The Small Wonders of Basin Bayou, Freeport Fla

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Kayaks on Basin Bayou

Kayaks on Basin Bayou

Basin Bayou is a nearly pristine, yet somewhat overlooked area nestled on the north shore of Choctawhatchee Bay and located a short drive west of Freeport, Florida on Highway 20. The northern side of Basin Bayou is surrounded and protected by Eglin, AFB, leaving only a few homes to dot the southern shoreline. A narrow and shallow tidally-influenced inlet allows ingress/egress to the bay to only the most shallow-draft boats. For this reason, I chose this location to paddle on Memorial Day weekend.

Water Lilies on Basin Bayou

Water Lilies in Bloom

On this adventure I brought along a fairly new paddler because I wanted to introduce her to a scenic natural area while remaining relatively safe from speeding motorboats on a crowded holiday weekend. While a creek or river might also have sufficed, I wanted her to gain confidence in her paddling technique before dealing with obstacles like logs or dodging powerboats. Basin Bayou is perfect for this.

We started early since the forecast for the day was slated to get into the low 90s before the afternoon. We parked at the small lot adjacent to Nick’s Seafood Restaurant and launched our kayaks from the beach area behind the restaurant before heading into the narrow pass that leads to the bayou. Almost immediately we spotted waterlilies in bloom on either side of the passage. As we entered the bayou and left the handful of homes behind, we hugged the eastern shoreline and observed moss-draped live oaks, magnolias and a very vocal Osprey guarding a nest in the top of a tall dead pine tree.

Osprey on Basin Bayou

Osprey and Nest on Basin Bayou

Paddling onward, we stayed close to the shoreline and commented on the aquatic grasses gently reaching up from beneath the calm water. It wasn’t long, though, before we observed something completely out of the ordinary disrupting the water’s surface. At first we thought it might be small methane bubbles erupting from beneath the silt and vegetation, but we quickly ruled it out. Nor was it a bait ball. Finally, unable to stand not knowing, I paddled my kayak into the mass of black bubbles and started laughing with glee. It was a large biomass of huge tadpoles!

Tadpoles

Tadpoles

We encountered about 6 more of these large biomasses over the next hour. I even managed to take video of the event and have forwarded it on to Florida Fish and Wildlife for further analysis. After finally taking our leave of the tadpoles, we had reached the end of the bayou, although in truth it is only a mile from the put-in. At the rear of the bayou a small creek, Basin Creek, flows into the bayou. This area is off-limits unless you have a recreation pass obtainable from Eglin’s Natural Resources Branch located in Niceville, FL. Fortunately, we both had one so we decided to enter and explore the tannin-colored creek.

Basin Creek

Basin Creek, Eglin AFB

By now, the temperature should’ve been in the upper 80s but we were lucky enough to have partially overcast skies and a light sprinkle of rain. Upon entering the creek, we were also treated to what I refer to as “cold pockets” where the water and air temperature drop by several degrees. I suspect this is due to unseen underwater springs, which are not uncommon for Florida. The current was slow and easy, and the scenery was splendid as we paddled about a mile and quarter upstream to an access bridge on one of Eglin’s many range roads.

Kayaking Across Basin Bayou

Kayaking Across Basin Bayou

After a short snack break we let the current take us slowly downstream. On this pass we even got to observe a small alligator crossing the creek. We found the experience to be peaceful and relaxing. So many of our natural areas have succumbed to rampant development that it is truly a delight to experience an unspoiled area; to hear the frogs calling from within large clumps of ferns or to catch sight of a red-shouldered hawk. After a short time, the creek delivered us back to the Bay which now had a light chop on it from the winds picking up. We tracked across easily and before long we were back at the take-out area and thoroughly happy with the day’s outcome.

Although Basin Bayou is fairly small in size, it still makes for a great paddling destination. We recommend it and will definitely be taking the kayaks out on it again soon.

    

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Chassahowitzka River Kayaking Part Two

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Mother Manatee and calf on the Chassahowitzka River

Mother Manatee and calf on the Chassahowitzka River

Our adventure continues, read Part One here, with a mother manatee and calf right in front of the boat launch and docks. The fact that these two made it into the No Wake zone is a miracle in itself. So far, from our experiences on the river, we’ve witnessed all sorts of motor boats speeding through the shallow waters of the Chassahowitzka River on their way to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge and Gulf of Mexico beyond, including one boat that flipped a group of kayakers off as they sped by. Rude!

Manatee on the Chassahowitzka River

Manatee on the Chassahowitzka River

We spent a few minutes floating quietly alongside the manatee (known locally as “Rachel” for a distinct circular scar on her head) and her unnamed calf while taking pictures with my waterproof Olympus Tough TG-860. I’ve used a lot of different brands of waterproof cameras and the Olympus is my current favorite. I was able to get quite a few pictures of mother and calf and was simply astounded by the number of scars across both of their backs. I am all in favor of No Wake zones and greater protection for these gentle aquatic giants.

Catch and Release Channel catfish on Salt Creek

Catch and Release Channel catfish on Salt Creek

We slowly headed back downriver to try to find Potter’s Creek and spring, taking lots of time along the way to wet a line. At every turn we spotted Osprey, Kites, Egrets and Herons as well as large schools of Mullet and Snapper. Later, I hooked into a fish and was happily taken on a sleigh ride by what turned out to be a Channel catfish along Salt Creek. Other boats along the way seemed to be having good fortune as well, catching Redfish, Tarpon and Sheepshead. Not surprising considering this is a tidally influenced river bordering an estuary.

Yellow-bellied turtle on Salt Creek

Yellow-bellied turtle on Salt Creek

I split off from my teammate and headed deeper into Salt Creek thinking it must be Potter Creek. Despite the error, I enjoyed spotting Yellow-bellied turtles, Little Blue herons and a Wood duck with chicks. I found a promising spot on the creek and tried my hand at fishing for a little bit before deciding to rejoin my companions.

By the time I met back up with my friends, we’d been on the water for about 5 hours and decided to start heading back to camp, stopping once again at Snapper Hole to get rid of a bit of squid I’d been using for bait.

Speeding boat on the Chassahowitzka River

Speeding boat on the Chassahowitzka River

Along the way we were passed by more speeding boats and I remarked that in terms of sharing the river, this was the rudest bunch of boaters I had ever encountered. Normally, most boaters reduce their speed when encountering kayakers so as not to swamp their boats. Not here, so all we could do was keep to the side of the river opposite the boat channel and keep an ear out for their motors.

We slowly made our way back to the boat launch and the No Wake zone and were rewarded with more quality time with the two manatees we met earlier. After a few minutes, I paddled back up to the Seven Sisters Spring and the solution holes and took some more pictures, including one from inside a solution hole with the help of a young volunteer. I don’t know that I’d be brave enough to swim through the underwater holes connecting the solution holes myself, but perhaps I’ll attempt it on my next trip.

Manatee Rachel

Manatee Rachel

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Kayaking Adventure on the Chassahowitzka River in Homosassa, FL

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Tree canopy on the Chassahowitzka River

Tree canopy at Crab Creek Spring on the Chassahowitzka River

I recently spent a few days camping near and exploring the Chassahowitzka River (pronounced Chaz-wits-kuh), or Chaz as the locals call it, along Florida’s Nature Coast in Homosassa Springs. As a destination, this is an area that certainly lives up to the name of Nature Coast. For this trip, I also selected a time frame where manatees would most likely be in residence before warmer weather encouraged them to head back out to sea.

My friends and I had campsites at Chassahowitzka River Campground on W. Miss Maggie Dr, which conveniently also has the only public boat ramp on the river and is just a short walk from the campground, particularly handy if you’ve invested in wheels for your kayaks. If you have to park a vehicle and launch at the boat ramp, there is a fee or $7 for vehicles with trailers or $5 for vehicle only. Although there is quite a bit of parking available at this location, the area can fill up quickly and become congested on a nice day.

Kayak launching area.

Kayak launching area.

Our group rolled our kayaks down to the sandy beach launching area next to the main boat launch. This is a busy area, so take care to look out for motor boats coming in and out of the ramp area as well as fishing lines being attended to by those fishing from the docks. The Chassahowitzka River Store also rents canoes and kayaks in case you don’t have your own boat.

Solution holes at Seven Sisters Spring on the Chassahowitza River.

Fish in solution holes at Seven Sisters Spring on the Chassahowitza River.

Once our kayaks were launched, we paddled upstream a few dozen yards and made our way into the Seven Sisters Spring to a feature known as the Solution Holes. This natural formation is created by springs eroding their way through the limestone karst over time. They’re breathtakingly beautiful when the sun illuminates them like a sapphire. This location is a favorite with locals and on this trip we even observed a young girl swimming underwater between two joined holes over a distance of about 12′.

House at Crab Creek Spring.

Kayak and house at Crab Creek Spring.

We continued upstream for a short distance taking in the view of the houses and another campground before turning around and heading back downstream. We passed our launch point and veered right to explore Crab Creek Spring. This spring has a strong volume of water pumping from it, but it also has a lot of sand debris and underwater vegetation that makes it hard to see down into the spring. A large house sits on the bank nearby.

Spotted sunfish at Snapper Hole on Chassahowitzka River.

Spotted sunfish at Snapper Hole on Chassahowitzka River.

Venturing farther downstream and taking care not to get swamped by motorboat wakes, we came to a spring known as the Snapper Hole. This is a favorite of local fisherman, and we were not to be excluded. In our short stop here I managed to pull 3 Spotted sunfish out before unhooking and releasing them back to fight another day. My teammate caught and released two small bass.

Next we tackled the entrance to Baird Creek and paddled up to Blue Spring before pushing onward to The Crack. To find The Crack you have to get out of your kayak at the entrance to a small spring run and wade about 100′ to this unique spring fissure. In the fissure you can see fish and the limestone walls of the spring. On this trip a couple of campers had set up a tent on the banks of the spring, but that didn’t deter the newcomers from taking a dip in the spring.

The Crack on Baird Creek

The Crack on Baird Creek

After visiting The Crack we decided to paddle back to the campground for lunch and do some more fishing from the docks. Read part two for the conclusion of our Chassahowitzka River adventure.

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Local Area Tubing Rescue Ends Successfully

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High Bluffs Along the Blackwater River

High Bluffs Along the Blackwater River

Inadequate planning is believed to be the cause behind a recent float trip that became a search and rescue mission on the Blackwater River in the Florida panhandle this past week. In a joint effort by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forestry Service, the Coast Guard, EMS, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and Okaloosa County Beach Safety, eight people had to be rescued after being missing for 25 hours on the river.

Details are scant on the identities of the people rescued, but it was revealed that the group had not properly planned for their trip nor filed float plans with anyone before venturing out. The total length of the river is 56.6, but only 31 miles of it is listed as navigable. The upper portion can have numerous snags at times while the lower portion is completely unnavigable past Deaton Bridge in Blackwater River State Park.

McMurdo FastFind200 Personal Locator Beacon

McMurdo FastFind200 Personal Locator Beacon

Fortunately this case had a successful conclusion, but not all search and rescue missions are as lucky. There are far too many stories of float trips ending in tragedy because people didn’t take the proper precautions. There are numerous variables involved in planning a float trip from the route itself, safety equipment, weather and remembering to file a float plan with friends or family. One must remember though, that even with the best planning, unforseen events can still happen and its best to have a way to get help.

The Florida DEP Greenways and Trails has a growing list of maps and details of many of the paddling trails in Florida available for free on their website. Another good source of information is from local paddling clubs and outfitters that may be more up-to-date on current river and creek details. Finally, many river levels can be found at the USGS Current Water Data website. While helpful, these sources do not cover all waterways in Florida and it is up to the individual to do their due diligence and research their intended destination.

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The New Sights and Sounds Along Turkey Creek, Niceville Fla

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Breathtaking Turkey Creek

Breathtaking Turkey Creek

It’s been over a year since the severe rain event and flash flood of April 29, 2014 collapsed the culverts that once supported the historic Eglin Railroad that at one time crossed Turkey Creek. The collapse created potential dangers to paddlers and the creek had to be closed while repairs to the section were completed. There were several setbacks and delays while Eglin AFB secured contracts for rerouting fiber optic cables that also crossed the location. Finally, the wait is over and the creek has been reopened for kayaking and canoeing.

Turkey Creek

Turkey Creek

For those that are unfamiliar with one of the best local paddling destinations, you can learn about all of the access requirements and put-in/take-out locations here. More recent updates continue below.

Turkey Creek is navigable once again from the Hippie Hole put-in on RR 233 all the way down to Boggy Bayou in Niceville. There are a few changes that paddlers will notice along the route. A year of unhindered plant growth has given the upper portion of the creek a wilder experience. The clear, sand-bottomed creek still twists and turns with abandon along it’s length. There are a few new log obstacles, but a clear path remains around them. As the summer progresses a few paddlers will do a bit of pruning and trimming to make things a bit easier in the most troublesome spots.

The Bridge at State Road 123

The Bridge at State Road 123

One of the new changes along the creek was heard well before it was seen and that is at the bridge along State Road 123 where major construction is underway. Erosion control barriers were in place but posed no problems to us while traversing this section. One friendly construction worker even waved hello as our group passed.

Continuing on, we observed some maintenance clearing done near a main powerline crossing before the NWFLOA team finally arrived at the location of the former railroad crossing. The culverts have been completely removed and the surrounding area cleared. A new set of utility poles has been erected that carry lines high above the creek. Cut logs and old brush are piled high on both sides of the bank, seemingly creating an impenetrable embankment to prevent further erosion. Just past the logs lies the sandbar that always awaited paddlers after they exited the culverts.

Turkey Creek Before and After

Turkey Creek Before and After

Twice along our trip we encountered non-venomous water snakes hanging in the branches above the creek. The snakes were more worried about maintaining their grip among the branches than worrying about our passage. It is a rare occurrence that a snake will actually fall into a boat. There were also turtle sightings and even one Great heron on the prowl. Past animal sightings have included wild pig, deer, raccoon and even alligator. The alligators tend to keep to the swampy sections and are seldom seen in the main creek.

A few of the NWFLOA team members

A few of the NWFLOA team members

After about 4 hours of drift-paddling and stopping to cool off a couple of times, our group arrived at our chosen take-out on College Blvd at North Turkey Creek Extension. Taking out here during the busy summer months helps to avoid the crowds of swimmers at the board walk a few hundred feet downstream. Ultimately, it was a great trip and we will definitely be repeating it this summer.

    

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