Category Archives: Tate’s Hell State Forest

Paddling “Juniper Creek” on a Prematurely Warm “winter” Day – February 22, 2019

We needed to paddle. Last week while visiting on two days not quite half of the 57 camping sites in Tate’s Hell State Forest, we saw the Dry Bridge Creek campsite with its grassy landing into what we thought was Juniper Creek. We did not recall paddling this creek, although, we thought we had paddled all the navigable areas of Tate’s Hell State Forest. This is where we headed today.

We planned to first go upstream as far as we could and then return to the campsite put-in. Then to go downstream until what seemed on the map to be Doyle Creek and turn back. We intended to get mileages for both the upstream and back and the downstream and pack. That information might be helpful information to add to this campsite’s post.

So we invited a friend, loaded all 3 kayaks on our trailer, and headed for SR 65, the western boundary of Tate’s Hell State Forest.

The sky was overcast, some sun was predicted, but the temperatures were supposed to get to the lower 70’s. The high cloud cover remained, although the day became warmer.

When we arrived at the campsite, the flowers were still dew-kissed: white violets, candy root, southern jessamine. Royal ferns were beginning to sprout.

Tate’s Hell State Forest waters are tannin-colored.

Going upstream the buckwheat trees were all in bloom.

As warm as it was we did not see bees on the flowers of any of the flowering plants today. We did see a black swallowtail butterfly and a forktail.

Going upstream, along the banks were large masses of either swamp or spider lilies and pickerel weed. In two months or less these areas will be blooming. Laurel greenbrier with green seeds promise food for bears in the forest. Spiders are beginning to weave their webs and by lunch time I counted 5 spiders which had fallen into my cockpit and which I had to move to a more natural setting.

This is a elongated stilt spider and the photo below of a jumping spider.

The distance of paddling possibilities along these creeks depend on tide and rain. We were able to get 1.7 miles upstream from the camping site before the narrowness of the creek, the trees and debris both above and under water made the endeavor more work than play.

We returned to the camping site for lunch, but not without mishap.

That lovely grassy put-in after launching 3 kayaks upriver, was less hospitable at take-out. One of the paddlers slipped on the mud getting out of his kayak, and again, as he pulled my boat up the, by then, muddy ramp.. After we returned home, we found that mud from this bank leaves a stain, despite several washings of clothes and paddling shoes. The photo below is of the final take-out .

After lunch, still under a hazy sky, we ventured downstream to see where Juniper met another creek.

Soon we paddled into estuary environment of marsh reeds and sedges and eventually found ourself at SR 65. We recognized this landing as the landing we took out a few years ago when we paddled Whiskey George creek. We had done this creek before: as Whiskey George creek, paddling, as we usually do to as far up as we can paddle and then turning back to the put-in. The distance from the camping site to this put-in was 2 miles.

According to Garmin maps and DeLorme’s Gazeteer of Florida, that campsite is not on Juniper Creek but Whiskey George Creek. However, just a tad south of the campsite is Juniper creek which is east of Whiskey George and follows about the same pattern into the woods. An older very large map of Tate’s Hell State Forest names this creek running by the camping site as Juniper Creek. It also shows that the creek goes up to Whiskey George Campsite which we had visited last week and found no navigable creek alongside, although the site was in a swamp with water on 3 sides.

So on a high water time, and also when winter temperatures are winter temperatures and not balmy late spring ones, we may attempt to paddle Juniper creek, as much of it as it possible. Yes, we have yet to paddle Juniper creek.

And we did 7.4 miles of paddling on Whiskey George Creek today, putting in from Campsite 51, Dry Bridge Creek.

If you paddle(d) Whiskey George Creek this far, please comment below in the box provided.

ON CAMPING IN TATE’S HELL STATE FOREST

We are thankful that we have Tate’s Hell State Forest to give us wilderness camping experiences within an easy auto drive/or auto-paddle access from our home. We understand, not everyone camps, and not everyone who camps likes primitive camping. Wilderness campers chose to be “inconvenienced” — to make do with what they bring, away from electronics, away from the conveniences of modern life.

However, even we can start complaining — it seems like an antidote to discomfort from phasing in from comforts of home to challenges at campside, particularly if one forgot some “indispensable” item which proves later to be not so indispensable after all.

Before you start complaining after getting to a campsite, or before someone in your party starts on a long, discomforting wail of what the site does not offer, know this.

This was once a pine plantation. A very large plantation. You will see remnants of that pine operation in the channels which have been cut to drain water and the numerous roads which seem to lead nowhere.

The state acquired it under our legacy program, Florida Forever, to restore lands which are necessary to keep the ecological balance of our state in spite of, and because of, growth.

Tate’s Hell State Forest is an essential natural watershed for both the Ochlockonee and Apalachicola Rivers. The younger among you will have been schooled in the importance of watersheds to our national waterways; you may have to get used to the concept — it’s important if we want clean water.

State lands acquired for restoration and conservation are managed by various public agencies. Every 10 years the managing agency has to prepare a 10 year master plan for the property for which they are responsible. Some of the agencies are Florida State Parks, Florida Forestry Services, the various water management districts, counties and municipalities and state preservation agencies.

In the case of forestry, the principle set by the Legislature is that these lands must be self-sustaining. Like the National Forest systems, logging and sale of wood is an important part of the financial self-sufficiency of the forests.

In Tate’s Hell State Forest, until last September, the chief forester (the person in charge of managing the timberlands, of negotiating which parcels are to be harvested, and enforcing the terms of the contract) was David Morse. David was awarded State Forester of the Year in 2017. As well he should be.

Under David’s management, you saw no clear-cutting of woods, but only small sections which have been harvested. A U of Florida forestry graduate (and before that a navy veteran), David practiced sustainable forestry. But there is always a bottom line: once acquired for restoration, forest lands must still pay the cost of ongoing maintenance and restoration of lands.

For those who pass burned out forests, these are set purposely as part of the forest management. By periodically mimicking the natural burns which occur with lightening, the forest undergrowth is cleared and major devastating fires are avoided. When you see what seems to be unsightly burns, consider that this mimics lightening fires, except we set it, to again, try to restore the land. These burn crews can also include volunteers who have been trained and certified. Volunteers are essential to maintaining a predictable level of maintenance of most state agencies. Those interested in being trained to help with managed burns should contact the Lake Talquin regional office (which includes Tate’s Hell SF) of Florida Forestry Services, Department of Agriculture (850 681-5950).

We have come to prefer state and national forestry for camping to get away from multi-story cities, traffic, noise and a mechanically-fast paced world. Because we are not the primary focus of land management (e.g. to provide recreational “experiences”), forestry lands offers more wilderness than we get camping in state parks, where waking up in our 2 person tent only to face the walls of huge RV’s on either side of our site had become too common an experience.

Tate’s Hell State Forest campsites usually sit alone and are big. Your nearest camping neighbor may be miles away from you. The exceptions are Womack Creek campground with 12 sites; Cash creek with 3 sites, Log Cabin Creek with 4 sites, Rock Landing with 3 sites, Borrow Pit with 2 sites, and OHV (off highway vehicles) campground with 3 sites. There are 57 campsites in that second largest of Florida’s state forests.

While congregate sites may have vault toilets and Womack Creek Campground has hot showers and flush toilets, most of the sites are primitive: no water, no toilets. (Womack Creek’s restroom facilities may soon close because the banks along the Ochlockonee River are eroding and now about 1 foot away from the foundation of the building.)

Tate’s Hell’s roads sit just above the water table. When it rains, it puddles or worse. Since the natural drainage is being restored, concrete culverts have been removed and low lying areas are covered with gravel to allow for freer flow of water. For a passenger car, encountering what seems to be a ford, check before driving in. It is always wise to call the Tate’s Hell Office in Carrabelle before you arrive to inquire about road conditions leading to your camp site and request alternate routes to the site if the usual way is under water.

You may need to detour — if the natural drainage area seems a lot deeper than you feel comfortable, detour. There are depth markers, but one thing about markers in a system going natural — things change. At one time the markers may have been in the deepest part of that road, but over time that section changed. Don’t rely on the depth markers, if you’re not sure. Get out of the car and test the deepest part of the drainage field. One of the great things about this forest: there is hardly any traffic. You’ll have to walk several miles depending on where you are stranded to get help (cell signals may be weak or non-existent).

And isn’t this what getting into the wilderness means? You are not guaranteed convenience. You’re on your own.

Also, don’t trust all road signs. Signs have been taken or pranksters have turned signs such that some are pointing the wrong way. Again, financial resources cannot be put toward our convenience by replacing signs which would sooner than not be vandalized again.

Eventually, we’re hoping to post coordinates of the critical turn points, but it’s not on our list of priorities right not. Don’t rely on Google for directions on unpaved roads.

It gets more adventuresome doesn’t it? We heard about reports from a paddling group from Missouri we led on the New River from CS 17 to Gully Branch Road. Word was they thought getting to the put-in was more hazardous than paddling the river. Maybe it was the sand; all the roads were passable with a few puddles.

Most of you would question the craziness of anyone who would eschew convenience and shrug off discomfort as a great experience. There are so few places like this in the eastern US (the Apalachians are one, the Adirondacks). Having this forest near us is a gift. Camping here may require more challenges than in the state parks, but it also brings more rewards.

You can respond loudly to the barred owls from your tent as they call to each other at night; there is no curfew to quell your voice. And except in the campgrounds, you have no camping neighbors who can hear you. There is only nature’s night sounds. The only lights are the ones you produce. (If you’ve in a camper, you’ll miss some of this.) And the rhythm of your day becomes more attuned to the natural rhythm around you. It does, indeed, restore your soul.

If you’re not up to the wonders and inconveniences of the natural world, try the state parks.

But first, particularly if you have young children, try it. Young children are very adaptable and see in the natural setting more possibilities than adults do. Start with the campgrounds in the forests where there are vault toilets or bring along a portable toilet if in a primitive camp site (this seems to be a major deterrent to older children, fastidious spouses and maybe you). And you know, with young kids, when they start balking, get them excited again — show them the infinite possibilities of nature.

We have paddled and camped 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces. We appreciate what we have in North Florida each time we return. Yet, the number of campers, though slightly increased since 2012 have not been overwhelming.

Do people know that wilderness camping paradise is less than 2 hours away?

 

We would love to see more young families with children camping, paddling, bicycling (sandy roads), fishing in this forest. They are part of the legacy the state has a commitment to — it’s for them and their kids that this land is being restored to its natural roots. And were the politics to change in the future, the adventures you take them on in wilderness now may be the only times in their lives which this experience will ever be available to them again. If this were ever to happen, wouldn’t you say that you were able to give them a priceless gift?

Know, if you go: If you must call 911, each campsite has an address. First responders will not be able to respond to a campsite number in the forest. Reserve America does not give you this address. The addresses are posted in this blog with the campsite information. Also, cell coverage varies within this very large forest. When you reach your site, check to see if you can get coverage. If not, find the closest spot where you can transmit and receive signals. If you have a teenager with you, they already know that or ask them to locate that spot.

Trout Creek, Tate’s Hell SF, a great place to learn to paddle.

A very short tributary of the New River, south of Pope Place (CS 9) on West River Road. The put-in is just south and west of the bridge over Trout Creek which lies at the junction of West River Road and River Road, a little over a mile south of CS 9.

It is narrow enough to be protected from wind and has minimum current. However, the tide does affect the level of the creek. If you should ever have to paddle under a log or a large branch going upstream (limbo), note which way the tide is going. You may not have room on the return trip if you paddled up on an incoming tide.

About 1/4 mile east of the bridge is the New River. Paddlers can paddle from upstream on the New and be picked up here, if they prefer not to take-out at an occupied camp site.

We saw a red cockaded woodpecker in the slash pines here several years ago.

This is a perfect place for kayak polo, for those who have shorter kayaks and a floatable ball and some type of “basket” or bucket.

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

Reserve this site at Reserve America, State’s Hell State Forest, New River Primitive Campsites.  When you get to your campsite, check for the closest point for cell connection.  If you call 911, the address of this campsite is 1751 River Road, Tate’s Hell State Forest, GPS 29.91190,-84.73108.   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.  

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.

If you camp(ed) here please comment in the box provided at the end of this post.

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).  When you get to your campsite, find the closest point where you can get cell connection.  If you call 911, your site street address is 1591 River Road, Tate’s Hell State Forest. GPS 29.89629,-84.73390.  First responders cannot find you with only a campsite number.   Reserve America’s confirmation documents will not include this address.

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. 

If you camp(ed) here please comment in the box provided at the end of this post.

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!

Bugs and more bugs — biological controls.

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We’ve been given permission remove invasives on Womack Creek by Tate’s Hell State Forest providing we do it the proper way.  We have kept that creek clear of taro which infests Lake Talquin and the Ochlockonee river of which Womack Creek is a tributary.  Whenever we see a taro plant we dig it up then or soon after.

With Japanese climbing fern, however, the situation is different.  It requires more care to remove since the spores can fall into the water and be carried off to points downriver to sprout into some one else’s problem.  We GPS each new sighting during the year and in the dormant month set up a day to do exclusively that:  dig up the ferns.  It’s no easy thing what with that being a vine which goes every which-away trying to find light and where the roots get entangled with other roots of other plants trying to get maximum footing on the creek bank.   And we have to cover the plants up before rattling around the stems with our digging spade (a trowel won’t do it).

So when we saw in May this year a patch of alligator weed, just before we were leaving for cooler places for the summer, we noted that we’d have to clean that little patch out when we returned.  It didn’t matter that a little alligator had selected it as a private hiding place.  It was invasive and therefore had to go.

Imagine our dismay when we returned in October, after H. Michael,  to find that the whole creek had patches of that noxious weed.

We are in kayaks.  Kayaks are OK for carrying at least 2 bags of relatively light climbing fern or the occasional taro plant.  Kayaks are not OK for the alligator weed which mats in a thick cover, so thick no sunlight can get below it.  It is water sodden and heavy.

Our last  invasive weed pull was Coral Ardesia on Goat Island in Lake Talquin.  We had a crew of 8 paddlers but used a boat to ferry us with tools to handle that task.  And we were given permission to burn the invasives right there on the island — the numbers of bags we had to cart back and ensure it was deposited where it would be totally destroyed  was too daunting for the invasive species coordinator.  We  spent the whole day cutting, digging and burning and didn’t get the job finished.  We anticipated having to do the same for the alligator weed, a group effort.

When we returned last week, imagine our surprise.   Between late October  and early December, recent rainfalls had overflowed the banks and only one stand of alligator weed was there.  It happens to be the one which the now juvenile alligator likes.  With the air in the low 50’s, the juvenile alligator had enough sense to stay where it was warmer that day.

The leaves on that stand were non-existent.  Just like the alligator weed on Lake Talquin.   Alligator weed, water hyacinths and other invasives are choking the areas around the mouth of the upper Ochlockonee.  But in October on that lake we also spotted devastation of plant leaves by two bio-control agents, introduced to the USA in the 1960’s to control alligator weed.

Here in Womack, a tributary of the lower Ochlockonee, we saw the same depredation occurring.

We parked on the thick mat and starting opening up the stalks and few leaves which remained which were held together at the top by silken threads.   In several of  the stalks we found millipedes, in one stalk we found an adult alligatorweed flea beatle, on a cluster of leaves we found a pupa of the alligatorweed stem borer and on another the whitish thick larvae of that moth.  On one of the few intact spray of leaves we found a hungry alligatorweed flea beetle larvae eating its way up a leaf.

Photo 1 above is the designer designed alligatorweed flea beetle.   Photo 2 is a stem with a hole, either created by the beetle or the moth larvae we have yet to ascertain and above that section the spent stem section which interior had been eaten from the inside and vacated to dry up and die while the stem borer continued down the stalk, eating and vacating.  The last photo is of a pupa of the alligatorweed leaf borer.  We found the larvae of that species, too, but the photographs were too blurred to post.

We determined not to remove that patch in order to observe it over time to see how well the bio-control agents do their work.  And to understand better the life cycle of these two insects. Education over destruction.

On stands of alligator weed with these two agents in other waters, we have found small spiders and we have seen these spiders coming out out a larval case with a shrunken larvae within, like the nutrients and juices have been sucked up by the spider.  We have yet to get an ID for that spider.  We did not see any on that small patch of alligator weed.

The photo above is of a millipede — on a patch of alligator weeds, submerged in water.  Millipedes enjoy floating as much as we do.

In Hawaii, biocontrol agents did the job and then proceeded to become invasives themselves by expanding their appetites to native species, like native birds.  One would have  had to have slept through sciences classes from K through high school there not to have the dangers of insufficiently tested bio-control agents being  drummed into one’s subliminal zones.

We now don’t have to worry about logistics of removing the alligator weed.  We have a floating lab there.   Hopefully that alligator will find a better spot to bask as it gets larger.  We hate to have to scare it off to check on insects.