Tag Archives: Rivertrek 2012


RiverTrek Day 1: Woodruff Dam to Alum Bluff

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

First day’s paddle is done!

It was an incredibly foggy day. It made for an interesting paddle when anyone that got ahead of you started to disappear.

We paddled twenty one miles, from the ramp, just near the Woodruff Dam (mile marker 105) to a sandbar across from Alum Bluff (mile marker 84), where we’ll be spending the night.  Yes, there are mile markers along the river, a remnant of the days when barges rode this watery highway to the Gulf.  The dam lies about 1000 feet downstream of the original confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, just north of the Florida/ Georgia border.  The confluence is now below the lake created by the dam, Lake Seminole.

I admit that I had only really seen this part of the river as I crossed over it on I-10 (that’s when I like to take my cell phone out and watch the time change). What did the motorists passing over us make of our brightly colored kayak flotilla?

The cage around this young torreya is meant to prevent deer from eating it. They grow slowly, leaving them vulnerable to plant consumers.

A couple of hours into our trip, we stopped at Means Creek in Torreya State Park.  The creek is named for biologist Bruce Means.  There, park biologist Mark Ludlow showed us a young torreya tree. He told us how less than 1000 of the trees exist, all along this river. One hundred million years ago, they were common in the southeast and across the adjacent landmasses that were part of Pangea. Torreya species exist in California and China.

So far the technology side of this seems to be working, if a little slowly.  Georgia’s been snapping away on her iPhone, while WFSU videographer Dan Peeri travels with the tablet in the Riverkeeper boat.  He also has a “real” camera and a wireless mic on Dan Tonsmeire.  I’ve been in a kayak with four little waterproof still/ video cameras positioned around me.  This is not at all what I thought TV would be like when I started over ten years ago.  It allows us to tell this story a little differently, and all the footage is HD so we can make a more traditional video when we get back.

Helen Light talked to us as we ate dinner. She works for the US Geological Survey, and she talked to us about the damage being done to the Apalachicola flood plain. Obviously, we’ve talked about the damage done to the bay by the drought. But between 1976 and 2004, They are 44% fewer Ogeechee Tupelo Trees. That affects tupelo honey production. The drought has choked off sloughs and kept the river from flooding to where fish can’t eat many of the invertebrates they had normally eaten. We’ll have more on her talk when we get back.

Join us tomorrow as we get up bright and early to hike up this bluff:


For more information on Rivertrek, visit the official page.  This page is on the Riverkeeper web site, and you can further explore what they do for the river.  (They’re also on Facebook).

The Franklin County Promise Coalition is coordinating aide efforts for families that are being affected in Franklin County through their Bay Aid program.   As Dan told us in his original interview, over half of the residents of Franklin County depend on the river for their livelihoods.  Learn more about volunteering and other Bay Aid opportunities here.

RiverTrek Day 1: Snakes

Georgia Ackerman RiverTrek 2012 co-Coordinator

Spotted two snakes on our 21 mile paddling trip today. Snake number one was a non-venomous brown water snake basking in a crevice of a limestone outcropping. Shortly after, admiring him, Rob saw a pigmy rattlesnake a pit viper,
swimming across the river. All snakes swim!

Rob reported on our spectacular morning fog. It lifted and clear skies prevailed. Spectacular North Florida weather!




RiverTrek Day 1: Means Creek

Georgia Ackerman RiverTrek 2012 co-Coordinator



Explored Means Creek, named after Dr. Bruce Means in Torreya State Park. Thank you Mark Ludlow, biologist. He led on us on a hike through the dense woods and showed us an endangered Torreya tree. This region has the highest concentration of this once common conifer. Less than 1000 trees remain in Florida.


107 Miles to Go*

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Over the last month-and-a-half, Dr. Randall Hughes and Dr. David Kimbro have been introducing us to the ecosystems of the North Florida coast, with a focus on what each ecosystem does for people. With some services, like carbon sequestration or oyster’s filtration of water, it can be difficult to grasp how individual people are affected. The recent fishery crisis in Apalachicola more concretely shows what’s at stake when an ecosystem service fails. Join us this week as we paddle the length of the Apalachicola River, the source of fresh water for the Bay and a major determiner of the success or failure of the fishery.

The Rivertrek gathering shown in the video happened, possibly by coincidence, on National Oyster Day.  Afterwards, Riverkeeper Chair Dan Tonsmiere took us on a boat tour of the Apalachicola River Delta and I interviewed him.  You don’t see any of that in the video, as recent events called for our updating the interview.  It was more convenient for him to come to our studio than to have us meet him in Apalachicola for that second interview.  He has understandably been busy lately.   “We’re in a non-stop crisis mode,” he said as I guided him downstairs to our studio.

Mostly, people rely on the river to support the nursery habitats in Apalachicola Bay, and its world famous oyster reefs.  That’s where a lot of the human pain of this drought is felt.  Along the 105 miles* of the river, however, there’s an incredible diversity of life.  I’ve never seen the bluffs of the northern river, the only place on earth where one can see a torreya tree.  In my reading for this trip, I’ve read about frogs as big as dinner plates and alligator snapping turtles; endangered salamanders and freshwater mussels.  One of this year’s paddlers, Doug Alderson, has done Rivertrek before and wrote about it in his book, “Wild Florida Waters.”  He describes a night filled with the sounds of howling coyotes and barred owl calls.  Because of our impact on this world, we kind of have to re-calibrate what the word “wild” means.  But on this trip, there should be plenty of “wild.”

So here is what we’re going to try.  We will post periodic photos and videos as we move down the river, as connectivity allows (fingers crossed).  Coverage maps show a dead zone towards the south of the river, in the Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area (which we covered in this video).  Fellow paddler Georgia Ackerman will chip in updates.  Every day will end with a wrap-up post.  That’s my goal.

I’m nervous and excited about this trip.  I can’t wait to go out and experience the river and to share that experience with you.

For more information on Rivertrek, visit the official page.  This page is on the Riverkeeper web site, and you can further explore what they do for the river.  (They’re also on Facebook).

The Franklin County Promise Coalition is coordinating aide efforts for families that are being affected in Franklin County through their Bay Aid program.   As Dan told us in his original interview, over half of the residents of Franklin County depend on the river for their livelihoods.  Learn more about volunteering and other Bay Aid opportunities here.

*I know a lot of you out there are pretty sharp and noticed the discrepancy between the number of miles in the title and how long I say the river is.  Some of our camp sites are up creeks and off of the river; 107 miles is the number calculated by expert map-man Rick Zelznak for the total number of miles we will paddle.
L to R: Georgia Ackerman, Eddie Lueken, Rick Zelznak, Chris Robertson, and Jennifer Portman.

Paddling for Oysters

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Apalachicola River water line

If you’re an oyster lover, this photo might concern you.  This was taken yesterday on a long paddle along the Apalachicola River.  Participants in this year’s Rivertrek fundraiser (click here for the website) were taking an eighteen mile warm up paddle in preparation for the five day adventure this October.  Then, we’ll be tackling the entirety of the River.   I snapped this photo about an hour after our lunch break, during the long part of our trip where I learned why stretching before paddling is so important.

For us, on this blog, it’s a matter of salinity.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average salinity of the ocean is 35 parts per thousand (ppt).  That’s 35 grams of salt dissolved in every thousand grams of water.  Oysters, like those in the famous Apalachicola Bay, can survive within a wide range of 5 ppt to 40 ppt.  Yet they thrive predominantly in fresher water.  Why is that?  It has to do with the organisms that affect the health of an oyster.  Oyster drills and stone crabs, both oyster consumers, cannot survive in less than 15 ppt salinity.  The oyster disease Dermo (Perkinsus marinus) thrives in 21-25 ppt.  That’s why successful reefs are typically found where a fresh water source meets the ocean, like where the Apalachicola River flows into Apalachicola Bay.  It’s also why that photo can be of concern: it marks the decrease in fresh water flowing along the Apalachicola and into the Bay (the line marks where water flow had been).  That decrease in flow has been a result of drought, but it serves as a reminder of the greater threat facing the River basin: the management of water north of the Woodruff Dam, and the amount let through to the river..

Houseboat on the Apalach

Houseboats and fishing/ hunting shacks were scattered along the river.  The sign on this one identified it as “The Redneck Yacht.”

This year will be the fourth year that the Rivertrek fundraiser will benefit the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, who fight to keep water flowing at levels that benefit the dependent industries in the Bay and one of the most biodiverse areas in the United States.  This year, In the Grass, On the Reef will be along to provide daily snapshots of the journey.  From October 10 to October 14, we’ll have images of the trip and stories of each day’s trek.  Yesterday’s tuneup allowed me to experiment with how I wanted to shoot from a kayak using our waterproof cameras.  The image looks best when I get closer; the trick is not hitting the subject of my shot, whether it’s a cypress tree or another kayaker.  I also saw how best I could arrange my gear so that I could get my work done while paddling comfortably.  And I also got to know some of my fellow Trekkers.

Georgia cuts her finger on a fishing hookI had already known Georgia Ackerman and Rick Zelznak, owners of the Wilderness Way.  I will disclose that The Wilderness Way has been a WFSU underwriter, and had provided kayaks to the In the Grass, On the Reef project early on (Riverkeeper has also underwritten WFSU).  They provided us our kayaks yesterday as well, and will provide some for the Rivertrek paddle (including mine).  Georgia, ever passionate about our water ways, picked up trash along the river and ended up taking a fish hook to her finger.  Luckily, we were paddling with an ER nurse.

Eddie Lueken will be one of our crucial support crew during the trek, driving back and forth to bring us supplies and food.  One night, she’ll be making us machaca, a tasty sounding Mexican beef dish (with an accompanying bean dish for the vegetarian paddlers).  An Emergency Room nurse with a knack for story telling, she had us in stitches (no pun intended) with some of her stories.

Paddling together in a tandem kayak were Jennifer Portman and Chris Robertson.  Jennifer is the other media member taking part in the Trek; she writes for the Tallahassee Democrat.  Chris will be one of the fundraisers- everyone on the trip except Jennifer and I have to get pledges.  He came with several detailed laminated maps of the river.  They were formidable in their tandem, often well ahead of us and scouting for the entrance to Owl Creek, where we ended our trip.  They, Eddie, Georgia, and Rick were great people to paddle with.  The River and its struggles are always a big story in our area, and I’m happy to document a part of that story.  The opportunity to get footage along all the different parts of the River is priceless.  The River basin has to be considered the ecological epicenter of this area.

L to R: Georgia Ackerman, Eddie Lueken, Rick Zelznak, Chris Robertson, and Jennifer Portman.

Halfway through yesterday’s paddle, we started smelling salt.  The River provides for the Bay, but the Bay gives a little to the River, too.  Many of the fish that make use of the oyster reefs and seagrass beds in Apalachicola Bay come up the river.  Rick even saw a blue crab swimming at one point, over twenty miles up the River.  Next week’s video explores the real value of the oyster reef, and how its influence can be felt beyond our coasts.  If you haven’t seen the first in our second series of videos, it sets up the commercial importance of the intertidal ecosystems such as those that found in and around Apalachicola Bay.  You can watch it here.

Below is a slideshow of our trip, from the River Styx to Owl Creek:

In the Grass, On the Reef is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.