This past Saturday, my son Max and I returned to Owl Creek to join a few dozen paddlers for a special event. The Apalachicola Riverkeeper welcomed the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition as they continue to make their way from the headwaters of the Everglades to Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola. While on the water, I could see that people liked the image of a father and son in a kayak. Other paddlers would occasionally say things like “That’s the right way to raise a kid.” Max and I made a little game of picking up trash along the creek, which garnered more positive comments. It feels nice to hear those things because, honestly, sometimes it feels like I’m just making things up as I go with this kid and his outdoor experiences. Continue reading →
Over the last two years, WFSU’s Rob Diaz de Villegas has documented the RiverTrek kayak journeys down the Apalachicola River. While he didn’t participate in this year’s paddle, he was able to tag along for a small stretch. He took with him the biggest fan of the work he produced on those trips- his son Max. Camping and kayaking with a three-year-old has its challenges, but can be rewarding in many ways.
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
Pulling into the Hickory Landing campsite on Owl Creek, I’m happy to see so many familiar faces. It’s the final night of RiverTrek 2014, and the paddlers’ families have been invited to camp out and see their loved ones off as they make the final approach towards Apalachicola. Some of us are here as part of the extended RiverTrek family, such as fellow ’12 paddlers Jennifer Portman and Chris Robertson, who were nice enough to bring a tandem kayak that I could use to explore Owl Creek with my son Max. If my participation in RiverTrek has reached one person, gotten just one person interested in the Apalachicola River, or in paddle sports, it’s this kid. And I couldn’t be happier to have him get a taste of the RiverTrek experience. But first I have to wake him up. Continue reading →
Having just finished a video and blog post on Wakulla Springs, WFSU Ecology Producer Rob Diaz de Villegas heads down the Wakulla River with a novice EcoAdventurer. As kid's lives become ever more entwined with technology, many have lost a connection with the outdoors that had once been a staple of childhood. With that in mind, Rob brought his son Max, hoping to build a love of water in him.
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
“Is this the road to the Apalachicola River?” Max asks as we come to the flashing red lights where Highway 98 crosses our path.
“Well, actually, yes,” I tell him. “But today we’re going to the Wakulla River.”
To Max, all rivers are the Apalachicola. For five days in 2012, daddy left home and went kayaking to make some videos on that river. I had left home for conferences and out of town shoots before, but here was something that the then one-year-old Max could understand- daddy was going down a river in a kayak. At the end of that trip, as we rolled into Apalachicola the town, I could make out the shapes of a toddler and an adult walking down the floating dock by Veteran’s Park. It was a sight that ranked up there with Alum Bluff, the Dead Lakes, and Sand Mountain in my mind’s Mount Rushmore of RiverTrek 2012 (an annual fundraiser for the Apalachicola Riverkeeper). I knew then that when he was old enough, I would make the trip with him. We’re not tackling the 106 mile Apalachicola just yet, though. Today, we’re traversing a much more manageable six miles of the Wakulla. Continue reading →
Video: We explore Wewahitchka’s famous tupelo honey, from the ogeechee trees in the Dead Lakes, to the bees who make it, to the apiaries that bring it to us.
The Dead Lakes: October 2012.
I have been wanting to do a video on the Dead Lakes and Wewa Tupelo honey for a couple of years now. I caught the briefest glimpse of the Dead Lakes on the next to last day of RiverTrek 2012, as we were shuttled from our campsite in Wewahitchka back to Gaskin Park on the Apalachicola River. The water was low then, during the dry part of a dry year, and so the cypress knees and pine trunks were well exposed. Revisiting the same spot via kayak a couple of weeks ago, I passed over submerged and unseen knees. For this video, we needed to visit just as the rainy season was ending. I wanted to to see tupelo blooming and bees working. Matt Godwin from Off the Map Expeditions set me up to do just that. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
Update March 9, 2014 – We’d like to thank everyone who came out for one or more of our events on Saturday. It was a pleasure to meet all of you (photos will be posted soon). If you missed the premiere, Oyster Doctors will air on WFSU-TV on Wednesday March 19, 8 pm/ 7 ct. Look for it online shortly after.
(L to R) Graduate student Hanna Garland, WFSU videographer Dan Peeri, oysterman Shawn Hartsfield, and WFSU producer Rob Diaz de Villegas look on as Stephanie Buehler dives in to survey oysters in Apalachicola Bay.
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
Almost four years ago, WFSU began the coastal adventure that is In the Grass, On the Reef. Now, we want you to join the adventure. And not through the magic of video- we want you physically there with us (but yeah, we’ll still make a video). Continue reading →
After having partaken in the last couple of RiverTrek paddles down the Apalachicola River, I have to commend Georgia Ackerman and Doug Alderson for the work they put in to planning the trips. A dozen paddlers of multiple experience levels paddle 107 + miles (once you factor in side trips) over five days, camping along the way. Even a relative newbie like me can tag along and find myself alive in Apalachicola five days later. Continue reading →
Video: Mountain biking, kayaking, and nature watching at the Lafayette Heritage Trail Park in Tallahassee, Florida.
Rob Diaz de VillegasWFSU-TV
As you can see in the video, a sunrise is always worth getting up for. All the better if a sunrise that beautiful is a mere fifteen minutes from my house. Moments before the sun peaked over the tree line to gaze at its reflection in Piney Z. Lake, we heard a ruckus of birds as they flew overhead. We came to the Lafayette Heritage Trail Park for kayaking, mountain biking, and an airboat ride, but the reason you schedule a shoot at that time is for lighting and wildlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife biologist Michael Hill told us that they’re getting the park onto the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. My favorite critter of the day was the juvenile green heron you see at 0:32, but it was also fun to see anhinga, gators, and the occasional osprey. The park also has gallinules, wood ducks (you can see a couple of wood duck boxes in the video), and over three hundred wood stork nests (located on Lower Lake Lafayette). Continue reading →
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.
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. Continue reading →
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..
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.
I 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.