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2018 Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous to be held at Blackwater River State Forest

Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous, an annual meet-up of paddlers in Florida (and open to all) is scheduled for Blackwater River State Forest on October 26-28, 2018.

Blackwater River State Forest has some of the most beautiful, clear waters and sandy banks in north Florida.   You will have your choice of lazy, wider creeks and rivers and a few technical and faster moving waters.

More details with contact information will be posted as they become available.

 

 

Cash Creek – Beautiful November Paddle

 

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Cash Creek on the west side of Tate’s Hell empties into the Apalachicola River.  The road to the day use area is off the east side of State Road 65, just south of the Apalachicola National Forest and on the northern edge of Tate’s Hell State Forest.  There is a covered picnic shelter with picnic tables, fishing dock and boat launch, with sand on one side for easier canoe and kayak access.   For paddlers, this creek offers your-choice-of-length paddling.  One can go left from the landing to the Apalachicola River through an estuary dominated by reeds or turn right upriver through a reedy estuary then woody swampland.  The current is more marked by tides and wind than down or up-river flow.  All of the paddling to the Apalachicola  has no shade.  Upriver, one paddles anywhere from one mile to one and one half mile, depending on which branch one takes, in estuary before reaching deciduous and slash pine shade.   Beyond that one can go as far as the water level and creek depth and blockages allow.  Normally, that would be around 9.5 miles if one took all the options.  The kiosk at the landing has a large map of the creek and forest area. 

The nearly half mile sandy road to Cash Creek Day Use Area is lined with slash pines and an occasional long leaf pine and opens into the parking area and boat launch and day use pavilion.  We had not paddled there for a year and were anticipating a good paddle with clear sky, 72F temperature and a slight breeze.  The tide was going out.

Big surprise — a new vault toilet structure had been built in our absence.  Very clean, not smelly and a tremendous improvement over the portable toilets which were never maintained by the septic service.   And in the fenced in day use area, bear proof trash containers, firmly imbedded in concrete.   Another improvement over the easy to tip over by animals and kicked over by humans garbage cans.   Thanks to Marti Miller, Talquin District Recreation Coordinator, for having these constructed and installed — the previous accommodations were gross because of negligence by the contractor.

The tide was against us and the slight breeze was from the north, north-east, against us as well.  On a Wednesday, we were the only users of that facility.  The mullet were jumping and other fish (bream?) surfaced — the fishermen would have had a field day today.  Randy, the former host at Womack Creek Campground in Tate’s Hell, assured us that one could catch mullet with a hook. Netting is the usual way they are caught.  The splash in the photo below is of a mullet landing in the water after a magnificent jump.

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There are two major branches and usually we take both.  Today we decided to try the one on the left first and were surprised that a section which was always too low or too debris-filled for us to continue was open and we paddled another .8 mile beyond where we usually were stopped.  There are two option on the left branch — we try to paddle both.  One can’t get lost, these branches dead-end and require retracing one’s way back.

The fall flowers are gone —  last aster flowers peek out from the reeds.   Leaves and red berries are what add color to the landscape.  Florida maples are turning and are the dominant red-orange combinations on the creek.   Unlike Womack Creek on the east side of Tate’s Hell, and which empties into the Ochlockonee River, the tupelo trees on Cash creek are not yet turning and if they are do not have the red-yellows of Womack’s ogechee tupelos.   A single stem of swamp lily was seen in an opening in the reeds.13-P1060298.JPG

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The ferns, also, add to color.

Birds, migratory and resident, were present.  Buzzards, crows, hawks, a single wood duck which we surprised into flight, and flocks of small birds which we have not yet identified. Kingfishers, usually seen in Tate’s Hell’s creeks and rivers, were noticeably absent.   Only a single Gulf frittilary butterfly, two sulphur butterflies and a few dragonflies were seen.  We did see flies alighting on the Silvering blossoms — the first time we have seen flies on these blooms.

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Silvering is a late fall bloomer, after the asters.  On Womack Creek they were still in bud about 2 weeks ago.   There were only a few of these plants on Cash Creek.  For those who suffer from hay fever, this is a plant you want to avoid.

The estuary creek turns narrower and narrower and increasingly tree and shrub-lined.

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Then, the trip ends:  one’s way is blocked, either by too shallow water or tree-falls or debris dams.  The trick is to be able to turn around in the narrow spaces when this usually occurs, particularly when paddling 14′ and 15′ kayaks.

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Along one branch is a beautifully gnarled cypress tree.

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Late fall, when the leaves are gone, is a good time to see bird nests.  The one below was nestled in laurel greenbrier vines, its berries gave the nest a festive look; the other was securely constructed in a small shrub.

Off Pidcock Road is a very large campsite.  This tipi looking tent with 2 chairs at the picnic table was a colorful addition to the landscape. Downriver from the campsite, a row of pilings which once supported a bridge is still in the water.  At very high water,  these pilings obscured by the tannin tinged water.  One can easily find oneself caught on one of these logs.  Today all but a few were visible, but one submerged piling held one of our kayaks in place until it was dislodged (without capsizing).

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One doesn’t see many large deciduous trees along the creek, but this is an ogeechee tupelo tree with Florida maple growing between its trunks.

One of the paddling options is a straight canal, either a former road bed or a drainage canal dug to drain water from what used to be a pine plantation before the state acquired the land for restoration and conservation.   The forests (Apalachicola and Tate’s Hell) are part of the Apalachicola river watershed.  The North Florida Water Management District has been given the task to restore Tate’s Hell’s forest back to what is used to be before it was developed for tree farming.   Roads  no longer needed are being left to return to nature and gravel has replaced culverts, creating natural drainage systems even on roads which are still used.   After heavy rains, some of these roads may not be passable. It as it should be, to allow for natural passage of water through the land, the reason for restoration of  an important river watershed.

The canal above is where we saw a mother bear and her cub (on a tree) several years ago.  When the mother bear saw us, she made a sound.  The cub climbed further up the tree; the mother bear quickly gave another sound, the cub went sliding down the tree and quickly was hidden in the shrubbery below.  I thought about that cub when the Florida Wildlife Conservation Council allowed for the first bear hunting in Florida.  The subsequent year, bear hunting was not resumed.

We rarely make it past the bridge on Pidcock Rd., but today, we were able to paddle under the bridge.  To the right the creek was blocked by a small tree which had fallen over the creek.  We could have scooted over it had we needed to, but immediately beyond that was a debris dam.  We decided to turn back, but the creek looked navigable beyond that.

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We chose not to explore the last branch and headed back to the put-in.

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Driving to the creek in the morning, we could smell and see the smoke of a managed burn in the Apalachicola National Forest to our east.

Returning to the put-in, the easterly winds had driven the smoke to the west.  In the waning light of the end of the day, the sun caught the clouds and the smoke to create a delicate palate of pastels, which unfortunately was not adequately captured in the photo below.

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Cash Creek rarely disappoints us.  This was a glorious day and the temperature only got to 76F, perfect for paddling an open estuary.   Our paddle today was 10.8 miles.

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We were told that a campground with a few sites is planned near the put-in.  This would enable paddlers to camp there and paddle several other creeks:  Whiskey George and Doyle Creek in Tate’s Hell State Forest and Graham Creek and Fort Gadsden Creek in the Apalachicola National Forest.  We look forward to having those campsites.

 

 

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.

Florida Land Acquisition Trust Fund – Amendment I, Florida Constitution, November 2014

The following passed with over 75% of Florida voters supporting it in November, 2014:

Water and Land Conservation – Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands

Ballot summary:  Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protectiong water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglads, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and stream; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.

The text:

“Section 28:  Land Acquisition Trust Fund

a) Effective on July 1 of the year following passage of this amendment by the voters, and for a period of 20 years after that effective date, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall receive no less than 33 percent of net revenues derived from the existing excise tax on documents, as defined in the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, as amended from time to time, or any successor or replacement tax, after the Department of Revenue first deducts a service charge to pay the costs of the collection and enforcement of the excise tax on documents.

b) Funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall be expended only for the following purposes:

1) As provided by law, to finance or refinance: the acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests, including conservation easements, and resources for conservation lands including wetlands, forests, and fish and wildlife habitat; wildlife managemetn areas; lands that protect water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems; lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades Protection Area, as defined in Article II, Section 7(b); beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands, including recreational trails, parks and urban open space; rural landscapes; working farms and ranches; historic or geologic sites; together with managment, restoration of natural systems, and the enhancement of public access or recreational enjoyment of conservation lands.

2) To pay the debt service on bonds issued pursuant to Article VII, Section 1(e).

c) The moneys deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, as defined by the statues in effect on January 1, 2012, shall not be or become commingled with the General Revenue Fund of the state.”