Kayaking on Rainbow River in Dunnellon, FL

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Rainbow River Headspring

The NWFLOA team attended the 2017 Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous in Ocala, FL this past weekend, and one of our trip destinations was Rainbow River in Dunnellon, FL, about 45 minutes away via Hwy 40 and Hwy 41. Our trip started at the KP Hole County Park at where we waved goodbye to the majority of our paddling friends as they headed downstream on a leisurely 4 ½ mile float while we paddled upstream a mile and a half to see the headsprings, figuring we wanted to have the full experience after driving down from the panhandle.

Kayaking with Eagles

We shoved off from KP Hole with our new friends, Gus and Susan, who were doing a shuttle with us and we hadn’t paddled any distance at all when a stunning Bald eagle flew across the river and landed in the front yard of one of the many waterfront homes lining the river. I allowed my kayak to drift quietly closer to shore while I took several photographs of this seemingly unperturbed eagle before he finally took flight up into the trees. Next we saw Ibis, Anhinga and Cormorants. Talk about a welcoming committee!

We continued up toward the headsprings, passing several smaller springs and delighting in the clarity of the water. Vibrant green grasses swayed beneath the gentle current and scores of fish and turtles swam by oblivious to our presence. The water was deceptively deeper than it appeared; where it looked like one could reach down and touch the bottom, a depth test from the paddle proved that it was over a paddle length deep. We passed a couple of groups of scuba divers who were also enjoying the clear waters.

Underwater View of Kayaks

We made it to the headsprings and one member of our group dove in to have a look around while I paddled up to a trio of turtles basking on a log. We could hear nearby Juliette Falls but weren’t able to see it. A handful of swimmers were enjoying the roped off swim area above the headspring. It’s easy to understand why this location is so popular during the hot summer months.

After a few minutes of exploring and drifting, we headed back downstream to check out the rest of the river. A short distance past where we put in at KP Hole park, we were treated to the sight of a river otter catching and eating a fish. He also ignored us and I was able to get a few photographs of him before he headed back beneath the surface to find more to eat. Almost everywhere we looked there was wildlife. We saw two more otters slip from the bank into the water, but I wasn’t able to get a pic of them.

River Otter

Turtles, turtles everywhere. No alligators this trip, but I’m sure there must’ve been one tucked away on the riverbank somewhere. We took our time heading downstream and roughly 4 ½ hours after we started the confluence of Rainbow and Withlacoochee Rivers came into view. From there it was a short paddle to the takeout at the public boat launch on Hwy 41 where I declined to announce the presence of a Northern Water snake next to the kayaks until after our party exited for fear that one of them might paddle out to the Gulf rather than share space with a scaly friend.

Fish swimming in Rainbow River

This river was the highlight of the ones we paddled over the weekend and I highly recommend it. If you’re not able to run your own shuttle like we were, there are several nearby outfitters that will handle the shuttling for you.

KP Hole County Park is located at 9435 SW 190th Ave, Dunnelon, FL.

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Announcing the 2018 Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous Dates

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Bear Lake

The 2017 Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous just wrapped up in Ocala, FL, and with that came the announcement that the rendezvous for 2018 will be held October 26-28 at Bear Lake Recreational Area north of Milton, FL in the panhandle. The 2018 Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous is being sponsored by the West Florida Canoe and Kayak Club and Floridakayak.org.

Planning is still in the early stages, but the rivers and creeks that are tentatively scheduled include Coldwater Creek, Blackwater River, Big Juniper Creek, Turkey Creek, Boiling Creek and Yellow River. More rivers may be added as the rendezvous approaches.

Red Clay Bluffs Along Juniper Creek

A number of paddlers at this year’s rendezvous asked me about camping options and trips. You will find most of the rivers mentioned here on the website, just plug them into the search tool option. As for camping, there are several options. Bear Lake is in Blackwater River State Forest, and the Forestry Service has opened up to Reserve America. Some people were worried about the number of campsites at Bear Lake. Good news, nearby is also Krul Lake, north and south Hurricane Lake campsites, Blackwater River State Park, and north and south Karick Lake campsites. Registration for campers should open toward the end of November or beginning of December. There should be plenty of sites available, and yes Virginia, there is water, electric and bath houses.

Breathtaking Turkey Creek

The 2018 Rendezvous looks to be a great event. Don’t let the distance deter you. We have a lot of great rivers here along the Emerald Coast, including several of my favorites like Boiling Creek and Turkey Creek. I’ve met a lot of you at the Rendezvous in Stuart, Ocala and Marianna and I hope you can make it up to our area. Stay tuned for more details.

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We Can’t Afford to Lose the Environmental Protection Agency

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Algae growth from elevated nitrate levels chokes out grasses in Econfina Creek

I have prepared a brief statement in response to FL Representative Matt Gaetz’s proposed bill to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency.

My name is Beverly Hill, and in addition to being an outdoor lover and kayaking enthusiast, I am also a Florida Master Naturalist and I strongly disagree with Representative Gaetz’s position to dismantle the EPA. I don’t share his optimism that Florida regulators would be able to protect our waterways, much less be able to force our neighbors to the north of us into complying with regulations to prevent contaminates from flowing downstream or being injected into the water table. I have a few examples to illustrate my point.

On July 26th, 2016, the Florida Environmental Regulatory Commission (an unpaid volunteer committee appointed by the Governor) voted to approve higher levels of toxins that can be discharged into Florida’s rivers, lakes, streams, and estuaries, including the cancer causing agent, Benzene, for which approved levels were doubled. Drew Bartlett, DEP’s deputy secretary for ecosystem restoration, said the new standards would protect the average Floridian at a cancer-risk level of one in a million. Others would have higher or lower protection depending on how much they weigh and how much fish and water they consume.

On August 27, 2016, Mosiac, a fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Fl, leaked over 215 million gallons of radioactive* water into the Florida Aquifer which supplies drinking water to millions of Floridians. The State of Florida failed to notify the public of the contamination for 19 days after the event. Mosaic is currently seeking new permits to expand their phosphate mining operation in Manatee County.

The Sabal Pipeline is a 3.2 billion dollar pipeline owned jointly by Spectra Energy, Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light, created to transport natural fracked gas to Florida Energy plants. This pipeline will tunnel under the Withlacoochee, Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers and cross dozens of watersheds that are vital to the health of Florida’s springs and aquifer.

And in Miami, Florida Power & Light is pushing to store radioactive waste in a lower water table beneath the Florida Aquifer in a layer named the Boulder Zone. Research has shown that contamination can filter back up into the main aquifer, as well as having the potential to pollute Biscanye Bay.

In closing, it would appear that a push to dismantle the EPA is not for the benefit of Americans or Florida’s residents, but for the sole purpose of furthering Corporate interests. I urge Representative Gaetz to be a Champion for Florida and withdraw his proposed bill.

Notes:

For those that are unfamiliar with Florida’s karst system, it is a porous layer of limestone through which groundwater filters down into the aquifer.

Phosphogypsum is a radioactive by-product of phosphate mining.

Gaetz said Reps. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) have agreed to co-sponsor a bill to the House Committee on Natural Resources to eliminate the agency.

Citations:

Miami News Times http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/fpl-wins-battle-to-store-radioactive-waste-under-miamis-drinking-water-aquifer-9059210

WFLA Channel 8 News http://wfla.com/2016/09/16/state-believes-radioactive-water-swallowed-by-sinkhole-has-been-contained/

Bradenton Herald http://www.bradenton.com/opinion/editorials/article128650939.html

Tallahassee Democrat http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2016/12/17/sabal-trail-pipeline-cuts-through-heart-springs-country/95470950/

http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2016/07/26/erc-signs-off-controversial-water-standards/87585308/

Tampa Bay Times http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/water/mosaic-reports-third-spill-at-one-of-its-plants-the-second-under-new/2298452

Pensacola News Journal http://www.pnj.com/story/news/politics/2017/02/02/obliterating-epa-would-create-chaos-experts-say/97399494/

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Exploring Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park

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Fog bank in Glacier Bay

Last September, after months of planning, I embarked on an adventure to Alaska to witness firsthand several remarkable things that I had never seen before; Humpback whales, Sea lions, Sea otters, Mountain goats and glaciers. It was the latter that motivated me most of all, for with all of the talk about climate change and global warming, I feared that glaciers might not be around for me to see if I waited much longer.

The NPS Serac rendezvousing with our ship

It was a cold, foggy morning on the day that our cruise ship entered Glacier Bay. We were met and boarded by park rangers from Glacier Bay National Park, who would remain with us throughout the course of our journey 65 miles up the bay to the terminus of the tidewater glaciers, where we would spend time at both John Hopkins and Margerie glaciers.

 

Snow-capped mountains in Glacier Bay National Park

As the fog lifted, the sun broke through the scattered clouds, almost as if pulling back a curtain, to reveal an astonishing view. Snow-capped mountains towered out of the cyan waters on both sides of the fjord, which was as deep as 1,410 feet in some places. The scars left by receding glaciers were evident on the rough granite landscape, but instead of a bleak and barren vista, grasses, bushes and trees managed a foothold across much of it. We sailed for several hours into the bay, watching the towering peaks, hanging valleys and waterfalls slip by. Cold, but refusing to leave the rail, I spotted several playful Sea otters and a Stellar sea lion.

 

 

Kayakers paddling past Lamplugh Glacier (click to see full size)

A large glacier, Lamplugh glacier slid into view on our port side. At 160′ tall, this towering glacier seemed to be woven from ribbons of white, blue, grey and black ice. Near the base of the glacier I noticed multiple small specks of color floating on the water’s surface, but it wasn’t until I zoomed in with my 250mm lens that I was able to see tiny, two-person kayaks paddling past the glacier’s face. I was instantly jealous that I wasn’t out there on the water with them.

John Hopkins Glacier

We sailed onward and finally John Hopkins glacier slipped into view, the immense scale of it filling the horizon as we pulled closer. Measuring over 20 stories tall, over 50% taller than Lamplugh glacier, John Hopkins stretched from wall to wall of the fjord. The ship slowly turned in place over the course of an hour allowing the passengers on both sides of the ship to see the glacier. I took shot after shot of the glacier, trying to capture the impossible. I zoomed in to the base of the glacier, focusing on dark spots floating on top of the ice flows and was pleasantly surprised to see scores of Harbor seals basking in the afternoon sun.

Harbor Seals basking on ice flows at John Hopkins Glacier (click to see full size)

After an hour we left John Hopkins glacier and sailed on to Margerie glacier. Spanning a mile across, Margerie glacier greeted us with a sharp “Crack!” as loud as thunder as an ice spire, or sérac, calved from the face and plunged into the frigid seawater below. Over the next hour we watched again and again as more ice calved into the fjord. Margerie glacier is one of the most active glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park, advancing seaward at 6′-8′ per day.

 

Margerie Glacier calving

The afternoon drew late and it was time to head back to the mouth of the bay. I still couldn’t pry myself away from the rail, and for my effort I was treated to a view of Sea otters, rocky islands filled with Sea lions, Mountain goats and several brilliant rainbows. Finally we neared the entrance to Glacier Bay and the National Park Service sent a vessel out to retrieve our park ranger tour guides. We waved goodbye and retreated into the warmth of the interior of the ship to savor our experiences.

Sea lions at the end of the rainbow (click to see full size)

For me, this was a trip of a lifetime, but more importantly I learned that climate change is real. The glaciers are receding. If we, as stewards of the planet, don’t do something to stop polluting our air, oceans and groundwater, we are going to be left with nothing. The health of our planet is more important than corporate greed. Our sights need to focus on renewable energy and environmental sustainability. One person can make a difference, especially when we become hundreds, thousands and millions of people working toward a common cause – saving our planet.

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Saving the Endangered Species Act

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Trio of Brown Pelicans
Photo ©Beverly Hill

I remember, as a young girl, riding in the car along Hwy 90 in Biloxi, Mississippi and looking out the window across the beach and watching a large, lone bird glide just inches above the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I asked my mom, “What kind of bird is that?” She replied, “That’s a Brown Pelican. Take a good look, because you might not see many more of those in your lifetime.” What followed next was a discussion about how the Brown Pelicans were dying off from the effects of a pesticide called DDT. The pelicans would eat fish contaminated with DDT, which in turn caused the shells of their eggs to become increasingly brittle, resulting in egg breakage during the incubation period.

Brown Pelican
Photo © Beverly Hill

By 1960 there were almost no Brown Pelican left along the Gulf Coast. In 1970 under a new law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Brown Pelican as endangered. In 1972 the The Environmental Proction Agency finally banned the use of DDT. From 1968 to 1980 the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries began a program to reintroduce the Brown Pelican, and finally in 2009 the Brown Pelican population had recovered successfully and was removed from the Endangerd and Threatened Species Act, although in California they are still at risk.

Stellar Sea Lions
Photo © Beverly Hill

On a recent trip to Alaska I encountered more examples of success stories. On a whale-watching trip in Sitka, not only did I get to see a Humpback Whale bubble-net fishing just yards from our boat, but while circling a buoy, we spotted a couple of Stellar Sea Lions. And although I’m finally starting to spot the occasional Bald Eagle here in the Florida panhandle, in Alaska I was able to spot our nation’s symbol, delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2007, almost everywhere I went.

Bald Eagle in Flight
Photo © Beverly Hill

Another species poised to make a comeback is the Gopher Tortoise. Although not out of the woods yet in Alabama, Mississippi and eastern Louisiana, great strides are being made with the eastern population of Gopher Tortoises. This keystone species, meaning that other animals depend on it to survive, requires large tracts of undevloped land such as Longleaf pine-flatwoods in order to survive. These same endangered Longleaf pines provide habitat for the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. As many as 360 species, including some endangered and threatened species, also utilize Gopher Tortoise burrows. Everything is connected.

Gopher Tortoise
Photo used with permission © Glenn Phillips

Right now there is a concerted effort by the House GOP to remove the Endangered Species Act and dismantle the Environmental Protection Act, undoing all of the progress that has been made over the last 44 years. The underlying political agenda behind this is to free up National and Federal lands for logging, mining and drilling for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of Big Corporations. Destroying endangered animals, plants and the ecosystems they inhabit on the whim of corporate greed cannot be allowed to happen. Saving nature and the environment should be among our top priorities and is a reflection of good stewardship and a statement of what we can achieve. Corporations and politics be damned! I’ll take an endangered species over a corrupt politician any day.

How can you help? Write or call your politicians. Donate to organizations that actively fight legislation like Earthjustice.org and Nature.org. Educate your friends and family about the importance of protecting endangered species. One voice can make a difference.

Citations:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Delisted Endangered Species

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