Recent rains and perfect weather made a trip to Ocheesee Pond near Grand Ridge, Fla., a must-do for the local kayaking clubs at the November campout at Florida Caverns in Marianna. Located on Arkansas Rd off of 69A and about a half hour’s drive from the caverns lies Ocheesee Pond, a local favorite of fisherman who call the old growth cypress swamp home. Our group wasn’t here for the fish though, but for the fall colors of the cypress.
The launch site is on an open section of the pond, and after a short half-mile paddle kayakers enter a cypress swamp that quickly becomes a maze. For this reason it is strongly recommended that when paddling on Ocheesee Pond, always go with someone that is familiar with the route. There is a marker system, but they can be sporadic and difficult to see. Even veterans can sometimes miss a marker and have to spend time backtracking to find the trail.
Spread amongst the cypress are aquatic glades of water lily and spatterdock that give the dark water a splash of color. A sharp eye may spot a basking turtle or an elusive alligator on the prowl. Osprey and woodpeckers are a common sight and on this trip we were treated to wood duck sightings.
The trail winds and weaves past seemingly impenetrable cypress stands, some forming walls on either side of the passage. Our group kept pushing forward through the flooded forest, always searching for the next hidden marker. About midway through the six mile trip the group veered off to have lunch at the only dry spot for miles, a small dirt landing in a pasture. As is the habit of most responsible paddlers, we cleaned up after ourselves and left no trace before heading back to our watery trail.
Paddling toward the sun, the gold and red of the cypress glowed making it much harder to see the orange and red markers. A faded white marker was virturally invisible behind the gray Spanish moss. At one deceptive turn our guide asked if any of us could point to the two visible markers that he could see. No one could and after he enlightened us we followed him into the trees past a full set of hidden markers. This would not be a good place to be lost in after dark.
Finally the swamp opened up as we neared the open water of the pond. It was sad to be leaving the beauty of the swamp but it was also a relief to have emerged from the maze. A brief paddle had us back across the pond to the put-in with 6.2 miles under our belts.
To get to Ocheesee Pond, head east from Marianna on Highway 90 and turn right on Highway 69. After crossing the railroad tracks in Grand Ridge take a left onto 69A and follow it to a dirt road on the left marked Arkansas. There should be a boat ramp sign marking the turn. Again, don’t attempt this pond alone if you haven’t done it previously.