Hell Forestry renumbered its campsites, so what used to be called campsite 7, is now 17. Reservations are now available through Reserve America.)

It’s been a few years since we’ve done the New, so when a forester asked if we wanted to organize a group, we jumped at the chance.   Put out the notice, limiting the paddle to 15, and within two weeks we had a waiting list.

It’s 21 miles of paddling, but the shuttle from the put-in to the final take-out takes about 1.5 hours. It is not safe, particularly on weekends, to leave cars at the put-in — it is a favorite party spot — beer cans and bottles littering the area.   The bridges across the New further downstream had been recently condemned for structural problems, so we anticipated an even longer shuttle. (By March 3-4, the bridge had been fixed and approved for traffic.)  Without knowing what the river conditions were (there had been a tornado through that area the year before), we assumed that the first 9 miles could take the whole day if we had to portage and/and detour past fallen trees and strainers.  We could be hacking open a trail if winter storms had resulted in downfalls.  It’s a wilderness area — there is no road access after campsite 1 in Tate’s Hell, just below the put-in on FR 22, east of Sumatra.  There is a steep drop off into the water from that site, which, normally would be a safer place to put-in and leave cars parked overnight.

As in other group ventures on that section of the New, we planned it for two days, just in case every challenge was thrown at us.  We would camp at campsite 17 (previously campsite 7) along the river.  There are other campsites along the river, but only a few are easily accessible for kayaks (sharp drops into the water at some, bluffs in others).   Campsite 17 has a lower section which has a sloping sand beach which allows for large numbers of boats to land.  If the river is high, there is a sloping flume, large enough for a canoe to paddle into to the level of the campsite.

March conditions in this area is unpredictable.  If it rains the few days before camping, the rising water levels could cover the higher campsite, as one tired group of paddler/campers found on one paddle.  Soundly sleeping in their tents, the water rose, waking the occupants of the lower tents.  Quickly alarming the group, they had to check that all boats were secured before moving all tents to higher sites on the road leading to the campsite.

Temperatures can get to sub-freezing (in the teens) in north Florida in March.  Another group of of camper/paddlers used up all their wood trying to keep warm.  Sleeping bags deemed suitable for 20 degree only keeps you warm at ambient temperatures above 35, if you’re layered.  Tents didn’t help, so they huddled together around the fire, sending out scrounging parties when the cold outlasted the supply.

These  tales, passed from paddler to paddler,  excite the adventurer spirit in all of us who paddle the New.

Two of us are cautious about taking a group where someone could get hurt, so we insisted on scouting the river the week before the paddle.

We camped at campsite 17 the night before.

In opening up the river, none of us want deep cuts.  We believe in keeping wilderness waterways wild, but we did not want dangerous strainers in fast moving waters to cause harm to an unprepared paddler, or someone capsizing in a bend because branches or bushes blocked a narrow opening.  We anticipated a full day’s work.

This is the campsite the night before and the river, looking downstream.  The deciduous trees were already greening.

The next day, the river was running fast, but the water level seemed good.  We had several limbos, a few pull overs (getting out and pulling boats over large fallen trees across the river), lots of scoot-overs (scooting the boat over barriers in the river with only a few inches of water above them, momentum helps).  There was one sharp bend with a bushy shrub blocking safe downriver passage (to avoid hitting the bush, a paddler could over steer with body away from the bank and capsize) so we stopped for about 20 minutes trying to cut only what needed to be cut to make a safer opening.

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A steep bank to put-in at FR 22.

 

Scouting and clearing didn’t take that long.  Now, it remained for what the week would bring.  We were hoping that the river levels would not drop too much.