We're not getting older, we're getting smarter. For instance, many college
kids' idea of a good time is to go downtown, hit the bars and get
soaked to the gills in toxic liquids. "Seasoned" paddlers, on the other
hand, prefer going down rivers, stopping at occasional sand bars and
drenching ourselves in cool, refreshing water. Best of all, we rarely
wake up the next morning in the neighbors marigolds. And, as
experienced paddlers will attest, the finest bars in our area are those
along the upper Suwannee.
Happy Hour on the Suwannee will be this Sunday at 9 AM. On Tuesday, you'll have another chance to wet your whistle on Weeki Wachee River. Wanna go?
- Sunday, August 8: BAR HOPPING down the SUWANNEE
This trip will have us on the first leg of the Suwannee River Wilderness
Trail (SRWT), starting at Hwy 41 Bridge in White Springs and paddling
the first 8 miles of the Trail down to Blue Sink. This will be about a
4 hour paddle, including lunch and swim stops. Our meeting time will be
9 AM at the river, about 1 hour North of Gainesville.
The cost is $35 for "wanna go" members ($45 for all others). With your own boat it's $25 for members and $35 for others.
The sand bars that line much of this stretch are not only attractive; they
make excellent pit-stops for a quick jump in the river. The biggest are
"point bars," formed on
sharp bends in the river where sand is deposited by the water as it
slows going around the inside of the bend. Growing conditions for
plants are harsh on point bars. When plants do take hold, a predictable
succession forms, starting with tough, low herbs and grasses, followed
by shrubs and finally trees. Black willows commonly top the bar.
Behind the sand bars, there’s limestone. Few places in North Florida showcase
limestone more beautifully than the section we’ll paddle on this trip. Whether
it’s individual stone outcroppings along the lower river, or massive,
40-foot stone walls, there are few places along this stretch without
This cream to grey colored sedimentary rock was formed during times when the
world’s water levels were much higher than today and Florida lay at the
bottom of a shallow sea. Shells and cartilage of sea creatures settled
on the sea floor and accumulated in layers ranging from several feet to
nearly half a mile thick. Most of what we’ll see on this trip is
Suwannee limestone, formed on the floor of a sea that stood here nearly
35 million years ago.
Among the more interesting fossils found here are those of ancient dugongs,
ancestors of today’s manatees. In 1982, college students from UF found
the skull and partial skeleton of an extinct manatee on the riverbank
near White Springs. These creatures lived in the shallow sea that
covered this area 20 million years ago, during the Miocene era.
Paleontologists soon uncovered three more specimens. Of the four, one
belonged to a previously unknown genus, one was the first skull of its
genus and one was the best preserved specimen of its species ever
found. Two of the animals were from a subfamily of sea cows previously
unknown in the New World. Interestingly, all appear to have co-existed.
Imagine the manatee tours we would have had!
The plant communities along this part of the Suwannee reflect the higher,
drier terrain flanking this section of the river. The combination of
high, sandy banks and dark, tannin-stained water, makes aquatic
vegetation relatively scarce. This, in turn, means fewer fish species
and a less complex web of life.
But on shore there's no shortage of greenery. Lanky, coastal plain willows,
river birch, and Ogechee tupelos along with a number of sedges and
grass species cling to the higher, firmer sand banks. On top of the
bluffs, an unbroken forest of oaks and pines rule the high ground. It's
a fairly remote area and animals such as deer, bobcats, hogs, turkey
and an occasional bear come to the water’s edge for a drink although
sightings are relatively scarce. Also residing in this stretch of the
river is a fair number of beavers. You don't have to look hard to see
their sign, which includes some impressive, long slides which they use
to skid limbs, branches and other woody munchables down to the river.
Keep an eye out for otters, as well.
Birds are more scarce here than other sections. But, we do see above-average
numbers of Mississippi and swallow-tailed kites in the spring and
summer months. Eagles, osprey and vultures are commonly seen soaring.
When Bryant Sheffield started a plantation on the Suwannee in 1835, he
became owner of a fabled spring, known at the time as Suwannee Sulphur
Springs. Today, we know it as White Spring. While this mineral-rich
spring had long been considered sacred by the indigenous peoples,
Sheffield was more concerned with feeding his family than his soul
and promoted the health-giving spring as a Fountain of Youth.
enclose the meager spring. In its heyday, late in the 1800’s the town had 14
hotels, a cotton gin, several mills and stores. But, the waning health
spa fad, coupled with a devastating fire in 1911, brought an end to
White Springs’ growth.
Later in our trip, we’ll stop in at Woods Ferry River Camp, a feature of the
SRWT. If you ever camp here, you’ll be continuing a tradition that
dates back nearly 12,000 years. Archaeological evidence suggests that
people from all prehistoric cultural periods used this high bluff,
including the first Floridians, nomadic Paleo-Indian hunters, whose
diet included such exotic Suwannee fare as mammoths, mastodons, giant
ground sloth and early ancestors of camels and horses. While some may
have lived here for extended periods, this was primarily a hunter’s
camp. Today’s campers will find accommodations a bit more comfortable
than their earlier counterparts, with five screened camping
platforms, heated bathrooms, warm showers, potable water and picnic tables.
- After our trip, you might want to drive around White Springs and look
at some of the fine old homes. You should also consider visiting one of
the town’s newer buildings--the Nature and Heritage Tourism Center at
the intersection of SR 136 and US 41. There, in addition to self-guided
tour pamphlets, you’ll find shelves full of information about Florida’s
historic sites, parks and attractions.)
- Another interesting place to visit is the Stephen Foster Folk Culture
Center State Park. If you’re within earshot any day at 10:00 AM, noon,
2 or 4 PM, you’ll be treated to the bells of the Carillon Tower. This
park is also the site of the famous folk festival. Soon after acquiring
the land for the Folk Center in the 1950’s, the Florida Folk Festival
was established to showcase the State’s music, history and local
traditions. Call ahead for dates of park events such as arts and crafts
demonstrations and workshops. Without a doubt, the park’s most popular
event is the Florida Folk Festival, held every Memorial Day weekend.