You say you like outdoor adventure? The two best days of a boat owner's life are the day he buys one and the day he sells it.
Old expressions usually have some truth. Lars Anderson runs Adventure Outpost. It's a top shelf operation I enjoy a lot. In fact, I'm going on the next two trips. One of the many nice things about Adventure Outpost is that they supply the kayaks! There's just enough time for you to go, too. Just give him a call and make a reservation before 5PM today and I'll see ya there. If nothing else, he writes so well you might want to subscribe to his mailing list and just enjoy reading the email. Here's the scoop:
Hello "wanna go" crew,
This weekend we're setting our course to the west, where we'll explore a couple of the more interesting waterways in the Nature Coast area. The first, on Saturday, 6/13, will be a paddle in the Port Inglis area (with a jaunt up Bennett's Creek). Every trip has its special attractions--on this one it's the roseate spoonbills, which we see on most trips. Then, on Sunday, 6/14, we'll be paddling the beautiful backwater creeks near the mouth of Suwannee River. This entire route will be within the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. In stark contrast to the wide open channel of this section of the Suwannee, the streams we'll be paddling are narrow, quiet and partially shaded. This is an often-overlooked area to paddle, which makes it one of my favorites.
Both of these areas are great for wildlife viewing and seeing Florida nature at its best. But they are both also good places to observe the combined effects of rising sea levels and declining freshwater flows from our springs.
The Changing Face of Paradise
Florida has often been referred to as a paradise, partly because its abundance of beautiful palms. In fact, palms are a key element of all the classical versions of paradise like Atlantis and the Garden of Eden. Likewise, most iconic scenes of Florida also include palms—holding the ends of a hammock on a sunny beach, being violently whipped by hurricane winds, or silhouetted against a pastel sky as a smoldering orange sun sets into the Gulf of Mexico. But, as anyone who’s paddled Florida’s Gulf coast lately can attest, there is trouble in paradise. Our cabbage palms are dying.
Palm die-offs are becoming all-too-familiar to Floridians. The first bout came in the 1970, when a disease called lethal yellowing devastated a huge percentage of South Florida’s coconut palms. However, much as we love coconut palms, they are exotic species and their loss is ecologically less significant than losing a native species—say, cabbage palms. Not only are cabbage palms native, they are an important element of the Florida landscape.
Historically, cabbage palms were used by natives for food, fiber for making twine and fabric, and for shelter. The classic Seminole chickee consisted of a cypress log frame covered by palm fronds. Paddlers in the everglades know these structures well. European settlers found plenty of uses for cabbage palms, too. Forts made of fibrous palm logs were uniquely able to absorb the impact of cannonballs. One palm-walled fort on Sullivan Island, South Carolina, was credited with saving Charleston from British attack during the American Revolution. To commemorate this event, the cabbage palm was designated South Carolina’s State tree in 1939. Florida followed suit by declaring the cabbage palm (also known as the sabal palm) to be our State Tree in 1952.
Commercial use of cabbage palms has been limited. One of the more ambitious enterprises was a brush manufacturing plant built in Cedar Key in 1910. This factory made rigid scrub brushes from the fibrous “wood” of palm trunks. It was a relatively short-lived industry, however, and the overall impact on the regions palms was minimal. Of more importance has been the widespread harvesting of the trees central growth bud to make swamp cabbage. It was from this regional delicacy that the tree got it’s name. Another common name for this edible bud is “heart-of-palm,” which is not as anthropomorphic as it sounds. This “heart” bud is the vital life-force of the tree. Removing it kills the tree. Harvesting swamp cabbage has fallen into disfavor in recent decades and is illegal on public lands. You can still order heart-of-palm salad in some specialty restaurants—most of it obtained as a byproduct of land clearing operations.
Perhaps their greatest value is aesthetic. The graceful sway of their smooth, grey trunk and large, fan-leaves bunched attractively at the top, is like no other tree. It is their presence, more than any other tree, that gives Florida’s coastal rivers and some inland waterways, their uniquely Florida appearance. And yet, they are so common, we sometimes become complacent about them—a condition that is quickly remedied by reading people like John Muir. “I caught sight of the first palmetto in a grassy place, standing almost alone…this palm was indescribably impressive and told me grander things than I ever got from human priest…whether rocking and rustling in the wind or poised thoughtful and calm in the sunshine, it has a power of expression not excelled by any plant high or low that I have met my whole walk thus far.” (Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf. P. 92).
Carl Linnaeus, the “father” of the modern classification system of classifying species, was equally enchanted by palms, calling the “prince of trees. He felt that humans evolved in the land of palms and that we are essentially palmivorous.
With nearly 3,000 species worldwide, the huge Palmae family is well entrenched in every tropical and subtropical corner of the globe. They have a wide range of adaptations which include the largest fruit, largest inflorescence and longest leaves in the plant kingdom. With such adaptability, it’s a mystery why there aren’t more palm species in central and northern Florida.
One answer is their toughness. Cabbage palms can tolerate colder temperatures than other palms, growing as far north as South Carolina. They’re also drought tolerant. While they prefer the damper conditions of coastal hammocks, pine flatwoods, and river forests, they can ride out an extended droughts with little problem. Their tough, leathery leaves are not prone to desiccation under Florida’s blazing sun and are unfazed by salt spray from the ocean. They can even tolerate growing in slightly brackish water—but not salt water. And therein lays the problem.
In the 1990’s, when coastal residents in the Nature Coast and Big Bend areas reported unusual numbers of palms dying, scientists first looked to the usual suspects. Lethal yellowing, while still killing many palms (coconuts and many other exotic species) every year, is not known to attack any native Florida species. Other diseases of cabbage palms such as the palm weevil and bud rot were also ruled out.
As scientists worked on the problem, they made another, more troubling observation; hardwoods and other unrelated species were also dying. This implied the problem wasn’t a disease (which are usually specific to one species) but something environmental. Researchers, including George Agrios and Francis E. Putz of the University of South Florida's botany department and Ed Barnard of the Department of Forestry in Gainesville, eventually concluded that the culprit is something far more common than any disease—salt water.
For the past 16,000 years, as the earth has steadily warmed from the last Ice Age, water levels have been rising by about 0.6 millimeters per year. But, with additional atmospheric warming caused by the emissions of our modern, industrialized world, this rate has increased significantly. NASA scientists have determined the worlds sea levels are now rising about 3 millimeters per year.
In Florida, increased salinity of nearshore waters is being enhanced by a more local problem. With ever-increasing withdrawal of fresh water from the Floridan aquifer by wells throughout the state, less fresh water is reaching the coastal estuaries. Besides the fresh water that flows into these estuaries by way of surface runoff, the artesian (spring) water that previously entered from submarine springs is now diminished as well.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this pending natural disaster is the lack of public awareness. The areas most affected by this die-off are relatively remote. And, while many trees are dying in Tampa Bay and other populated areas, as well as some places along the Atlantic coast, the best places to see the full effect of this die-off are the quiet, uncivilized corners of the coast—the realm of the paddler.
So, as you paddle areas like Port Inglis, the Nature Coast and the Big Bend, be sure to take lots of pictures and spare no words when describing the environment in your journal. Hundreds of years from now, your words and images may be referenced by people describing a long lost paradise that, like Atlantis and Eden, was consumed by the sea. Sunbathers on Tallahassee Beach might gaze upon the wide expanse of the Gulf of Mexico and wonder if such a wonderful place could ever have existed at all.
Here are the details of this weekend's lineup:
- Saturday, June 13: BENNETTS CREEK
|Exposed limestone on this part of coast makes interesting habitat under water and attractive terrain above.
The meeting place for this trip is about 1 hour southwest of Gainesville, near Inglis (and Yankeetown). We'll be meeting there at 10:00 A.M. The cost is $39 for "wanna go" members ($50 for others). With your own boat it's $25 for members ($35 for non-members).
|Exploring one of the coastal isles
On this trip we'll be paddling for about 3 - 3.5 hours on open coastal waters among saw grass marshes and scattered small islands. Some of these are higher shell midden isles with very interesting plant life. We'll be stopping at a couple of small, higher islands where we'll stretch, snack and check out some of the island flora.
The mouth of Withlacoochee River and adjacent estuaries are excellent places to see loons, grebes (horned and pied-billed), mergansers (red-breasted and hooded) as well as the more common coastal species like white & brown
pelicans, cormorants, anhingas, several species of gulls, sandpipers and plovers, black skimmers and a variety of herons (including some egrets). Dolphins and (less-commonly) manatees, cruise these waters.
While we don't do actual fishing tours here, some of our paddlers have been known to drop a line, as seen I the photo below (from a tour last month). Reds, sea trout, mangrove snapper and catfish like the one Melinda caught are some of the most commonly caught species in the estuaries.
Poke along the beach of any small island in this swath of rugged, undeveloped coast area near the mouth of Withlacoochee River and you'll likely find traces of the earlier people--natives and later settlers alike--who have called this area home. One especially interesting site is that of the long-abandoned town of Port Inglis, which we'll explore on this tour (I was recently granted permission by the owners). The original community sprang up around a large sawmill that became an important lumber shipping port in the mid-1800's. The harvest of Withlacoochee forests was in full swing and Port Inglis was ideally situated to convert rafts of huge logs drifted down the river into ship loads of neatly cut lumber bound for distant ports. But the real heyday for the town came with another industry--phosphate mining.
|Into the jungle!
When deposits of valuable phospahte were discovered in Florida in the 1880's, speculators scrambled from across the nation to cash in on the boom. The lower Withlacoochee River Valley was found to have some of the largest deposits in the State and the tiny community of Dunnellon bloomed, practically overnight, into a full-blown boom town. Once again, the saw mill community at the river's mouth found itself perfectly situated to capitalize on a boom.
From the 1880's to 1920's, Port Inglis thrived off the phosphate industry. But boom towns are almost always ephemeral. They arrive on a high tide of exploitation and disappear just as fast when that industry vanishes on the outgoing tide. So it was with Port Inglis. After World War I, with European markets gone and the discovery of easily-mined pebble phosphate further south in Florida, shipments stopped coming down the Withlacoochee. Port Inglis was gone with the tide. Today, only scattered bricks and masonry and remnant traces of foundations remain of this once-bustling sea port.
This is usually relatively easy paddling. Winds are the main concern in this
kind of environment. So, if it's too windy, we won't go. The trip length of 3.5 - 4 hours can be tiring for some, so this one isn't recommended for anyone with strength or endurance issues.
- Sunday, June 14: LOWER SUWANNEE BACKWATERS
|A scenic back channel near mouth of Suwannee
The meeting place for this trip is on the Suwannee, about 1.5 hours W of Gainesville. We'll be meeting 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).
|Butterweed (Senecio glabellus)
This tour follows a network of beautiful back creeks and side channels along the lower Suwannee River. Our entire trip is within the bounds of the 53,000 acre Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Here, low tidal creeks and coastal swamps are home to a fantastic array of bird, reptile, amphibian and insect species.
While the main channel of this last leg of the Suwannee is relatively wide (averaging 600 - 800 feet across), the backwaters we follow on this trip rarely span more than 100 feet and are partially shaded near the edges by overhanging bald cypress, water elm, tupelo, ash, maple and oaks. The shrub layer is dominated by swamp dogwoods, Walter viburnum, buttonbush and climbing asters.
|Salt marshes flank some of lower Suwannee's tidal backwaters
This tour is one of the tours we do as part of our "Wild Florida Chronicles" series, in which we follow the routes of some famous explorations. On this segment of the series, we follow the Chapman/Brewster expedition of 1890. While this team of famous naturalists only spent a couple of weeks exploring this area, their combined knowledge, along with with detailed notes and journal entries, left us a great snap-shot of life along the lower Suwannee in the late 19th century.
Most of the species the Chapman/Brewster expedition described are still here, including great blue, tri-colored. little blue herons, great and snowy egrets, prothonotary and parula warblers, swallow-tailed kites (in the summer) osprey and many more.
|Wood stork on the hunt
The lower Suwannee is a bird-rich environment, with waders, shore birds, raptors and many others being well-represented. Bald eagles and osprey are common. In the summer, watch for Atlantic sturgeon, a migratory species that can get up to 200 pounds. From April through November, these huge, silvery fish are often seen (and heard) jumping high out of the water. Manatees are also a possibility, especially in summer, as are swallow-tailed kites. One of the more surprising species you'll encounter are bottle-nosed dolphins. They often hunt in these waters for both freshwater and brackish water species such as redfish, bass, bream, sea-trout, catfish and mullet.
The record of prehistoric human activity in the coastal lowlands near the mouth of Suwannee River is scant, compared to other parts of Florida. Numerous shell middens, located on barrier islands and on high ground along area waterways, stand as silent monuments to once-thriving communities that date back thousands of years to the Archaic period and continuing to up to the arrival of Europeans. However, during the first centuries of European exploration, conquest and settlement, this remote corner of the Gulf coast was largely bypassed.
Euro-American attempts at settling this area have always been small scale - rarely more than the optimistic efforts of homesteaders wanting simply to fish, hunt and raise healthy families. Needless to say, there is little documentation of these rare and fleeting endeavors. Those few settlements that involved more than just one or two families are known mostly from secondary sources and vague references and were very short lived.
It was this remoteness and the unknown nature of this area that inspired three well-known naturalists, William Brewster, Dr. Charles Slover Allen and Frank M. Chapman,to embark on an exploration of discovery and nature study in 1890. In March of that year, the three men set off from New Branford (today's Branford) aboard a little "house scow" (a small houseboat) named the "Coota." For the next two weeks, they slowly made their way down the river, exploring side channels, taking notes and observing the wildlife. In keeping with the long-standing tradition of nature study, they shot as many animals as they could - great for detailed study of plumage and anatomy, not so great for species populations (the idea of nature conservation, as we know it, was still generations away).
Towards the end of their 70 mile journey, as they approached the Gulf, they spent increasing amounts of time exploring the back waters and tidal creeks. Here, among beautiful swamps of cypress, bay, tupelo and pumpkin ash, they were dazzled by a manegerie of bird species. In total, they tallied 107 bird species, including some of the last ivory-billed woodpeckers recorded in Florida (one of which was shot). Also of interest were their sightings of Bachman's warblers - a species named by John Audubon (though he never saw one alive) in honor of the birds discoverer, John Bachman. These birds, too, are probably extinct.
** FOR ALL TRIPS **
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.
- 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.
Adventure Outpost LLC
30 NW 1st Ave
High Springs, FL 32643
* No trees were destroyed in the sending of this contaminant free message, though a significant number of electrons may have been inconvenienced.