Tag Archives: Ecotourism

Turtle seen on Slave Canal, Florida kayaking trip.

Paleo River Adventure on Slave Canal

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Video: Slave Canal EcoAdventure

Much like Slave Canal connects the Aucilla and Wacissa Rivers, this post serves as a bridge between our oyster reef and salt marsh videos (not that we’re done talking about Apalachicola by a long shot).  One of my favorite things on this blog is when we can make connections between rivers and the coast.  Of course, rivers provide much needed nutrients and fresh water to the estuarine ecosystems I just mentioned.  But to the many cultures that predate european settlement of our area, they served as the equivalent of Woodville or Crawfordville Highway.  It’s how they got to their Forgotten Coast seafood.
Old Growth Cypress Tree off of Slave Canal

An old growth Cypress tree fortunate not to have been logged. Judging from the size of its base, Joe Davis estimates that it could be as much as 1,000 years old.

Slave Canal is one of those places I started hearing about a lot when we started doing our EcoAdventure videos.  As soon as you get into the braided channels of the lower Wacissa, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the popular river expeditions in north Florida.  You’re paddling in a canopied river swamp where people have been paddling for several thousand years.  And minus some old growth cypress trees that have been logged in the last century or so, it looks much the same as it did when various native groups made use of the waterway to make seafood runs to the coast.  But it doesn’t look quite as it did when people first got there.

Evidence excavated at the Page/ Ladson and Ryan/ Harley sites points to people inhabiting what is now the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area for 12,000 years or longer.  At that time, Florida Fish and Wildlife’s Joe Davis told us, the ice ages were ending, sea level was lower, and the coast was further away.  Those first men and women walked on dry land where our canoes and kayaks passed over.  I can almost envision paleolithic man standing on one of the many ancient midden mounds as everything happens around him in time-lapse mode.  Rivers fill and flow to the Gulf, mastodons vanish, and different cultures come and go, piling shell and bone on to that same mound.  Pretty heavy stuff to think about on a fun Florida kayaking trip.

Slave Canal signSo how do you get there?  Here are links to a couple of maps. Florida Department of Environmental Protection put this PDF together with driving directions to two put in points along the Wacissa Paddling Trail. One is for the headwaters of the Wacissa, though Goose Pasture is closer by ten miles. It depends on how long you want to kayak or canoe. It’s about five miles from Goose Pasture to Nutall Rise on the Aucilla.  Goose Pasture is also a camp ground (first come first served, call 800-226-1066 in Florida or 386-362-1001 for more information).  Scroll down in the PDF for advice in finding the entrance to Slave Canal (hint- stay to the right). If you don’t find it amongst the braided channels of the lower Wacissa, you won’t find your take out at Nutall Rise.  You may also want a map you can take with you on the water.  The Rivers of AWE (Aucilla, Wacissa, and Econfina) Explorer’s Guide is available on the Wildlife Foundation of Florida’s web site.  It has detailed maps of the rivers with tips and suggestions, and is printed on water resistant paper.  It’s the map that Liz uses at the start of the piece.

Slave Canal is our third EcoAdventure on the Aucilla Wildlife Management Area.  We paddled the upper Wacissa and got some underwater footage of Big Blue Spring.  We also hiked the Florida National Scenic Trail along the Aucilla Sinks, where the Aucilla River goes intermittently underground, peeking out in “Karst windows.”  The WMA is a marvelous synthesis of history and prehistory, wildlife, and geology.  And, well, it’s full of these cool looking places.

Nigel Foster paddles Slave Canal

This is Nigel Foster, of Nigelkayaks. This link is to the trip gallery on his website.  As you can see, he’s been a few places.

Russell Farrow on Slave Canal

And this is Russell Farrow, Liz’s other guest. Russell is a co-owner of Sweetwater Kayaks in St. Petersburg, and you can see he’s been a few places as well. One of his passions is getting kids into the outdoors (and away from their screens).

Oyster shell on Slave Canal mound

I do one thing on this blog all year that takes place away from the coast, but I can’t escape oyster shells. For how many thousands of years have people eaten oysters on the Forgotten Coast? This shell was on Coon Bottom Mound, the largest mound on Slave Canal.

Turtle seen on Slave Canal, Florida kayaking trip.

I’m looking forward to the next EcoAdventure, whatever that might be.  If you have any suggestions, leave a comment.

Music in the video by Philippe Mangold.

Wakulla Green

Watch dimensions Wednesday, 7:30 PM/ ET to go on our latest EcoAdventure- up the St. Marks River (on WFSU-TV).
Click each flag to see a photo.
Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

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You may notice our EcoAdventures taking us further and further away from our usual dwellings In the Grass (salt marshes and seagrass beds) and On the Reef (oyster reefs). Our next couple of adventures take us up rivers, and away from the salt and the waves, and the little fiddler crabs. Yet these freshwater bodies are inextricably tied to marsh and reef ecosystems that sit in the Apalachee Bay, into where the St. Marks and Wacissa (via the Aucilla) empty. Continue reading

Stop and smell (or eat) the Sparkleberries

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

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Sawtooth palmetto lining a natural levy above the Sopchoppy River.

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150I was walking with my wife the other day and I asked her, “Did Tallahassee always have so much fall foliage?” She assured me it did.  I guess I remember seeing red and yellow leaves in past fall seasons, just not so widespread.  Ever since I went with Kent Wimmer to shoot a dimensions segment on the Florida National Scenic Trail, I can’t help but notice it everywhere.  You don’t get vast expanses of orange and red, like you do in New England.  Instead, we get these great red and gold highlights popping out of the green.  Why had I not been paying more attention to it before? I guess, just like with the salt marshes that had looked like “just a bunch of grass” to me, I don’t always notice a good thing until I get a camera on it.

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Shepherd Spring is a nice spot to sit and reflect.

The depth of my obliviousness went beyond foliage.  The trails we walked with Kent and the Student Conservation Association (SCA) volunteers were just off of roads I’ve been driving for years.  The woods that filled the distances between destinations contained the Cathedral of Palms, and Shepherd Spring.  Those are both in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  A little to the west in Wakulla County, it takes just a few moments to drive over the Sopchoppy River on 319.  But then, a couple of weeks ago, I spent a couple of hours walking alongside it, eating sparkleberries growing by the trail.   It made me think about what I might be driving by when I visit family in Miami or Tampa.  This state has a huge diversity of ecosystems, and I’m realizing that although I’ve lived here over thirty years, there is a lot of Florida that I know nothing about.

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Taking a stroll in the Cathedral of Palms. A slight variation in elevation makes this ground a little damper, giving palm trees an advantage over surrounding hardwood trees.

“It’s a lot different than a lot of the other trails in America.” Said Sean Ogle, Field Support Coordinator for the Florida Trail Association, “I’d say it’s the only place that has this many different types of ecosystems in such a small area.” The trail starts in the Everglades and passes through forests, palm stands like the Cathedral of Palms, and along lakes, rivers, sink holes, and salt marshes. The Florida Trail Association web site is a good resource for finding what trails are near you or to plan a trip.  The FTA and its chapters across the state (the Apalachee, Suwannee, Panhandle, and Choctowhatchee chapters fall within the WFSU TV & FM spheres) maintain the trail using mostly volunteer labor.  That includes the students that the SCA sends here from all over the country and locals like George Weaver, the Sopchoppy River trailmaster who guided us in the video.

I can’t wait to see what else I might have been missing out on. You can tune in to dimensions later this month (or check back here) to see my next EcoAdventure, probably in some place I’ve zipped past a million times…

Don’t know what to bring when you go hiking?  Check out this video with the FTA’s Kent Wimmer.
What would you like to see as an EcoAdventure?  Let us know what you’re doing out in the unpaved places of North Florida, we might want to tag along.


Are You Ready to Hike?

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Tune into WFSU-TV Sunday at 10:00 AM/ 9:00 CT for dimensions, as Kent Wimmer of the Florida Trail Association (featured in the video above) takes us to some of the most beautiful hiking trails in our area.

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If you’re going to go out into wild places, you have to prepare.

Not long after we started doing In the Grass, On the Reef, there was a three day stretch of oyster reef/ salt marsh shoots.  I didn’t feel like transporting my muddy shoes home every day, so I’d hose them off in our loading area and pick them up on the way back out to the coast.  On the third day, I forgot to pick up my shoes.  I wear Crocs on the drive to and from wet field shoots; they’re good footwear for wet feet.  In a mucky salt marsh, though, you’re lucky if you can find them after they get sucked off of your feet.  We cut through a lot of marshes to get to Randall’s study site, a sandier marsh island.  It was a longer walk than it had to be, with my having to stop so often, and I was fortunate not to encounter any shell fragments in the marsh sludge after I decided to walk barefoot.

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Thanks to Kent for spending the day with us and showing us some beautiful places.

Whether you’re working or enjoying yourself in the unpaved places of the world, you have to make sure you’re dressed right and that you have everything you might need.  The video above is specific to hiking on nature trails, but a lot of the gear Kent has with him is similar to what what I bring when I go to Alligator Harbor to tape David and his crew working on oyster reefs.  Light, loose fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible protects you from the sun’s UV rays and from mosquitos.  Hats and high SPF sunscreen offer additional protection.  And of course, bring plenty of water.

It’s all about the preproduction.  Before I leave the station, I need to not only have make sure that I have all the gear I need (microphones, batteries, recording media, etc.), but I have to know where I’m going, and what it might be like when I get there.  A day of hiking, camping or kayaking for fun is no different.  It’s good to check the weather before heading out- there’s no need to drive three hours to a thunderstorm.  And if you’re hiking, it’s good to know what the weather HAS BEEN in an area, as some of the trails flood.  Like any good producer, you want to get to know your topic before you head to the shoot.  The trail website has valuable information on how best to traverse the trails, as well as letting you know where all the cool spots are (you wouldn’t want to miss out on the Cathedral of Palms, would you?).

Man, what a lot of work goes into a relaxing nature encounter!  Honestly, it’s not that much work, in the grand scheme of things.  And it’s worth it:

 

For more information about preparing for a hike, visit the Florida Trail Association web site.

And here is a direct link to the web site for the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, for safety information on saltwater paddling.

As always, we welcome your comments.  Have you been hiking on the Florida National Scenic Trail?  Do you have any ideas for upcoming eco-adventures you’d like to see us cover?

The Path Less Paddled

Take a photo tour of the Forgotten Coast segment of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.  Watch a video on the trail on Wednesday, September 14 at 7:30 PM/ ET on WFSU-TV.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

IGOR chip- human appreciation 150IGOR chip- habitat 150IGOR chip- gastronomy 150It all happened in about five minutes. The gull swooped down and grabbed a soft-shell blue crab about half its size, abandoned it to a swarm of small fish, whose activity may or may not have attracted a shark coming in from Apalachicola Bay.  I was standing at Sugar Hill, a beach campsite in the St. George Island State Park, the last campsite along the Forgotten Coast segment of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.  You can see this video on tomorrow’s dimensions.

(watch a video on the making of a blue crab molting its shell)

Were a kayaker to try to make the five or six day paddle from Cape San Blas to St. George Island, they would likely see a few of these little dramas play out.  As Doug Alderson (Paddling Trails Coordinator for the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails)  says in the piece, it’s one of the wildest stretches of the statewide trail.  That means it has a lot of nice scenery of coastal habitats.  Much more interesting, though, is that they are functioning habitats.

Predatory snails on Sugar Hill Beach at St. George Island State Park

Large predatory snails congregating on a tree stump at Sugar Hill camp site.

For instance, Doug loves to catch redfish when he camps on St. George; and they’re always there for him.  But why are these fish so abundant in Apalachicola Bay?  The answer is in those tasty oysters that put the name Apalachicola on the map.  Oyster reefs are a refuge for all kinds of animals like stone crabs, blue crabs, and various predatory snails and small fish.  It’s an all you can eat buffet for larger fish looking for those small fish and little mud crabs.  The action I described above happened by a seagrass bed not far offshore.  Those beds thrive in water that oysters filter clean, and so they provide another habitat for marine life in the bay.  I ate Apalachicola oysters for years without realizing just how much they give, and give, and give…

Rob and Debbie by kayak

Rob photographs small fish and crabs that Debbie scooped out of St. Joe Bay.

At the other end of the trail, In Saint Joseph Bay, we caught up with Dan and Debbie VanVleet of Happy Ours Kayak and Canoe Outpost.  When WFSU first started the In the Grass, On the Reef project, we rented our kayaks from Dan and Debbie.  Debbie’s been wanting to take us snorkeling for a while, to get some video of some of the critters living in seagrass beds in St. Joe Bay.  Kayaking over the shallow waters in the bay, you can see the turtlegrass from where you’re sitting, as well as rays, horseshoe crabs, and snails making their way about the sandy bottom.  To see the creatures living in the seagrass beds, you have to get out of the kayak.  This is where you have to be careful.

It is illegal to remove shells from St. Joseph BayWhen I say be careful, I’m not just talking about your safety, though you should shuffle your feet to alert stingrays that you’re coming, or if you kayak to St. Vincent Island, definitely stay out of the way of charging boars.  You also have to be careful with these habitats, and the marine life within them.  Dan and Debbie (and local law enforcement) are very big on people not taking seashells out of the bay.  Taking a bunch of whelks and crown conchs out of the bay means taking out critical predators, removing a top layer in the local food web.  And, as the sign implies, even a dead shell has a role to play (any hermit crab would agree).  It’s called the “leave no trace” approach, and there are tips on how to best accomplish this on the trail website.  There are also safety tips and maps.  If you’re attempting anything more than a day trip along this trail, it’s a pretty comprehensive resource.

Doug has put a lot of work into mapping the trail- it took three years- and assembling resources so that people could best enjoy it.  You can hear the love he has for paddling when he reads from his book, Wild Florida Waters.  You’ll hear a couple of passages in the show tomorrow.  Even hearing him read about paddling in a strong wind kind of gets me excited about going out again.  It reminds me of paddling to safety in St. Joe Bay after a sudden thunderstorm erupts, or paddling in December when the cold water numbed my hands.  It’s not as predicable a form of recreation as visiting a beach resort.  But it’s never boring.

Doug and Josh

Thanks to Doug (L) for talking to us, and Park Ranger Josh Hodson for driving us around St. George Island State Park.

Dan and Debbie from Happy Ours

Thanks to Debbie and Dan for taking us out.

Have fun out there.  And share your stories with us!  Click on the Ecotourism North Florida link above if you have an eco-adventure you’d like to see us cover.