Category Archives: Paddling Tate’s Hell State Forest

Campsite #8 – Parker Place in Tate’s Hell SF

Reserve this site at Reserve America, State’s Hell State Forest, New River Primitive Campsites. If you call 911, the address of this campsite is 1751 River Road, Tate’s Hell State Forest.   Reserve America’s confirmation e-mail or documents will not include this address and first responders will not be able to find you with just a campsite number.  

When you get to your site, check to see if your smart phone has coverage or to find the closest point to the campsite where you will have coverage.  

Like all other sites on the New River, Parker Place on the west side of the river, can easily accommodate 8 people or 8 small tents and cars.  It is a RV/tent site.

It has a long and wide entry which can be used for parking or a narrow soccer field for the kids — the palmettos on either side will keep the ball on the field.

Standard equipment at all Tate’s Hell primitive camp sites are a large picnic table, a fire pit and a standup grill.   You should provide your own potable water and dig your own bathroom arrangement in the woods.  Having a portable toilet with disposable, biodegradable packets are quite convenient.  You are responsible for packing all garbage out of the site.   There are bears in Tate’s Hell SF and food and scented items should be kept in the car or hung from a tree far away from the sleeping area.  A kayak hatch will not deter varmints!

For paddlers, the landing at Parker Place allows for safe put-in and take-out.  However, when the tide is out, be careful to step on the visible sand — the landing can drop suddenly.  And hold on to your kayak if the current or wind is going downriver.

The lower sites on the New allow for a more expansive view because the river doesn’t curve as much.

At the end of the day, this is the down river view.

And this is the upriver view.

The nearest campsites are not within hearing range.  How about that for a wilderness camping experience?

We recommend a campfire particuarly around dusk to keep the mosquitoes away.  Don’t bring campfire from home, unless you’re from Franklin county.  Sometimes forestry leaves firewood at the site; otherwise try the IGA in Carrabelle or inquire at the gas stations.

The early riser in the group can also really ingratiate himself/herself to the group by starting a fire on a cold morning.

The photos were taken when the tide was outgoing.  Water levels will vary by tide at this site.

Campsite 9: Pope Place, Tate’s Hell State Forest

You can reserve CS 9 at Reserve America, Tate’s Hell State Forest New River (section).  If you call 911, your site street address is 1591 River Road, Tate’s Hell State Forest.  First responders cannot find you with only a campsite number.   Reserve America’s confirmation documents will not include this address.

When you get to your campsite, check your smart phone connection or find the closest point where you can make and receive calls.

Pope Place Campsite, a very large RV and Tent primitive camp site on the New River.   This site, can easily accommodate up to 8 people and as many small single tents.

Privacy is insured not only by the distance between sites,  but also by the trees and vegetation around each campsite.

Entry is wide and can accommodate several parked cars, but there is more than ample space in the site itself.

This is a good site for paddlers since the landing is sandy.  This photo was taken at low tide.  There is a drop so, when taking out, be sure that your feet are on the exposed sand, if possible.  This site is below Gully Branch Road after which tidal currents can be felt. If one capsizes in a fast outgoing current, one could easily lose one’s craft.

The view from this site is spectacular.

Looking upriver.

And…

downriver.

Campers can put-in from upriver sites on the New River or paddle from this site.  Tidal current may be noticeable.   If the current is too strong for up and back or down and back and a shuttle is not possible, try Trout Creek.   Trout Creek is just south of this campsite on West River Road at the intersection with River Road, a little over a mile of this campsite.

The current is not that noticeable on Trout Creek, except where it meets the New River, but water levels will go up and down.  Paddlers need to consider the level of the water if going under limbos on this creek (if there are any), a higher level of water may narrow the opening on a return to take-out.   This is an excellent creek to paddle with children just learning to paddle or for adults who have reluctantly been urged to try paddling.

If you can shuttle, putting in at Gully Branch Road landing, will give you a nice downriver paddle to the campsite.

Adventurous paddlers, who like wilderness paddling with its uncertain challenges (or not),  put in at FR 22 east of Sumatra, camp over at campsite 17 on the New River (in Tate’s Hell SF Juniper section) and paddle to Pope Place for a next day take-out.  The total paddling mileage is about 23 miles: 9.5 miles the first day and 12.5 the next day.  There is a 9 miles upriver section in which no road access is available to the river, so only those capable of handling uncertain river conditions should attempt the top 9.5 miles.

Paddlers have access to the water through your site. Paddlers should park their cars in the entry driveway and not the campsite.

There is no water or toilet facilities.  The forest is heavily rooted and a trowel isn’t going to give you a deep enough pit.  Bring a portable toilet (with biodegradable, disposable bags).  Everything should be packed out.  There are bears in Tates’s Hell and food should be kept in cars, or hung away from sleeping areas.   A kayak hatch is not a good place to keep food or scented items such as shampoo, soap, etc. overnight.

The photos were taken at low water levels; tides affect the water level on this site. 

How to find Tate’s Hell SF camp sites on Reserve America

The way the campsites are listed on Reserve America is enough to frustrate even a avid puzzle fan.

Here’s an easier way to find that campsite using the Tate’s Hell State Forest map.  To shorten this, I’m using abbreviations:  CS for campsite, CG for campground, RV/T means both RV’s and tents are allowed on that site; T means tent only.  Womack Creek is under two separate categories:  Tates Hell Womack Creek Campground and Tate’s Hell Womack Creek Primitive Campsites.

On Reserve America the sites are listed under the following categories:  1) Tate’s Hell State Forest Juniper Creek Primitive Campsites, 2) Tate’s Hell State Forest New River Primitive Campsites, 3) Sumatra Primitive Campsites, Tate’s Hell State Forest, 4) Tate’s Hell State Forest County Line OHV Campground, 5) Tate’s Hell State Forest Pickett’s Bay Primitive Campsites, 6) Tate’s Hell State Forest Rock Landing Campground, 7) Tate’s Hell State Forest Deep Creek Primitive Campsites, Florida, 8) Tate’s Hell State Forest Womack Creek Primitive Campsites, 9)Tate’s  Hell State Forest Womack Creek Campground, 10) Tate’s Hell State Forest High Bluff Primitive Campsites,  11) Tate’s Hell state Forest Crooked River Primitive Campsites, and the most recently opened 12) Tate’s Hell SF  Cash Creek Campground, Florida.

First, get the Tate’s Hell State Forest map from the Tate’s Hell site — this gives you an overview of the whole forest.  The campsites are noted by black triangles.   The reference guide below tells you what the name of the campsites or campground you should find your desired campsite.  Look at the previous paragraph to see how that section is named.

Campsites in bold type has a separate report and photographs of that site.  Sites marked with asterisks * are not reservable walk-in sites where you pay at the site or at the forestry office.

CS 1  Sumatra, RV/T

CS 2  North Road, New River, RV/T

CS 3  New River west of river, New River, RV/T

CS  4  Gully Branch, New River, RV/T

CS  5  Dew Drop, New River, RV/T

CS 6  Borrow Pit, New River, RV/T

CS 7  Borrow Pit, New River, RV/T

CS 8  Parker Place, New River, RV/T

CS 9  Pope Place, New River, RV/T

CS 10 New River East, Pickett’s Bay, RV/T

CS 11 Gully Branch, Pickett’s Bay, T

CS 12  New River east of river, Juniper Creek, RV/T

CS 13  New River east of river, Juniper Creek, RV/T

CS 14  New River east of river, Juniper Creek, RV/T

CS 15  New River east of river, Juniper Creek, RV/T

CS 16  New River east of river, Juniper Creek, RV/T

CS 17  New River east of river, Juniper Creek, RV/T

CS 18  Boundary Road, Juniper Creek, RV/T

CS 19*  County Line OHV, OHV Campground, RV/T  (not reservable, walk-in site)

CS 20  County Line OHV, OHV Campground, RV/T

CS 21  County Line OHV, OHV Campground, RV/T

CS 22  Bus Stop, Juniper Creek, RV/T

CS 23 Log Cabin, Womack Creek Primitive Campsites, RV/T

CS 24 Log Cabin, Womack Creek Primitive Campsites, RV/T

CS 25  Log Cabin, Womack Creek Primitive Campsites, RV/T

CS 26  Log Cabin, Womack Creek Primitive Campsites, RV/T

CS 27  Nick’s Road Landing, Womack Creek Primitive Campsites, RV/T

CS 28  Loop Road, Womack Creek Primitive Campsites, RV/T

CS 29  Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T

CS 30  Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T

CS 31 Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T

CS 32  Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T

CS 33* Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T (not reservable, walk-in site)

CS 34 Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, RV/T (electric hookup)

CS 35 Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T

CS 36* Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, RV/T (electrical hookup) (not reservable, walk-in site)

CS 37 Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T

CS 38 Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T

CS 39   Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T

CS 40  Womack Creek, Womack Creek Campground, T

CS 41  Rock Landing, Rock Landing, RV/T

CS 42  Rock Landing, Rock Landing, RV/T

CS 43  Rock landing, Rock landing, RV/T (not reservable, walk-in site*)

CS 44  Crooked River, Crooked River, RV/T

CS 45  Crooked River, Crooked River, RV/T

CS 46  Sunday Rollaway, Pickett’s Bay, RV/T

CS 47  Oxbow, Pickett’s Bay, RV/T

CS 48  Warren Bluff,  Pickett’s Bay, RV/T

CS 49  Pidcock Road, High Bluff, RV/T

CS 50  Rake Creek, High Bluff, RV/T

CS 51  Dry Bridge, High Bluff, RV/T

CS 52  Doyle Creek, Deep Creek, RV/T

CS 53 Deep Creek, Deep Creek, RV/T

CS 54 Whiskey George, Deep Creek, RV/T

CS 55 Cash Creek, Cash Creek Campground, RV/T

CS 56  Cash Creek, Cash Creek Campground, RV/T

CS 57* Cash Creek, not listed on Reserve America, (not reservable, walk-in site)

*The walk-in sites means that it’s on a first come basis.  You  pay at site or at the forestry office and you do not have to pay the additional reservation fee to Reserve America.

Hopefully, this will help you to find the right campsite.

We hope eventually, we will be able to report and photograph every campsite to give you additional information.

What is not generally known is that Tate’s Hell is a great location for paddlers of all skills.  It offers a 9 mile wilderness trail from FR 22, Sumatra campsite soon after put-in  to campsite 17 (with no access to the river by road until CS 17). This section of the new is navigable usually only during the spring high water period and requires some stamina since one never knows what conditions the trail will offer (portages, scoot-overs, limbos, climb-over large tree trunks, etc.)  There are good learn-to-paddle areas like Trout Creek and Barrow Pit pond (CS 6-7) and a delightfully short or longer, depending on tide, full-of-wildlife Pine Log Creek right off CR 67.  There are lots of possibilities for overnight camping while paddling.  From Log Cabin campground on the Ochlockonee to Womack Creek Campground and stopping to do Womack Creek to Nick’s Road primitive campsite and back.  Then south to the Crooked River and Loop Landing PCS to Rock Landing Campground with a vault toilet.  One can continue to paddle on the Crooked west and with a possible road portage if the river is too high under the bridge at CR 67 bridge and Crooked River  to Sunday Rollaway campsite and Warren Bluff campsite on the west of CR 67.  Then to Pope Place on the New River and, you wish, upstream as far as your stamina will take you, with all the New River sites (some easily accessible by river).   Tate’s Hell SF is made for paddlers!

Womack Creek – H. Michael’s impact – October 27, 2018

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Checking out the first branch on river right (left as we paddled upstream from Womack Creek Campground landing), two trees blocked further access (except by portage) beyond.  This is a branch of the Ochlockonee which one will pass to get to Womack Creek, but when the tide is in, it’s a good place to explore and wait the rest of the crew if paddling with a group.  Be alert for submerged snags:  it’s shallow and muddy and in early spring has a early blooming patches of golden clubs and later, in the same area, lizard’s tail plants.

Fortunately, this section of Tate’s Hell State Forest was spared from downed trees preventing passage, except for a leaning tree which when it falls will block further upstream through paddling.  Currently none of the downed trees  will block through passage to Nick’s Road campsite, 3.75 miles from put-in at Womack Creek campground.

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At Nick’s campground, Tate’s Hell forestry staff have cut and cleared off fallen trees, leaving only the debris which the hosts will clean up.  The debris, when dried, should make very good fire-pit starters.

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Noticeably absent this year are masses of vining asters and narrow leaf sunflowers which attract butterflies and other insects to the creek.   Only a few of these were blooming.

A new plant appeared, purple sneeze weed, on a log which like many partially immersed logs when it catches mud and debris from upstream become growing medium for plants.

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A few clematis crispa flowers (and their seed pods) can be seen.   The green fly orchid constantly surprises us by blooming continuously all year round.

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North Florida’s answer to maples and oaks turning color in the fall, sweet gum and Florida maples are beginning to turn.

And setting the holiday stage are three varieties of native hollies:  yaupon, dahoon and American holly.

 

Other seeds, like swamp titi (below), Walter’s viburnum, arrow wood, muscadine, palmetto provide food for birds and other creatures of that creek.

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Two small alligators, the larger juvenile in alligator weed, are too young to be afraid of paddlers.  Alligator weed, an invasive species which appeared earlier this year, will have to be cleared out.  To our knowledge there are no invasives on Womack Creek, or invasives which are not cleared out when sighted.

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A small flock of ducks have returned, a great blue heron, the ubiquitous kingfisher which is impossible to photograph because it won’t sit still.

Womack Creek is open for paddling.

 

Cash Creek – Four Weeks After H. Michael – November 10, 2018

Hurricane Michael hit Franklin and Bay counties on October 10, 2018.  Tidal surges and/or winds extended into other coastal areas, farther inland than had been expected creating tornado-like devastation in Jackson, Liberty, Gadsden and Wakulla counties.

At home, we did not escape the tree downfalls, branches, debris, and damage, though only incidentally to outbuildings.  To get a reprieve from the work of restoration, we paddled   Womack Creek, Lake Talquin’s Joe Budd area near the mouth of the Upper Ochlockonee, Ocheesee Pond in Jackson county and yesterday Cash Creek.

There is a sardonic side to nature:  after a tooth and claw show of what she can do, she can also produce a smiley-faced day as she did yesterday.

The weather had a touch of fall with temperatures in the low 50’s and wind chill even lower because of wind.  It was overcast and cold when we launched the kayaks, but the warmth which comes from paddling soon overcame the chill.  Within half an hour the morning ceiling opened to full sun, with some clouds.  It did not get over mid-60’s yesterday.  We had an outgoing tide going upstream and an incoming tide returning with winds against us, but it was an ideal paddling day.

Over a month after H. Michael,  SR 65 south of Hosford had sections of tree-falls and fractured trunks, not consistent, but in patches, and debris along the road with trees leaning, ready to fall with the next strong wind.

At the Cash Creek Day Use area and launch site, it seems that the surge extended into the area.  Fortunately, the vault toilet was set up on a thick concrete slab which elevated it from the water level created in the surge.  One large pine had to be cut down, the trunks neatly piled for campers and day users to use as firewood.

Paddling tree-less marshes, for us, is a late fall to early spring activity.  It gets too hot for us in open estuaries when temperatures go over the high 70’s, particularly with high humidity.

Of Michael’s impact on the creek,  there is only one small pine tree which has fallen almost completely covering the creek.  Unless  paddling in low tide, that should not impede your progress upstream — you can make your way among the topmost branches.   Some pine trees in that area of sparsely growing pines and cedars may have been damaged or uprooted, but at water level we could not see over the marsh rushes.

Cash Creek, however, has submerged trees and pilings, remnants of swamp road bridges, a reminder that Tate’s Hell was  once a pine plantation.  The dark tannin-colored water obscures these obstructions.

From experience on similar pilings on other North Florida creeks and rivers, if one gets caught on one, gentle back paddling may be more effective than hard forward paddling, depending on the water current.  Hard forward paddling in some situations will fasten the boat even more securely on the pilings.  The tops of these pilings have been unevenly cut by the waters, so one could find oneself in a precarious balance.  Gentle paddling rather than power strokes should first be tried unless one has extraordinary balance control of one’s craft and body.   Sometimes, if one cannot get another paddler to help, one may have to capsize.

One caveat:  there are huge alligators on that creek.  They, do not seem to be as habituated to humans as in other creeks where fishermen throw their live bait and unwanted fish into the waters before leaving the water.  In the summer, children play and swim at the Cash Creek landing.

The creek branches over a mile upstream from the put-in at the Cash Creek Day use area.  The one on the right will extend the marsh paddling with occasional pine and cypress trees on dry land.  An older fallen tree over the bank can be limboed under, but further upstream additional smaller barriers, some crossable in high water, will be present as the creek narrows into swampland (with more trees).

The above photo was taken in an outgoing tide (shallow), so at higher water levels one would have to flatten out more or do what I call the turtle scrunch, which is more suitable for those of us with short legs: get as much of your body into the kayak with only the top of your head and hands visible (you’ve got to be able to see and you’ve got to hold on to your paddle).  Canoers can more easily go under narrow openings.

Barriers such as this probably are good turn around places:  it’s not like you don’t have other options for paddling on the other branches or branches of branches on that creek.  And, unless you have a gift of getting lost no matter where you are, it’s almost impossible to get lost upstream from the landing.   If water levels and barriers can be overcome and if you paddle all the options and back to the landing, it will probably be about a 12.5 mile paddle.

Going upstream, at the first choice of turns, the branch on the left will lead you to Pidcock Road campsite, which, at low tide is more easily accessed by boat than at high tide.  It is a beautiful, very large, secluded primitive campsite accessible from Pidcock Road.  This branch will take you into swamps with shrubs and small trees (shade) with two additional branches to explore.

When entering narrowing creeks, check to see if you will be able to turn around in your boat or you may be paddling backwards all the way until you can.

Downstream, turning left at the landing, is  a different paddling situation.  You will need a GPS so you don’t keep paddling in circles and loops, one patch of rushes looks like any other patch of rushes and you can’t see above them.  Turning left at the landing will get you, if you manage to get out of the labyrinth of marsh , into East Bayou to East Bay and then the Gulf.  There were two boat trailers and two additional boats on trailers getting ready to go downstream when we arrived at the landing.

More convenient to the highway and to the landing, three new primitive camp sites, more typical of state park sites (just enough to accommodate an RV or one or two tents, picnic table, firepit and grill), have been opened right at the Cash Creek Day Use area and landing.  What it gives in convenience, it lacks in privacy, however.  Witnessed by the thrash of glass beer bottles, six pack holders and other thrash, day users in that area consistently don’t pick up.  A newly built vault toilet on concrete slab already is less than clean, not the problem of the staff at Tate’s Hell SF, but day users.  If camping there, bring sanitizer spray to clean the toilet seats.   There is a sanitizer dispenser, but I don’t expect the dispenser will last long or will have anything to dispense.  Bring your own hand sanitizer.

Primitive camping means: no water, no electricity, and generally no toilet facilities.  (Interestingly Rock Landing campground on Crooked River (connecting the Ochlockonee and New Rivers) has three (much larger) campsites and a vault toilet, day use facility with pavilion and tables  and a boat launch.  The toilet there is usually very clean and well maintained by users.)

Reservations for campsites in Tate’s Hell can be made through Reserve America.  Call the Carrabelle Tate’s Hell State Forest office (850 697-0010) if you can’t make sense of the way Tate’s Hell Campsites are posted on that site and for confirmation that the site you have selected is what you want.

Not many birds sighted this time, but we saw two species of woodpeckers, one of which may have been a red cockaded.  The area we saw it has mainly slash pines, but David Morse, retired (summer 2018) chief forester told us that he has seen red cockaded woodpeckers nesting in slash pine cavities.  Also a small flock of small sparrow like birds, which we could not identify.  And the ubiquitous buzzards.  And one lone coot which lay low and tried to conceal itself in the marsh grass.  Usually there are lots of birds in the late fall and winter.  This is the first coot (which usually travel in flocks) we have seen on this creek.

 

New River Camp and Paddle – March 24, 2018

Photos by David Brashears

The campsite at Gully Branch (not shown) was reserved for those who wished to camp the night before and after the paddle.  Eight of the paddlers chose to camp: either in tents or in their own cars/truck.

A campfire will always draw a circle.

The next day, all campers were ready to go before 8:00 and the non-campers arrived soon after, but the van and trailer did not arrive till 1.5 hours later.   Kayaks were quickly loaded and the paddlers and their trailers shuttled to put-in on FR 22, 10 miles east of Sumatra for the day’s 16.6 mile paddle.

The tree below fell perfectly, leaving ample space, but this was not often the case.

Lunch was eaten ravenously while resting on a small hammock.

And the group continued its paddle.

 

Sixteen plus miles down the New River, Tate’s Hell – March 24, 2018

 

The New River was 48 inches higher than 6 days prior,  when a crew of three scouted it in preparation for an Apalachee Canoe and Kayak Club trip on Saturday, March 24.  Plans were to cancel the trip if the river dropped another foot — that would have created a drag-along situation since the water was barely able to transport the bushwacking crew, even after they had opened channels of debris and removed and cut dangerous obstacles.  Since not all paddlers are trekkers, there would have been an unhappy group of paddlers.

Scouting/clearing crew work prior to these paddles have attempted to be as minimal in their removal of branches and obstacles as possible, since maintaining the wild nature of the river is the reason paddlers like to paddle the upper stretch.

This river can be paddled through only at certain times of the year.  Its source of water is through seepage from points north, but also relying on its water to survive are the many trees which line the water.  When they begin to leaf, the amount of water consumed by deciduous trees can lower the river as much as 18 inches in 1 week (last year’s experience).   The rule of thumb for paddling that river is go before the deciduous trees start to leaf out.  When warmer weather appears, biting flies, unlike mosquitoes, will follow you on water and can have you preferring freezing cold and rain to their pestilence.   Flies are particularly pernicious at the Gully Branch landing when the weather turns warm.

Successfully paddling the upper sections  may require a bit more than basic paddling skills when rushing current chooses the path into fallen trees and debris.  An additional obstacle in high water are the branches which would normally be above a paddler — cuts and scratches are not uncommon then.  The cachet of being away from it all is probably as attractive as any of the other reasons.  As David Morse, trip leader explained, this upper area is “a small outpost of wilderness … there is no road access from the river for about 7 miles.”  Once past campsite 1, about 2 miles from put-in, one is out of easy walking distance to a road until one reaches campsite 17 on the New.   And…the upper 9 miles is a beautiful paddling “trail”.

The river can surprise one, however, as it did last year, when the trip in early March was without a single obstacle with a slower water flow.  Or as one paddler remarked, “A piece of cake!” to the dismay of one of the organizers who had promised the group challenges.

The put-in is a steep, eroding sand path, barely held together by tree roots.  It is off Forestry Road 22, which defines the Apalachicola National Forest and the Federal Mud Swamp Wilderness Area to the north and Tate’s Hell State Forest to the south.  About 10 miles east of Sumatra, the sandy forestry road ends at a guardrail.  The wooden bridge,  which once made getting to the destination easier, was apparently destroyed when fishermen started a fire on a very cold day to warm themselves.  Since then, one of the first challenges for paddlers contemplating the New has been the tediously long shuttle.

A group of paddlers have  been organizing this itinerary annually.  The 21mile, 2 day trip, starts at the FR 22 put-in on the west bank of the New and ends at Pope’s Place Campsite also on the west bank.  The first day’s paddle of 9 miles takes into account the long shuttling time and possibly longer time on the river depending on conditions and ends for a night camp-over at campsite 17 on the east bank.  Campsite 17 has a large sandy area in lower water, and a grassy chute in higher water to accommodate canoes and kayaks and a very large campsite.  The rest of the trip, about 12 miles of easy paddling,  completes the paddle the  next day to Pope’s Place campsite which lies upstream from the junction  of the New River and the Crooked River.

At this point the New becomes the Carrabelle River.  The Crooked River  joins the Ochlockonee River to the east and the Carrabelle River to the west, forming an ideal off-coast section of the Florida saltwater Circumnavigational Trail: Gulf of Mexico, Carrabelle River, Crooked River, Ochlockonee River, back to the Gulf.  

Last year’s paddle continued this 21 mile, 2 day paddle itinerary, except that all paddlers met in Sumatra, drove ten miles east to the put-in with their kayaks, deposited their kayaks at the put-in (with a paddler watching the 14 kayaks) and returned the cars to the final take-out at Pope’s Place Campsite in Tate’s Hell,  on the northwest corner of Carrabelle’s city limits.  There, an outfitter transported the paddlers back to the put-in and they began their day’s paddle to campsite 17, where the outfitter had also transported all camping and cooking gear for the group.   Because of the size of the group, a portable toilet was rented for that site.   Since it is a primitive site there is no water, no privy, only table, grill and fire pit.

New River campsite 17. Group of 14 paddlers camped overnight on March 2017 while doing 21 miles of New River.  Photo by David Brashears.

This year to simplify the logistics,  a 15 plus mile paddle was planned from the usual put-in,  which ended at Gully Branch landing, 6 miles upriver of Pope’s Place Campsite.   Last year’s group had lunch on the second day of the paddle at the Gully Branch site.

No paddle on any river is the same; even more so with the New River.  The water can rise and fall within a week and paddling conditions can change radically.  The water level can also rise overnight, as one group of tenters found.  With that expedition, the tents near the lowest points of the campsite started taking in water when the river rose during the night.  A mass evacuation of tents and tenters in the middle of the night to the long road which accesses the campsite cut any hope of a good sleep for that year’s paddlers.  Rains upriver in the area of the Mud Swamp Wilderness area are welcome, but if they do come the week before the paddle/tent camp at this site and the river is already high, pitching tents on higher ground is recommended.

Anticipating that anything can happen on this river, this year’s planners opted for an 8am meet-up at Gully Branch to give more daylight hours on the river.  Arrangements were made for pickup of all kayaks and paddlers by an outfitter which would then transport them to the New River. Cars would remain at the Gully Branch landing where the paddle would end.   To ensure that paddlers would get enough sleep for the next day’s paddle, the single Gully Branch campsite was reserved for the night before and the night after the paddle.  Five paddlers chose this option and  set up 3 tents and three others had sleeping arrangements in their vehicles.   Four paddlers chose to spend the night after the paddle at the Gully Branch site. 

Any arrangements with a private outfitter should consider forestry rules: e.g. no payment for services can be made within the forest.  When planning a group trip, organizers might wish to contact the Talquin District  Florida Forestry Recreation Coordinator in Tallahassee who has jurisdiction of recreation sites on this particular forest as well as other forests in Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Gadsden, Liberty and Franklin counties in north central Florida.  

The Gully Branch campsite is the smallest in Tate’s Hell SF and can only accommodate one tent easily.  It is recommended that groups camping as we did get a permit for using the adjacent day use space from the Tate’s Hell State Forest office in Carrabelle. 

Groups using campsite 17 on the river should consider renting a portable toilet (or bringing camp toilets with compostable/disposable individual bags). The forest floor around the campsite is heavily rooted and difficult to dig deep enough holes — 200 feet from water’s edge and has greenbrier vines which can easily trip one at night.  Compostable/disposable individual toilet bags have been designed with a tight seal and  can be disposed in any waste container.  These insert in sit-on-top portable toilets and are easy to remove once used.  

This year, load capacity of the outfitter’s trailer and van determined the number of paddlers on the trip: eleven.  This year and last, there was a waiting list.

Nature can be unpredictable, but so can logistics.  The shuttle van and trailer arrived about 1.5 hours after it was expected because the trailer lights were not working and the van and trailer might have been flagged by the police for driving without lights in the darker early  morning hours.   These paddlers already knew how to handle the vagaries of natural conditions as wind, rain, and temperature, so accommodating human logistics and frailties was probably easier for them to do than for others whose lives are ruled by the clock and calendar.

They also know that helping to load and unload kayaks and to carry the boats to the launching place ensure a faster put-in and take-out for all,  particularly at this put-in where the steep, root-bound, eroding sand made called for careful footing while lowering kayaks to the river.   Where a large expanse of the river frontage was exposed the week before, the higher water made for only a small inclined ledge to get into the boats this time.

Put-in, 6 days before, when river was 48 inches lower, photo below.

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With everyone helping, the group of 11 paddlers were on the river shortly after arriving the at the put-in.

The wide expanse of river shown above was brief,  paddlers were soon forced to go single file, avoiding  branches which were not obstacles a week before, and which now could entwine and scratch paddlers.  All last week’s bushwacking efforts were underwater, only the memory of the work remained.   But the trip leader’s canoe carried cutting and trimming gear required of the new river conditions.  A canoe has a  much firmer base to stand up on than a sit-inside kayak, although it still requires careful balancing.

On a dead cypress, a blue heron watched the goings-on below.

Two miles from put-in is campsite 1, which normally is on much higher ground, such that it is hard to take-out or put-in under most conditions of water level here.  This would make an excellent campsite  for paddling the river and a shuttle car could be left here more securely than at the FR 22 put-in, except for sharp drop at river’s edge, most of the time.  Four feet of higher water makes a world of difference.  This time the whole campsite waterfront was a launching area.

The photo below shows how low the New was on January 19, 2018 at campsite 1.  What is not visible, is the deep drop at water’s edge.

Obstacles not apparent last week, frequently challenged the paddlers.  Tree falls under which the scouting party  had paddled without thought became major blocks to navigating downstream.

In the above photos, a treefall provided too little space to limbo under and a deep drop downriver from the trunk and no dry land footing on either side of the tree to haul over the kayaks.  An alternate trail was found by entering a shallow, narrow area of water which was blocked by a  much smaller fallen tree.  The trip leader hauled each paddler over this small fallen tree with the paddler still in the boat.   While capsizing on land is drier than water, the paddlers still had to maintain their balance over this tipsy, bumpy haul over.  But credit must also be given to the trip leader, whose strength and ability to get the kayaks (with paddlers in them) fast enough over the small tree prevented dry land capsizes, the forward momentum overcoming the sideways bobble of the paddler.

Barriers appeared frequently throughout the first 9 miles.  These obstacles, while alternative paths were being analyzed, allowed other paddlers to sit in their kayaks to either contemplate the world around them or engage in bleacher quarter backing.

But each paddler had also to encounter his/her barriers individually.

Nevertheless, everyone seemed to be enjoying the challenges, the beauty of the paddle and the perfect day we had been given.

There were great paddling moments:  the feel of the current and using it to accelerate or go with the flow around the bends —  a sense of being one with water and land and air.

The challenge of strainers is always present in North Florida’s smaller rivers and creeks.  This is what makes the North Florida paddle a test of one’s technical skills.  When the current rushes under a mass of branches, leaves and trunks, depending on speed of current,  it can provide a challenge and/or a danger.  Although the river was running moderately well, it did not post much of a danger —  a capsize would probably have been easily righted and the paddler would not have been caught under a spiraling downward underwater current which is always a danger in fast moving rivers.   It actually was fun.

Anticipating an 8am start, most paddlers had eaten breakfast way before that and were ravenous by the time of the lunch stop, in an off river slough trail, on a small hammock.

 

There were two limbos, but one had  branches spaced close enough to pose a danger if the current pushed the paddler away from the intended path, causing a capsize or a gash.   Trip leader Morse’ tools were put to good use throughout the day.  Below, he had to hold on to the trunk to keep his canoe from floating away with one arm, cutting with his left hand only.  Try that — it takes a skill, strength and practice.

His loppers also did duty cutting paths through strainers which blocked the whole river.  Work like this is easier done from a canoe — one could not do this without chancing capsizing in a sit inside kayak.

Immediately after a very sharp left turn in the river, a big tree which had fallen over the river and under which the scouting party the week before had paddled easily under, now required a haul-over.  No option existed as in the first haul-over.  Fortunately a small section of  land was available to do a safe haul-over.  (Under higher waters this option might have been either a scoot over, if the river was over a foot higher, or breaking open a trail through greenbrier (smilax) laced trees.)

With two Davids doing duty:  one on each side of the log, the paddler approached the log, got out of the kayak on a carpet of leaf over mud and sand and clambered over the big tree while his/her kayak was carried and pushed over the log and then pulled into the downstream waters by the other David who stabilized the boat to enable the paddler to paddle downstream.   This was an easy task for the paddlers, but requiring a bit of lifting and hauling on the part of the two Davids — 11 pull-ups weighing probably anywhere from 38 pounds to possibly 50, depending on amount of gear and water the paddler was carrying in the kayaks which were hauled over.

At this fallen tree, soon after the last paddler’s kayak was hauled over and the 9th paddler off down river, the kayak of David the downriver log assistant followed the 9th kayaker down the river, sans David  — a paddler-less kayak.  It was retrieved and restored to David, not without some paddling finesse on the trip leader’s part.  Lacking the recommended rope,  holding on to it and paddling with one hand upstream was difficult until David Morse finally found a short strap in his canoe to fasten to the kayak.  On trips such as this,  having an attached rope makes for easier put-in down the steep inclines (and getting out of the river on steep inclines)  and easier retrieval of an errant  kayak or towing a tired kayaker.

Today’s trip on the upper New called for an extra rest stop. This was initially planned for Campsite 17, but it was being occupied by campers, so the group took out on a sandy stretch just upstream from it — a short break.  According to the previous Recreation Director of Lake Talquin District, Marti Miller,  campers should be aware that paddlers have a right to land or launch at these sites.   With a group as large as ours, the choice made by our trip leader was considerate of the campers since we did have a satisfactory resting place.

Downriver of campsite 17,  the remaining river was an easy paddle, without any obstructions, allowing each paddler to set his/her own pace.   Along the banks, the golden club plant in bloom were partly submerged. Swamp lilies should be blooming in three weeks, a bit late this year.  The most common flowering plant on the upper stretch was American holly.   Unlike Womack Creek, the New has less diversity and fewer blooming shrubs and plants.

The last paddler  and sweeper  arrived at Gully Branch around 5:30.   Paddlers who chose to leave for home still had daylight to break camp.  GPS readings varied, due to differences in path taken,  but we have decided to go with the 16.61 reading of one of the David’s, an engineer.  We didn’t hear any complaints about that extra 1.51 miles when the trip was estimated to be 15, however, that last mile and a half was, for those who had never been on this paddle and/or who had never paddled that distance,  a very long stretch.   Ed, who was sweeper, probably heard echoes of  his children’s laments, “When we will get there ….?”

The night was much warmer, but a campfire warned off the few mosquitoes for the 4 remaining paddlers.  As it was the night before, the sky was without clouds and allowed a growing new moon to illuminate the area.

Eight of this year’s paddlers did last year’s paddle. Of the three new paddlers, one had expected to paddle last year, but got sick and could not participate, the other paddler found out too late to join the group.  He had paddled this river several years before with the trail club. For two this was the first time on the river.

We shall see who will return to try another face of this river next year.  We already have the scouting team (4 and the shuttle driver) — the volunteer scouts/bushwackers seem eager to go in 2019, even if there the next annual paddle date has not been set.  As one paddler suggested:  why not have a scouting paddle and have a pre-scouted paddle.   One thing for sure: neither will be the same experience on that river.

Interested paddlers with skills beyond basic (to avoid getting caught in strainers in fast water with narrow openings) and  stamina to do a 15 mile paddle with uncertain conditions (e.g. portages, scoot-overs, haul-overs) can contact marylyn_feaver@comcast.net.  When the announcement for next year’s paddle goes out, you’ll receive it.  However, membership in the Apalachee Canoe and Kayak Club may be required (a $10 annual fee which is mainly to cover the cost of paddle insurance.)  Shared cost in 2017 was $40 (requiring rental of portable toilet , 2 campsites,Pope’s & campsite 17, security for gear and outfitter’s fees).  In 2018, with fewer expenses, the shared cost was $20 (outfitter fee, tip, 1 campsite for two nights).