Kayaking the Apalachicola River with my Four-Year-Old Son

WFSU producer Rob Diaz de Villegas heads down the Apalachicola River once again, this time with his best adventure buddy. This year’s RiverTrek also featured the very first River Ride, with cyclists hitting small river towns and forest roads.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Max wanted to do one thing above all else: climb Sand Mountain.  But, as I was gathering camping gear for our trip on the Apalachicola, I got an e-mail from RiverTrek coordinator Georgia Ackerman.  The water was high this year, and she wasn’t sure there would be a place to park our kayaks on the steep face of the giant sand spoil.  As a parent of a four-year-old, you learn the dangerous nature of expectations.  You have to be careful never to promise anything which isn’t 100% guaranteed to happen.  Four-year-olds don’t necessarily grasp “maybe.” Continue reading


Underwater Archeology | Excavating the Wacissa River

We dive into the Wacissa River with a team of scuba-diving archeologists.  What did they find?  And what do their findings mean within the larger picture of prehistoric Florida?  Read on.  Big thanks to David Ward and Robert Daniels of the Aucilla River Group for helping us arrange the shoot and transporting the crew to the site.  And thanks to Hot Tamale, whose music is featured in the video.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Some time ago, possibly about 12,000 years or so, a group of hunters stopped by the Wacissa River and made some tools.  They’re not likely to have self-identified as members of the Suwannee culture group, though that’s how archeologists classify them based on the way they crafted their spear points.  These paleolithic humans left a mess of bone and rock on what may or may not have been a riverbank at the time.  That refuse is of interest  to Morgan Smith, a PhD. student at Texas A & M University. Continue reading


Capital City to the Sea, SUN Trail quick hits

Cycling enthusiasts, you may want to catch WFSU’s Local Routes on October 29 (7:30 pm ET on WFSU-TV). We follow the inaugural Apalachicola River Riders through the Apalachicola National Forest, Tate’s Hell State Forest, and across the bridge and into Apalachicola to meet up with the 2015 RiverTrek paddlers. WFSU producer Rob Diaz de Villegas spent two days paddling this year’s ‘Trek, sharing a tandem kayak with his four-year-old son Max.  As always, if you miss the show, the video will be here on the Ecology Blog.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

In Tallahassee, construction continues on a bridge across Monroe Street that will connect the newly finished section of the FAMU Way Extension to Capital Cascades Park.  Soon, the FAMU Way Extension will connect to the St. Marks Trail.  These are small links in what will eventually become a completed Capital City to the Sea Trail (CC2ST).  That regional loop between Leon and Wakulla Counties will in turn become part of the state’s SUN (Shared Use Non-motorized) Trail system.  Construction is the visible part of a process that could take decades to complete.  At a meeting of the Florida Greenways and Trails Council two weeks ago, there were updates on the CC2ST and an attempt to clarify the process through which the SUN Trail would be completed. Continue reading


WFSU EcoAdventures Looking to Keep Music “All Local”

Musicians of north Florida and south Georgia, we want to increase your exposure over our airwaves.  Find out more below. Also, we preview some of the EcoAdventures that you can watch on season 1 of WFSU’s new Local Routes program.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
Moments after its hatchling was banded by researcher Jim Cox, this red cockaded woodpecker flew to its cavity to check on the seven-day-old.  This footage is part of our collaboration with Tall Timbers, currently in production, which will explore ecology, culture, and recreation in the Red Hills.  Between now and March 2016, we'll need some Red Hills music.

Moments after its hatchling was banded by researcher Jim Cox, this red cockaded woodpecker flew to its cavity with food for its young. This footage is part of our collaboration with Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, currently in production, which will explore ecology, culture, and recreation in the Red Hills. Between now and March 2016, we’ll need some Red Hills music.

Our EcoAdventures are making the move to WFSU-TV’s new show, Local Routes, and I have a goal regarding the soundtracks of these segments.   I’d like the music we hear to be entirely local.  Years ago, our station saved a good deal of money by getting rid of most of our stock music library. I’ve been using Creative Commons music.  There are some lovely creative people who make their music available free for noncommercial use.  But it’s a lot of work to sort through thousands of songs on CC sites to find music that fits the mood and tempo I’m after.  I’m really picky about what I want to hear when we’re coasting down a river or watching a red cockaded woodpecker bring a meal to its hatchling.  The new show is called Local Routes, sounds like roots, and lately I find myself wanting music with roots in our area.

Well, maybe not just lately. Continue reading


SUN Trail Legislation looks to Connect Florida’s Trails

The state of Florida is looking at existing trails, abandoned railways, and local, state, and federally owned lands with the goal of creating an ever expanding system of regional trails.  Under recent legislation, these will be combined into the newly-legislated, statewide SUN Trail system.  WFSU producer Rob Diaz de Villegas, who was appointed to the Florida Greenways and Trails Council in 2013, looks at what recent developments mean for local trail users.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

A couple of years ago, we had a cycling EcoAdventure to preview the Capital City to the Sea Trail, on which work is currently being done in Tallahassee.  Existing paved “multi-use” trails like the St. Marks Trail and Trout Pond Trail (in the Apalachicola National Forest) would be connected to each other and to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Wakulla Springs, and various other points in Wakulla and Leon Counties.  The thinking is that longer trails connect more communities, increasing economic opportunities and property values along their corridors.  Within the next decade or so, a Panacea resident should be able to bike to St. Marks or Tallahassee without slowing traffic on Highway 98 or Crawfordville Highway. Continue reading


Crown Conchs, Parenting, and Walks Along the Gulf Coast

We’re pleased to introduce our newest blogger, Jessie Mutz. A graduate student in the Florida State University Department of Biological Science, Jessie will be taking a closer look at some of the many fascinating plants and animals in our area. In the process, she’ll introduce us to FSU students and faculty conducting research across various ecosystems.  She starts in a place familiar to this blog when it comes to FSU research- our very own Forgotten Coast.
Jessie Mutz Graduate Student, FSU Department of Biological Science

With summertime officially and emphatically here in North Florida, many of us are coastward bound. Like long walks on the beach?  As it turns out, you’re not the only one.

Low tide on the Gulf Coast.  Photo by Scott Burgess.

Low tide at the FSU Coastal & Marine Lab, St. Teresa, FL. Photo by Scott Burgess.

Meet Dr. Scott Burgess, a marine evolutionary ecologist and one of the newest faculty in FSU’s Department of Biological Science. Although it’s only the start of his first full summer in Tallahassee, Scott has already been hitting the beach – a prime location for researching the reproductive strategies of intertidal invertebrates like the crown conch, Melongena corona. “This area has a lot of species with an unusual life history type, one that is typically less common in other areas,” he says. “So that’s a big interesting thing: Why are there lots of these weird ones here? Why have all of the species chosen this particular life history in this area of the world?” Continue reading


Archeology on the Wacissa: Solving Underwater Mysteries

The video for this EcoAdventure will air in September as part of a new WFSU program.  What segments will air alongside this and other EcoAdventures?  That wasn’t a rhetorical question.  Come in and have a meal, on us, here at the station.  We want this to feel like your show, and we’re listening to your suggestions.  Conversations start in two weeks.  Spots are limited; we want small groups so that we can hear what you have to say.  Visit the WFSU Listens page to sign up for one of five sessions.
Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

We were traveling down an undisclosed section of the Wacissa River.  Robert Daniels, the retired Florida Fish and Wildlife game warden who transported us in his jon boat, thought our hosts should have been less explicit in describing their location.  He preferred to say “the Aucilla River basin” on camera.  He was taking us to an archeological site being excavated under the clear water of the river, and he’s fiercely protective of the watershed’s sites.  There are dozens of them in the spring-fed Wacissa and black water Aucilla, many of which, along with other Florida sites, are challenging notions about early human settlement in North America.  Robert worries about looters, and it’s a legitimate concern.  He caught his fair share of them while working with FWC. Continue reading


Canoeing the Aucilla: A Red Hills River Steeped in History

Video: We travel down the Aucilla River, the eastern boundary of the Red Hills region, the dark water of which preserves some of the nation’s oldest archeological sites. It’s also a challenging kayak and canoe trail.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Until paddling the Aucilla River during the production of this video, I had never had to portage on a river.  For non-paddlers, portage is when you take your canoe or kayak out of the water to navigate around an obstacle.  And on that day, there were plenty of obstacles.  The Aucilla River Paddling Trail Guide recommends the river be paddled by those with intermediate to advanced skills.  Fallen trees and river bends, sometimes in a tricky proximity, had us pivoting at sharp angles.  This was less of a challenge for the three kayakers on our trip, but David Ward and I each ferried a photographer on heavier canoes.  If you’re looking for a Florida river on which to peacefully coast, this isn’t it.  This is a more adventurous river; and one with thousands of years of human usage. Continue reading


Father and Son Hiking and Camping at Torreya State Park

Thieving raccoons, high water on the Apalachicola, and learning to follow trail blazes make for a memorable camping trip for a WFSU producer and his son.
Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

One Sunday, I was planting seeds with my son Max when I decided that we needed to go camping that next weekend.  We were at the tail end of what I guess is Festival Season in Tallahassee, and it had been fun.  We saw a lot of cool things, got a little wet as nature tested the “rain or shine” claims on festival posters.  But it was an awful lot of spring weekends in town.  It was time to get out. Continue reading


Growing Mushrooms and Cleaning the Forest at Lake Seminole

Mushrooms are one of the few foods we eat that are neither plant or animal. We trek to Lake Seminole Farm, where two men took a chance and have started a mushroom growing operation. In looking at how mushrooms grow, we get an unexpected lesson in forest ecology.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
Lake Seminole Farm grows shiitake mushrooms (pictured in the banner image above) and pink oyster mushrooms.

Lake Seminole farm grows shiitake mushrooms (pictured in the banner image above) and pink oyster mushrooms.

Mushrooms are a food with a mystique about them.  They’re like oysters or sushi.  There are serious enthusiasts willing to spend good money on certain varieties; others are repulsed at the thought of them.  Think of the possible outcomes of trying a random mushroom found in the woods.  You discover amazing flavor.  You become sick.  You die.  You take an unexpected mystic voyage into the depths of your psyche.  This is not a food that is like the other food you eat, and so it makes sense that a mushroom farm doesn’t exactly look like most other farms.

Lake Seminole Farm grows shiitake and oyster mushrooms (I love the symmetry of the Apalachicola River- the body of water to its south has oysters, the body of water to its north has oyster mushrooms).  David Krause studied fungi at FSU and USF, part of a career path that led to his being Florida’s state toxicologist from 2008 through 2011.  In 2011, he took a chance and decided to put his land to work.  Living on Lake Seminole, his property has the dense tangle of hardwoods that you find on a floodplain.  Those oak and gum trees are perfect for growing shiitake mushrooms.  But the farm doesn’t exclusively use logs gathered on the property. Continue reading