Tag Archives: Red Hills


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.


Native peoples living around the Aucilla would knap chert into tools and spear points. According to local historian David Ward, this site along the river had been used as long as 10,000 years ago.

We were out on the river with David, the president of the newly formed Aucilla/ Wacissa River Group and a local historian.  That group is in the process of joining the Waterkeeper Alliance as a Riverkeeper organization, like the Apalachicola Riverkeeper.  In his canoe was Anne Holt- author, Executive Director of Main Street Monticello, and one of the Tallahassee Democrat’s 25 Women You Need to Know.  David spoke to us of the people who have made use of the river over the millennia, from the paleolithic men and women who made tools at the chert outcropping where we stopped, to the Apalachee.  I had noticed that the Apalachee territory and the Red Hills plantations that succeeded them in the 1800s were both bound by the Aucilla on the east and Ochlockonee River on the west.  David and Anne touted the fertility of the red clay soil there; it made the well-fed Apalachee taller than other native Floridians and it attracted northern settlers after the Apalachee were driven out of the state.

David grew up in Jefferson County; the Aucilla was a childhood place to play.  Doug Alderson doesn’t have that same connection to the river; but if you’re going to go on any Florida river, there aren’t many better people to have along.  Doug’s an experienced paddler and guide, and as Assistant Chief of Florida DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails, he has a hand in exploring and designating state trails.  Twenty-seven miles of the upper river are designated as one such trail.  The trail has multiple put-in and take-out options (eight total), has access to public land for camping opportunities, and runs parallel to the Florida National Scenic Trail for a few miles before the river goes underground.  This is where multiple other recreational options become available, but I’ll get to those in a second.  For now I want to focus on the river.

David portages his canoe.

David portages his canoe.

The first full blockage occurred just after we passed the Cody Escarpment, a mass of red clay that sits atop our limestone aquifer in north Florida.  Our descent off of it was marked by small rapids, which as you see in the video shot us forward through them.  Contrast this with the Apalachicola, where the river stays more or less level as you move off of the Cody Scarp, but bluffs swell up around you and then taper off after the red clay Estiffanulga Bluff.  After the rapids, we came around a bend to see a downed tree blocking our path.  How would we get around it?  Floodplain forests can be dense, so the first order of business was to find an opening where we could wedge our watercraft.  The bank was muddy and slick, but once that first person was up on the bank, they could help pull the canoes and kayaks up.  There was no easy path to the other side, but there was a clearing where the tree had been.  Pushing through the tangle on the other side, there was a small dip in the bank where we lowered our boats and launched again.

The second tree that blocked our way was lower and had less branches, so Doug had us move our kayaks and canoes parallel and jump out onto it.  Then we pulled our boats over and hopped back in.

David had scouted the way for us a couple of weeks earlier.  At that point, we’d had regular rain for a few weeks.  According to the Suwannee River Water Management District’s gauge at the 27 bridge, the water was just over 52 feet above sea level when David first went.  It was below flood level (54), but slightly above the Paddling Guide’s recommendation (which is 52).  David said the flow was strong and that he barely had to paddle to move.  Since he scouted, the rain stopped and the water dropped to 49.29 on the gauge, a couple feet lower.  More snags were exposed, and it’s possible that some new trees had fallen.  Those first two blockages were fairly close together, and we had no way of knowing how many more lie ahead.  Once or twice, it seemed like we had arrived at another one, only to see an opening along the river bank.  Sometimes that meant a sharp pivot from the back of a canoe with a full grown man in the front who wasn’t paddling.  You see the result of one such turn early in the video.  I got a slightly better feel for the weight distribution of the canoe as the trip went on, and snags decreased.

Our trip took us from the US 27 bridge in Lamont (Access Point 2 on the Guide) to the Old Railroad Bridge Launch (Access Point 4), a trip of 11 miles.


Creating an Aucilla/ Wacissa Riverkeeper

David’s group is currently working on completing the application process to join the Waterkeeper Alliance.  Much like the Apalachicola Riverkeeper fights to for more water to flow from Georgia and Alabama, the Aucilla/ Wacissa group has a struggle that has pulled together community members.  From what David told me (over the phone this morning, as they organized the day after we shot), they’re focused on a 160 acre lot containing old-growth cypress trees.  A timber company is planning on logging this wetland forest, and, according to David, it’s threatening lawsuits to a local homeowner’s association that’s denying the company road access to the tract.

As David told me, it’s part of a problem the river has faced over the last fifteen years. “Timber companies, and they’re always out-of-state timber companies, have bought property and timbered in the river, and caused a lot of damage”

The group is hoping to convince the Suwannee River Water Management District to purchase the 160 acre lot.  Also of interest to the group is protecting the many archeological sites along the Aucilla and Wacissa rivers, and to further expose people to a relatively unknown north Florida river.

Robert Daniels,a retired Florida Fish and Wildlife officer who kayaked with us, is the vice president of the AWR Group and would be the Riverkeeper (it’s both the name of the organization and a specific role within it).

Continuing the Adventure in the Aucilla/ Wacissa Watershed


As the limestone aquifer beneath dissolves, it swallows the ground and exposes the submerged Aucilla River.

The Aucilla River Paddling Trail ends where the river goes underground.  The 89 mile river, which originates near Thomasville, Georgia, rises again to the south.  It ultimately meets with its main tributary, the Wacissa River, and flows into the Gulf of Mexico.  While you may not be able to paddle it straight through, like the Ochlockonee or Apalachicola; there is the potential for a different kind of combined paddling and hiking trip.  The river goes under right next to Goose Pasture Road.  Across that road, the Florida National Scenic Trail continues it’s path along the river, following it both underground and in the thirty or so appearances it makes before permanently reemerging.  As we covered in an early EcoAdventure, the Aucilla Sinks is one of the most scenic segments of the Florida Trail.  With planning and car coordination, you could hike the trail to where the Aucilla meets Slave Canal near US 98 and resume paddling to the coast.

Another option would be, if you left a car at the final access point of the upper Aucilla, to drive down to Goose Pasture, a campsite along the lower Wacissa.  From there, you could paddle down Slave Canal.  Slave Canal, which we paddled in 2013, is a canopied river that can be as challenging as the upper Aucilla. It can be difficult to find the entrance to the Canal; consult the Wacissa Paddling Guide for more information.

I’m not sure that many people try this kind of combo trip.  But when I see all of these compelling adventures so close together, I get to wondering.  These are remote waterways and trails, and they can all be challenging on their own.  Coordinating cars at multiple access points would take serious logistical planning; it would be easier if you got yourself a support team.  It could be plenty difficult to do, but it could be a spectacular journey as well.


WFSU Loves Local Music

Whenever a local musician is generous enough to share their music with us, it means a lot to me. The track that you hear as we make our way down the river was provided by Port Saint Joe musician Brian Bowen. He was even nice enough to give us versions of his songs with vocals and without, as instrumentals give us more flexibility with editing. I first met Brian in 2013 at Save the Bay Day, the rally that preceded the Bill Nelson/ Marco Rubio special senate session in Apalachicola. His song, Salt in the Blood, captured so well the problems faced by the men and women who work Apalachicola Bay, and was a perfect accompaniment for the video I produced about that day and the upcoming RiverTrek paddle. While the song we used in this video was not about the Aucilla, it’s a north Florida product performed by a very good group of musicians (I recognize a name or two in his liner notes who had performed on WFSU’s outloud program). The more local music in our pieces, and local musicians featured directly in WFSU programing, the better.  On that note, music folks, my e-mail is at the top of the page.


Volunteers’ Labor of Love: The Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve

Video: The dimpled trout lily isn’t a rare plant, but it is rare to see them as far south as Grady, County Georgia. There, volunteers from the Magnolia chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society set up a preserve for an unusually large concentration of the bright yellow winter flower. We visit the preserve and talk to members of the Magnolia chapter about the plants in our biodiverse region.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Tiny little flowers; big vistas seen from an airplane.  You’re not going to see our forests’  unique flowers from a plane or in a satellite image, not without serious advances in telescopy that would include the ability to see through tree cover.  But there is a lot to be learned about what makes these flowers thrive by taking a look at a larger picture.  In the video above, Wilson Baker presents a theory that attributes a concentration of dimpled trout lilies to the geology of the Red Hills region.  In the interview that followed that segment in tonight’s Dimensions broadcast, Amy Jenkins explains how she uses aerial photographs to better understand fire dependent habitats in the Apalachicola National Forest.  That includes flowers like the highly endangered Harper’s beauty and the diversity of carnivorous plants that call the forest home.

The Dimpled Trout Lily

Wilson Baker is considered one of our area's foremost naturalists.  Formerly a biologist with Tall Timbers Research Station, Wilson's curiosity led him into the woods around Wolf Creek.  There, he found acres of trout lily in a bright yellow carpet.

Wilson Baker is considered one of our area’s foremost naturalists. Formerly a biologist with Tall Timbers Research Station, Wilson’s curiosity led him into the woods around Wolf Creek. There, he found acres of trout lilies in a bright yellow carpet.

Ten years ago, Wilson went exploring what was then a private timber operation in Grady County, Georgia when he came upon a vast yellow carpet of dimpled trout lilies.  The flowers are common in the Appalachian Mountains, but not in the large concentrations he was seeing here at the extreme southern edge of their range.  This out of place “floral display,” as Wilson calls it, inspired the Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and the Georgia Botanical Society to raise money to buy the land for Grady County.  Since Grady County didn’t have funds to staff it, volunteers maintain the Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve and lead tours during peak flower seasons.

Wilson wondered why this spot was blessed with such an unusual biological gift.  The theory he offers in the video is that the red clay under the flowers keeps the ground moister than another kind of soil might.  That heaviness of the clay gives the Red Hills region a special relationship with water.  As we outlined in our recent EcoShakespeare post on Wakulla Springs, that part of Georgia is the streams region of the Wakulla Springshed.  The clay is so thick that most rain rolls off of it and into streams such as the eponymous Wolf Creek (which itself feeds the Ochlockonee River).  Only one inch of rain per year fills the Floridan Aquifer in this region, but that water is slowly filtered by clay and is considered exceptionally clean.  I hadn’t given much thought to what water was doing to the surface above the clay.  The trout lilies on the preserve lie on a long slope down to the creek, facing the east.  It might just be a rare combination of a specific exposure to sun and a certain amount of wetness has given us, for just a few short weeks every year, a splash of color in an otherwise grayish winter.

Rare Plants of the Apalachicola National Forest

Harperocallis flava, also known as Harper's beauty.  Like many of the most striking flowers in the Apalachicola National Forest, this endangered plant is dependent on fire.

Harperocallis flava, also known as Harper’s beauty. Like many of the most striking flowers in the Apalachicola National Forest, this endangered plant is dependent on fire.  Photo by Amy Miller Jenkins.

Like the trout lily, many of the unique flowers in the Apalachicola National Forest prefer moist areas, but with a twist.  Where trout lilies are located in hardwood forests where the ground is relatively wet, flowers such as Harper’s beauty live between wetter hardwood and dryer pine flat wood habitats.  That means Harperocallis and its carnivorous plant neighbors are on moist ground, but are also exposed to fire.  Evidence of fire- or lack thereof- is what Florida Natural Areas Inventory‘s Amy Jenkins is looking for in historic aerial photographs.

If you watched our SciGirls EcoAdventure at Tall Timbers last summer, you might be able to figure out what Amy is looking for when she compares historical and current aerial photos.  In that video, we made a triple split screen showing plots of land burned at one, two, and three year intervals.  Fire kills hardwoods and shrubs, so more frequently burned land (like the one-year plot) has more open space between fire resistant longleaf pine trees than infrequently burned land (like the three year burn plot).  When Amy compares the two sets of photos, she’s looking for shrubs.  If a modern pic has shrubs where they hadn’t been before, it may be that fire is being excluded where it shouldn’t.  With this knowledge, the US Forest Service can resume burning those locations and possibly create more habitat for endangered flowers like Harper’s beauty.

Look at the open areas within the yellow circled area...

Look at the open areas within the yellow circled area…

... Decades later, they are filled with woody shrubs.  This may be evidence that where fire once eliminated hardwoods, it has more recently been excluded.

… Decades later, they are filled with woody shrubs. This may be evidence that where fire once eliminated hardwoods, it has more recently been excluded.  Aerial photos provided by Amy Miller Jenkins.

It’s heartening to meet people who are passionate about preserving rare and unique ecosystems.  It’s hard to place a value on keeping these habitats intact – or as close to it as we can achieve.  Nature lovers will of course travel to see a plant that’s endemic within a limited area, and there’s economic value to that.  But we can value things for more than just their ability to fill wallets, and it’s comforting to know that people can work to keep from losing even just a small flower here or a hillside full of them there.

  • In setting up the studio interview, I’m learning now for the first time about the Florida Natural Areas Inventory.  They’re a nonprofit administered by Florida State University that inventories and monitors rare species, studies historic natural communities, and offers conservation planning assistance.  Their web site has some interesting tools, like an interactive map of conservation lands and an extensive list (with downloadable pdfs) of invasive species found in Florida.
  • In case you read this but didn’t watch the video, Amy will be speaking to the Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society Thursday, March 5 at 7 pm in room 1024 of the King Building on FSU’s campus.  This is a free event.  For a list of all Florida Native Plant Society events, click here.
In a couple of weeks, we go from Wolf Creek, a Georgia tributary of the Ochlockonee River, to Bald Point State Park at the mouth of the river on the Florida Gulf coast (yes, I have fun following how water moves).  We meet up with author Susan Cerulean to talk about her blog and her upcoming book, "Coming to Pass."

In a couple of weeks, we go from Wolf Creek, a Georgia tributary of the Ochlockonee River, to Bald Point State Park at the mouth of the river on the Florida Gulf coast (yes, I have fun following how water moves). We meet up with author Susan Cerulean to talk about her blog and upcoming book, “Coming to Pass.”


Exploring the Small Farms of Florida’s Red Hills Part 2

Over the past couple of months we’ve made a foray into local agriculture, an industry that’s of critical importance to the ecology of our area.   We’re now in the process of setting up some new adventures that get us back on the water- both salt and fresh.  And of course, our EcoShakespeare segments will begin airing January 28 on Dimensions (before streaming here).  We’re always looking for new ways to interact with the outdoors, and we always want to hear your suggestions for how we can accomplish this.  Don’t be shy about leaving comments!

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
Miccosukee Root Cellar strives to be a farm to table restaurant, buying from several local food growers.  Chef Owen Hardin uses Thomasville, GA pecans to make both the ice cream filling and crust of this pie.

Miccosukee Root Cellar is a farm to table restaurant, buying from several local food growers. Chef Owen Hardin uses Thomasville, GA pecans to make both the ice cream filling and crust of this pie.

“Eating local means eating seasonal,” Katie Harris told me in an unused clip from her interview.  That means that if you want to go full locavore, you’ll soon be saying goodbye to fresh tomatoes and yellow squash and hello to chard and broccoli.  Katie co-manages the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance with Louise Divine, who we interviewed in part one of this video.  Part of their public outreach is to provide recipes and seasonal calendars to consumers who may not be used to limiting themselves to food that grows within a few counties of their house.  The food that will grow in north Florida will vary with our seasons, and so eating locally means adjusting to what’s available.  Eating locally is one of those things that’s easy to get behind.  You’re supporting the local economy.  And you’re supporting the environment, aren’t you?  Let’s take a closer look.

The primary environmental argument often used in favor of eating locally are the “food miles” traveled by the food.  Tomatoes from a Red Hills farm may travel 20-30 miles to get to my house.  Tomatoes grown in Mexico, which you may see at your grocery store of choice, have traveled over 1,000 miles by truck or plane to get here.  A lot of gasoline is used to transport food around the world.  A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council on the emissions of California’s imported foods found that in 2005, 250,000 tons of global warming gasses were produced by incoming food products, as much as 40,000 cars.  And that’s just one state in one country.

But food miles are just one factor in the equation.  A post on the Harvard Extension Blog looked at data for total carbon used in food production and found that, overall, most emissions occur from the production of food rather than their transport to market.  This is especially true of meat products, which alone account for more greenhouse emissions than all cars and trucks on earth.  Cows, sheep, and goats belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and a lot of energy goes into producing the grain they eat.  That’s food miles and the fertilizer it takes to grow the grain.  Which gets us to how produce is grown.


Aaron Suko, co-manager at Full Earth Farm, lays ribbon hose along an unused row. Drip irrigation uses water more efficiently than center pivot irrigation, a technique used on many large farms.

In a 2008 article in the Guardian on the “Myth of Food Miles,” green beans grown in Nigeria are presented as a greener choice for UK shoppers than their own local product.  A professor they interview touts Nigerian growing methods, which don’t use tractors (all manual labor, no gas) or cow manure, and use low-impact irrigation.  The Harvard Extension blog post referenced a study that showed lamb grown in New Zealand is a greener choice for UK shoppers than their own local lamb, because New Zealand lambs are pastured (eating the grass that grows on the ground) and live on farms that use hydroelectric power (This blog post from Oregon Public Broadcasting, while ultimately agreeing that grass is a greener feed for cattle, does a good job of outlining the controversy over which feed is more environmentally friendly).

While sustainable practices are not a prerequisite for membership in the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance, The farms we’ve highlighted do practice organic techniques (the lone meat producer we featured in part 1 of this video, Golden Acres Ranch, isn’t organic but aims to be “all natural”).  In our Sharing Water Conference segment, we see how Katie (Full Earth Farm, Quincy) and Herman Holley (Turkey Hill Farm, Tallahassee) prepare compost intended to provide fertilization to their plants without contributing nitrate runoff to local waterways.  They both use tractors for certain tasks but, as you see in the video above, do a lot of work manually as well.  As Katie’s co-manager at Full Earth, Aaron Suko, says in the video, they can be efficient by planting at the right times, hoeing weeds when they’re small, and being organized.  “You just got to work smarter, and not harder.”  This, they tell me, is the key to small, sustainable farming.

There are advances and techniques that both conventional and organic farmers are exploring to increase efficiency and help preserve natural resources.  Here are a few that we’ve covered on WFSU-TV:

  • My fellow WFSU producer Mike Plummer recently visited the IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Marianna.  There, he learned about their research into reducing methane emissions from cows.  In another segment, he looks at their research into better selective breeding of cattle.
  • Mike also visited the IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, where they are working on a sod based rotation system that aims to improve irrigation by alternating plots of bahia grass with crops.  They claim that if the techniques were to be adopted, they could reduce water usage of farms along the Flint River to a degree that would greatly increase freshwater flows downstream on the Apalachicola.
  • P1070982-smallerThe IFAS Research Center in Quincy is also looking at satsuma oranges as a potential crop for north Florida.  They are cold hardier, meaning they would perform better here than other varieties grown in the state.  In fact, some Red Hills farms are already growing this Japanese variety.
  • Red Hills farms are experimenting with rotating different crops that would help build soil.  Wayne Hawthorne at Blue Ridge Farm has planted sodbuster radish in his outdoor beds.  This New Zealand import has roots that are supposed to break up hard soils (like the red clay that is prevalent in our area), add a natural fungicide to the soil, and then tap into minerals deep in the soils without tilling.  He sent some of his seeds to a friend working at an IFAS extension in Ruskin, Florida, where they’ll perform their own experiments.
  • Both Turkey Hill and Full Earth experiment with cover crops.  Full Earth’s Aaron explained to us the benefits.  Cover crops are planted in plots not currently in production.  Their roots keep the soil from eroding.  Sometimes they plant sunflowers, which attract pollinators.  They also plant legumes, which naturally add nitrogen to soil (lessening the need for added fertility).
  • Also in the aforementioned Sharing Water Conference video, we visited Simpson’s Nursery, which uses Monticello’s reclaimed water and recycles water on site to reduce aquifer withdrawals.  This is by no means a small local farm (every Red Hills Farm together might fit in its 1400 acres), and its water usage is considerable.

Red Hills Lakes | Kayak, Hike, & SUP Where Aquifer Recharges

The name Red Hills is perhaps underused by those of us who actually live here. That’s why the folks at Tall Timbers set out to reintroduce us to the area between the Ochlockonee and Aucilla Rivers, from Thomasville to Tallahassee to Monticello. In defining this eco-region and the benefits we receive from living here, I gained a new perspective on our longer running exploration of the Forgotten Coast and its own gifts and uniqueness. I’ve often written about miles of unspoiled coastline and how that benefits our seafood industry. But any large healthy tree has an equally large root system that we don’t see, and for our estuaries these are miles of unspoiled river banks, sloughs, springs, and lakes. In our last EcoAdventure we hiked along sloughs in the backlands of the Apalachicola River floodplain, little fingers reaching into the nutrient rich muck to send it on its way to the bay. In the video above, we visit the lakes of north Leon County, through which water enters the Floridan Aquifer. This is our water, the water I’m drinking as I write this. It’s the water that feeds our springs, such as those that in turn feed the Wacissa River. That water emerges from Wakulla Springs, which flows into the Wakulla River and down to Apalachee Bay.

Michael Hill took me for a spin on Lake Iamonia.

Michael Hill took me for a spin on Lake Iamonia.

This adventure was about more than just the lakes, which were great to kayak and SUP. These lakes are protected by forested land that filters storm water runoff and buffers them from pollution. That’s an ecosystem service the land provides. That’s a value that we receive, as consumers of the water. We also receive the benefit of having the land to visit as parkland or, for the hunters who own private forested lands north of Tallahassee, to hunt animals sheltered in the habitat.

There is often this tension between ecology and economy, a perception that land has more value if it can be sold as real estate or built upon with stores and offices. That’s why there has been a push in recent years to put a dollar amount on ecosystem services. In our collaboration with Randall Hughes and David Kimbro, we’ve cited a study that determined the value of a salt marsh. Tall Timbers has been promoting a similar study conducted at the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry an Natural Resources on the services provided by the Red Hills. For a detailed look at how Dr. Rebecca Moore determined the value of services, click here.

The total value of Red Hills ecosystem services determined by the study are $1.136 billion per year.  We focus on groundwater recharge ($229 million) and water supply protection ($615 million) in the video. Another service is pollination, at a value of $60 million. That means that the forested land around town supports pollinating species like bees and butterflies to the advantage of both farmers and us amateur gardeners. Aesthetic value is listed as $163 million.

The one thing that has surprised me the most since I started talking to Tall Timbers about this piece is that much of the forested land providing these services is privately owned. Tall Timbers estimates that there are 445,000 acres of forested land in the greater Red Hills Region. Over 300,000 acres are privately held on largely contiguous quail hunting properties. Many of these properties were purchased in the 1800s and early 1900s, sparing them from logging and preserving old growth coastal plain forest. These forests, and the bobwhite quail that live there, are what drew people here.

The Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy


Henry L. Beadle on Lake Iamonia, 1924. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

One of the people drawn to the Red Hills was Henry L. Beadle. His hunting plantation on Lake Iamonia is where, in 1958, Tall Timbers was established. It was his desire to have a place to conduct research on fire ecology and its effect on “quail, turkey and other wildlife, as well as on vegetation of value as cover and food for wildlife.” While hunters in the area had made use of fire to manage the longleaf/ wiregrass ecosystems on their property, it wasn’t until fairly recently that it became a mainstream practice (get two land managers together and see if they don’t start trading fire stories). Tall Timbers mission is to “foster exemplary land stewardship” while also “respecting the rights and recognizing the responsibilities of private property ownership.” They are advocates of “smart growth,” development with a broader view of economic feasibility. That means factoring in the value of ecosystem services when planning new development.

Lake Iamonia

It seemed like the appropriate place to begin the adventure. It’s Leon County’s largest natural lake, and it has an interesting hydrology. Michael Hill from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met us on the lake to talk about the work he and FWC have done to restore the lake. I met Michael for the first time last fall on Lake Lafayette. Like Lakes Iamonia, Jackson, and Miccosukee, Lake Lafayette has a sinkhole that connects to the Floridan Aquifer. All of these lakes had natural dry down cycles, where the lake would cyclically empty and refill. In the early twentieth century, people viewed this draining as an ecological catastrophe.  They set out to “save the lakes.” They built earthen dams to isolate the sinkholes from their lakes. This kept the lakes full, but disrupted much of their ecology. On Lake Lafayette, Michael showed us the effects of a lake not being able to go through its normal drought/ rain cycles. Muck builds up on the bottoms of these lakes, and floating islands of vegetation called tussocks form. This alters the habitat for fish and other species. And removing tussocks is an expensive process involving herbicides and heavy machinery.

Water overflows from the Ochlockonee River on February 27, 2013.

Water flows under the twin bridges on Meridian Road, from the Ochlockonee River into Lake Iamonia.  February 27, 2013.  Photo by Michael Hill, FWC.

Lake Iamonia’s dam failed, however, and the gates were removed. This allowed the lake to dry down again, and for FWC to come in and scrape the muck off of the bottom. “We’d seen that there were two to four feet of Muck,” Michael told a gathered group of Tall Timbers employees. “Muck is aquatic plants. It’s at advanced stages of decomposition.” When the lake dries down naturally, the sun dries the bottom. When it doesn’t, muck accumulates. Seeds start growing in it, and it starts to float on the surface of the water as islands. The fish that spawn on the lake bottom prefer a sandier surface, so muck inhibits them. During Iamonia’s last dry down, FWC removed 23 acres of muck. Last year, they removed 25 more. But just as the lake was full for 40 years, Michael thinks it might take another 40 or 50 more for the muck to completely disappear.

The other interesting feature of the lake is its relationship with the Ochlockonee River. While the river does not flow directly into Lake Iamonia, it does feed the lake by overflowing into it. Michael shared some photos of this flooding, which mainly passes under Meridian Road at the twin bridges that run alongside the lake. Iamonia dries down every seven years, and it is filled by rain and by the flooding Ochlockonee.

Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park

Forested wetlands in Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park

Forested wetlands in Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park.

After we left Michael, we went not to Leon County’s other major lake, but to land adjacent to it. It was a cooperative purchase between the City of Tallahassee and the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NFWMD). “Their interest was the activity centers; the ball fields and the soccer complex,” Said NFWMD’s Tyler Macmillan. “Our interest was a passive recreation area that protected Lake Jackson.” Hiking through when we did, during the rainy season, we saw a variety of water features at Klapp-Phipps Park. The were small creeks and swamps as well as places where stormwater runoff ran alongside or directly on the path. One number I found interesting in the Ecosystem services report was the value of urban/ suburban forested wetlands. Rural forested wetlands are valued around $4,600 an acre annually; those in urban/ suburban areas are valued at $8,200. The reason for the disparity is that urban wetlands are less common and, in a sense, work harder to abate pollution and filter runoff.

For Tallahasseeans who like to hit park trails, these are great. There are miles of trails in this network; it’s not hard to get lost. After years of walking greenways and trails in Tallahassee parks (we have quite a few), I’m surprised it took me so long to find this one.

Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park

After lugging me around Lake Iamonia in a tandem kayak, taking my son Max out on a paddleboard must have been a breeze.

After lugging me around Lake Iamonia in a tandem kayak, taking my son Max out on a paddleboard must have been a breeze for Georgia.

When I think of this park, I think of flowers. And pollen. Years ago when I produced WFSU’s music show, outloud, we brought local zheng player Haiqiong Deng to the gardens to record a few pieces. Spring had just sprung, and after every piece we stopped to wipe a layer of yellow dust off of her instrument and our gear. The combination of music and setting made it one of my favorite episodes of the show, which ran for almost ten years.

The park has much more than these gardens, with miles of trails and Lake Hall, which I managed to not fall into while learning to stand up paddleboard (I do come close, as you can see). It’s a place where you can take your kayak, canoe, SUP, or sailboat and not worry about motorboats. Lake Hall is considered to have some of the best water quality in Leon County. Park manager Elizabeth Weidner told us that in recent years they have installed collection ponds adjacent to the roadways around the park to collect stormwater runoff.

I had a great time exploring these places, and gaining a larger perspective on how water moves through a watershed and beneath us in the aquifer.  We’ll be further expanding upon this theme while we continue to look for great places to spend a day (or more).  I don’t like to jinx myself by saying what we’ll be shooting in the coming weeks, as the weather can be uncooperative (we got the video above on our third try).  Let’s just say we’ve planned a hike in a place with a reputation for being difficult and are heading back to the Apalachicola basin for a seasonal treat.

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