Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.


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.”



West Panhandle Bear Management Unit

Florida counties:  Escambia, Holmes, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton

“Bears in the West Panhandle BMU [Bear Management Unit] are part of the Eglin subpopulation, named after the Eglin Air Force Base that represents the majority of occupied bear range in this BMU.  The subpopulation estimate is below the minimum subpopulation objective, and there the management objective is to increase the current bear subpopulation.  However, Eglin Air Force Base is probably at or near its biological carrying capacity, and therefore increases in bear numbers would likely occur in suitable habitats in other parts of the BMU. [Blackwater River State Forest and any Northwest Florida Water Management areas west of the Choctawhatchee River.] (“Florida Black Bear management Plan, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2012”, p. 94, lines 2273-2279.)

“Minimum subpopulation objective                                                                       200 bears   Estimated subpopulaton in primary range                                                       63-101 bears   Potential bear habitat in Conserved Lands could support                                    121 bears

“Currently, potential bear habitat in conserved land is approximately 74 percent of that needed to support the minimum subpopulation objective.  Habitat conservation efforts should seek to expand occupied range and create the following critical landscape connections: along the Yellow River to Blackwater River State Forest; with the Apalachicola [National Forest] population by building on existing conserved habitat toward the Choctawhatchee River; and Alabama’s Mobile bear population through Cunecuh NF [National Forest]. … Increasing genetic interchange with the bears in Alabama would benefit both of these small subpopulations.” (page 94, lines 2286-2293.)

Minimum subpopulation objective is what is needed to maintain a sustainable population.  “In order to maintain a sustainable population of bears throughout Florida, we must provide adequate habitats, promote viable subpopulations, [emphasis theirs] provide connections among subpopulations, manage human impacts, and influence human behaviour.  It a subpopulation drops below a certain level, it becomes increasingly susceptible to negative effects like inbreeding and environmental variability.”  (p. 1, lines 556 to 565.)

Habitat needed for 200 bears                                                                             1,198,461 acres  Potential Bear Habitat                                                                                           1,886,289 acres Potential Bear Habitat in Conservation Lands                                                        723,051 acres Total area of the BMU                                                                                            2,686,289 acres*

(page 96, lines 2297-2300)

*need not be only public lands, but a mix of private lands and public.




Paddling Womack Creek, Tate’s Hell, early February, 2014

What more could a paddler ask for?

A sunny Sunday, not even a breeze, temperatures in the 60’s, and hardly a current upstream and downstream.

We put in at the Womack Creek Campground, our annual forestry pass posted on our dashboard, as we set off upstream on the Ochlockonee to Womack Creek.   At put-in it was still a chilly 58 degrees, and the morning dew hung on spider webs lining the river bank.

The small clouds parted to give us a full blue sky and warmth.  More birds today than we have ever seen on the creek:  a robin, a small red tinged warbler, the constant kingfisher, a great blue heron, a solitary duck which flew away to fast for us to identify, an anhinga with outspread wings, a cormorant.  Past Nick’s Road primitive campsite, we paddled about 1 1/2 miles to a huge downed tree over the creek.  Our saw, as sharp as it is, could not handle the job and we turned back, although we could have easily portaged and gone further upstream to where we had been told there is a beaver lodge.   On the way upstream from Nick’s we saw a beautiful buzzard, wings outspread, head down — shot in flight we think.  A fragile totem of life and death in the forests, but this one an unnatural death.

We stopped for a quick lunch at Nick’s Road Primitive Camp Site, one of the nicest primitive camp sites in Tate’s Hell.

Gold finches downstream, a pair of another species of duck and a hawk which we have seen before in this section, it’s sharp cry warning us of its presence.  The hoot of the barred owl somewhere in the forest — a sound which can lull one to sleep while camping here.   For the first time in the 3 years we have been paddling this creek, a doe — a quick meeting of eyes and she bounded away.   Turtles, the larger ones, catching the warmth of the day, hesitating to drop into the water as we try to paddle as unobtrusively as we can.   So much life on this creek.

We were elated to find the Florida red maples in bloom — we have been trying to get a photograph of that flower for years.  They were beautiful, closeup and the full tree.  Blueberry  blossoms which had already started blooming in mid January seemed not to have been killed by last week’s killing frost  — a bountiful crop in early summer.   Usually at this time the ash are beginning to bud; not this time.   Only the alder catkins and on the upper 1/3 of the creek the Walters viburnum are beginning to bloom — its white flowers a harbinger of spring.

There were 3 jon boats of fishermen, quietly fishing, as they usually do, along the banks.  On the way downstream one fisherman was hauling in a mud fish.   When we paddle during the week we are usually the only ones on that creek, but these Sunday fishermen were so quiet that one didn’t notice them until they were within clear sight.   They were enjoying the day as much as we were.

The stand of green fly orchids, a threatened species, was no longer there — the bark of the dead tree on which they were growing was completely striped.   But we found another stand and for the first time on Womack Creek, Bartram’s airplant, a bromeliad which can be found on the tributaries of the Apalachicola.

The only mechanical sounds we heard was one small plane whose drone of motor was barely noticeable and when we reached the take-out, the sound of a fishing boat engine.   At take out, looking overhead, a single egret silhouetted against the still blue sky.

10.3 miles of great paddling on a lovely creek, ready to burst forth  in a month with buds and flowers.  But we could not have asked for a better day and creekside all was right with the world, even the unfortunate death of the buzzard.

We are so thankful for such a place.




“God Made A Perfect Environment in Apalachicola for Growing Oysters….”

This was abstracted from a recorded interview of Cheryl Sanders, Tate’s Hell, Franklin County Board of County Commissioners, Chairwoman, on November 11, 2013.

In 1999, myself and Mr. Bevin [Putnal, former long-time Franklin County Commissioner] went to Columbus, Georgia to the Army Corps of Engineers.   Nobody else but me and him.  We head up to Columbus in a Ford Pickup.  It was this time of year [November] and it was getting dark.  This was before GPS.

Getting near Columbus, I told Mr. Bevin, “Watch out for that sign [to the conference center], I gotta watch for the traffic”.  Well, I got in the wrong lane.  He didn’t tell me not to — I got in the middle lane.   The middle lane went across the bridge.

When I crossed over the bridge there was a sign that said “Welcome to the State of Alabama”.

He said, “Cheryl, we’re in Alabama.”

I said, “How’d we get here?”

And he said: “You went across the Bridge.”

We called the convention center and went back over the bridge and got there.   We laughed about it.

They were talking about water footage in Lake Lanier and we were getting that red tide that was ruining the oysters.

Mr. Bevin stood up to talk.

He said:  “The first thing I want to tell you is I’m a County Commissioner and an Oysterman from Franklin County, Florida,  and I want you to know one thing.   In the beginning God made a perfect environment in Apalachicola for growing oysters.  And man has screwed it up.”

Acquisition and Restoration Council hearing December 12, Tallahassee

The Acquisitions and Restoration Council of the Division of Public Lands, Florida Department of Environmental Policy, will be meeting on Thursday-Friday, December 12 to listen to public input and to make a decision on the Blackwater River State Forest 10 Year Management Plan.

Audubon Florida has requested and was granted that the hearing on that plan be not held before 11 am, in order to accommodate the testifiers from Pensacola – Thursday, December 12.

Majory Stoneman Douglas Building, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., (I-10 & Capital Circle NW), Tallahassee        Conference Room A (ground floor)

There is a cafeteria in that building for light lunch, hot drinks.  Open 7:30-1:30.

Get the wi-fi passcode from the welcome desk on the ground floor.

The weather will be in the low 60’s and the night before in the low 30’s on Thursday.  Nice sunny day predicted.