Thursday, May 28, 2015

This weeks tours: Silver River (Sat) & Ocklawaha (Sun)

If I were to plan an itinerary that best showcased Ocklawaha River--its archaeology, history, geology and wild inhabitants--it would look exactly like this weekend's lineup. On Saturday's (5/30) Silver River trip, we launch into the river's birth place (not just Silver's but also, to a large extent, Ocklawaha's), the aptly named, Mammoth Spring. This spring is the source of nearly a third of Silver River's flow. The remainder comes primarily from the 29 additional vents feeding the river in its first mile with a fraction coming from surface runoff from rainfall and seepage from the adjacent swamps. The river's human story begins here as well. Artifacts uncovered from the limestone rimming the spring pool and along the river speak to nearly 14,000 years of continuous use of the spring and river, beginning with the first humans who arrived in North Florida at the end of the last Ice Age.

More of the story will be revealed on Sunday's (5/31) paddle of a lower section of Ocklawaha River. An Archaic Period burial mound, steamboat landing and an ill-conceived dam offer visible, palpable connections to that part of the story that has included humans. In the big picture, that has been just a sliver of time. Decaying stumps of ancient giants and limestone ossuaries packed with the remains of land animals and aquatic species--some marine, some fresh water--dating back tens of millions of years, help keep it all in perspective. Our time here has been a footnote in this volume. 

But this river's story is not just a memoir written in past tense. It is a living, breathing place whose story is still unfolding.The Ocklawaha river-forest wakes anew every morning. It will be as fresh and vibrant on Sunday as it was 5,000 years ago. While it's a different forest from that of the Timucua--some species are gone, others have arrived and the sizes of some trees are certainly different--it still pulses with life. As with all rivers, the Ocklawaha's story is being written in real time; a new chapter every day. How that story will go from here is up to us. 
So, what was I saying? Oh yeah, I'm going paddling this weekend--wanna go!?

Here are the details:

- Saturday, May 30:   SILVER RIVER
This river is about 1 hour south of Gainesville. We'll be meeting there at 10:00 A.M. The cost is $39 for "wanna go" members ($50 for non-members). With your own boat it's $25 for members ($35 for non-members). NOTE - There is also an additional $10 in park & launch fees.
 On this downstream-only paddle, we will launch near the river's large head-spring. We be on the water about 2.5 hours. Since we'll be done by about 1:00 we won't stop for any kind of food/eating break. 
As we make our way down stream in the 30 - 40 ft wide channel, we are treated to an unbroken panorama of cypress, ash, gum, red maple and an assortment of other trees and plants associated with the Ocklawaha river basin, of which this is an important part. There are always plenty of water birds, especially near the head spring. Turtles, gators and and other reptiles always keep things interesting, as do my personal favorites, the river otters. The quiet paddler with a searching eye will usually spot one of these stealthy hunters on about 3/4 of our trips.
The most popular animals on Silver River are the Rhesus monkeys  (actually macaques - see below). Even though exotic species are never welcome in natural habitats, its hard not to enjoy watching these interesting, amusing Asian/African primates. It's not their fault they wound up in the forests of central Florida. But be very careful and never approach them. They can be aggressive and have a wicked bite.   

Tropical green meets icy blue
Our launch site will be near the river's water source, the Silver Springs group. The main vent--Mammoth Spring--is one of the largest springs (in average flow rate) in the world. This area is within Silver Springs State Park. The main river channel within the park is a public waterway, with free access to all. Please be very respectful to other boats by staying off to the side when they pass. We want all visitors--paddlers and tour boat passengers alike--to have a positive experience when they explore Florida's beautiful waterways. It looks bad for everyone when there is friction between boat operators.
Perhaps the main thing that sets Silver River apart from other waterways is it's water. Crystal clear and relatively deep (averaging about 6 - 8 feet, with a few much deeper holes), few waterways rival this one for sheer beauty of its water.
Likewise, few waterways can match the diversity and numbers of species that you find on Silver. Put down your paddle and float with the current  (save this for the downstream part of the trip!) and you'll soon find crowds of small fish (mostly of the sunfish clan) drifting along in the shade of your boat. Feel free to bring swim-wear and snorkeling gear if you think you might be inclined to jump in and meet the river inhabitants face to mask.

All eyes...and ears!

The most popular animals on this trip, and the most unusual for any of our trips, are the monkeys. Earlier in this century a number of Rhesus monkeys escaped into the wild from Silver Springs Park. The most prevalent story is that they escaped from sets of the old Tarzan movies which were filmed near the springs. But, in reality, their presence can be credited to (blamed on?) Col. Tooey, a concessionaire at Silver Springs park in the 1930's. To add some tropical flavor to his "jungle cruise," he released some of the monkeys on a small island in the middle of the river. He didn't realize they could swim. Today, they are well established in the bottomland forest along the Silver and a bit of the Ocklawaha Rivers.   
If you do see any (I'd say about 4 out of 5 paddlers will spot at least one), be sure to keep a safe distance - and DON'T FEED them. They are fun to watch, but they can be aggressive and will bite if you get too close.


This is now an easy one-way, downstream-only paddle of about 2.5 (3 hours if you do a lot of poking around and taking in the natural wonders--large and small--that line every inch of this run .) (Note: we encourage poking around and taking in the natural wonders--large and small--that line every inch of this run.).

- Sunday, May 31:  OCKLAWAHA RIVER #3 (Below the dam)
This one is about 1 hour southeast of Gainesville. We'll be meeting at 10:00 A.M. The fee for this trip is $39 for "wanna go" members and $50 for non-members. It's $29 with your own boat ($40 for non-members).

Lunch stop
The Ocklawaha is wider here than above the reservoir and much more braided. Many side streams and confusing forks make this an interesting area to explore, but can turn a leisurely paddle into an extreme workout if you make a wrong turn. You won't want to get to far ahead of the guide on this trip.
Sydney Lanier, a well-known writer of the 1800's, called the Ocklawaha the "sweetest water-lane in the world, a lane which runs more than a hundred and fifty miles of pure delight betwixt hedgerows of oaks and cypresses and palms and bays and magnolias and mosses and manifold vine-growths..." Unlike so many early descriptions of wild Florida, which are merely frustrating glimpses into long lost worlds, this passage could have been written today. And, aside from the fact that he was sitting on the deck of an Ocklawaha steamboat, Lanier's instructions on assuming the "attitude of perfect rest" could just as easily be followed by the kicked-back, modern day kayaker. He suggested you hike your left leg onto the boats railing, "then tip your chair in a slight diagonal position back to the side of the cabin, so that your head will rest thereagainst, your right arm will hang over the chair back, and your left arm will repose 

Baby night herons!
on the railing. I give no specific instruction for your right leg, because I am disposed to be liberal in this matter and to leave some gracious scope for personal idiosyncrasies,...dispose your right leg, therefore, as your heart may suggest. Having secured this attitude, open wide the eyes of your body and your soul; repulse with a heavenly suavity the conversational advances..." of others, "then sail, sail, sail through the cypresses, through the vines, through the May day...and so shall your heart forever afterwards interpret Ocklawaha to mean repose." I can't count the times I've rounded a bend of the Ocklawaha, and found someone in our group laid back in their kayaks, in the "attitude of perfect rest." It's the perfect river for "repose".

This is the Ocklawaha that Pulitzer Prize winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings knew and loved. And it's the Ocklawaha to which some of Florida's most celebrated musical troubadours, including the late, great Will Mclean and Don Grooms, retreated when the press of civilization became unbearable.
The wide open channel on this part of the river offers an excellent panorama of river forests and swamps that in places, stretch a half mile back from the main channel. Here, we find the usual menagerie of wildlife that love such places. Cormorants and anhingas swim in the tannin stained brown water, catching small fish, while several species of wading birds tiptoe slowly through spatterdock, pickerelweed, water hyacinth and cardinal flowers at the rivers edge, stalking small fish, reptiles, amphibians and small crustaceans.

otters love this river too
Other animals we frequently see are alligators, turtles and snakes, usually basking contently on a sunny log. Otters live here too, and while they're very shy, the observant paddler will often spot one diving for fish along the rivers edge. The forest floor of these heavily shaded woodlands are low and damp, making them prone to flood in heavy rain events (including hurricanes!) - great for wildlife, not so great for human habitation. Except for a couple of isolated homes, perched at a distance from the river, we see very little sign of civilization on this trip.
Occasionally, the winding channel carries us close to the high piney bluff which borders much of the river basin. This steep bluff, formed by an uplift fault during an earthquake millions of years ago, marks the northern edge of Florida's famous sand pine forest - the 'scrub.'
This trip will appeal to people with a variety of interests. As history buffs dream of Acuera warriors and the steamboats which once once plied these waters, birders and animal lovers will be getting a lot of use out of their binoculars and cameras. And if you, like myself, are a fan of Marjorie Rawlings, this trip will give you a chance to explore a remote section of Florida that remains much as it did when she stayed nearby at the Fiddia homestead. In addition to it's scenic beauty, this stretch of the Ocklawaha also serves as an excellent 'living museum' of man's 12,000 year relationship with nature in Florida. As we make our way downstream, we work back in time - starting with our launch at the George Kirkpatrick Dam, where we see man's most recent (and most destructive) attempt to 'tame' the river, we paddle past a couple of old steamboat landings before stopping for lunch at a large Indian burial mound.
This is an easy paddle on slow, tannin-stained waters. There is plenty of water here so you won't have to pull over any shoals or shallows. There are a few tricky forks so you won't want to get too far away from the guide.
For more description, go to:  and click on "river trips" and then "Ocklawaha River"

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED for all trips! You can make a reservation any time before 5 PM the afternoon before the trip. HOWEVER, there's no guarantee that - a.) you will be able to contact us, b.) that there will still be spaces available, c.) we have not already left the store with the boats. The earlier you call, the more likely you are to secure a spot.
- All reservations must be secured with prepayment, using cash, check or credit card (by phone is OK). -
CANCELLATIONS: You can cancel up to 24 hours before the trip and get a full refund. After that, your payment is forfeited.
Wanna Go?
- If so, please Call us at Adventure Outpost (386) 454-0611 and we'll get your payment information and give you trip specifics.
- If you're not sure, write or call with any questions and we'll be glad to answer them.
- If not, do nothing. By not responding we'll know you want to pass on this trip. You won't hear from us again until your next trip notice.
Lars Andersen
Adventure Outpost  LLC
30 NW 1st Ave
High Springs, FL 32643
(386) 454-0611
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