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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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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Explore Florida’s St. George Island on Apalachicola Bay

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Sea Oats Photo © Beverly Hill

 

In late October I visited Dr. Julian G Bruce St George Island State Park (talk about a mouthful!) along the Forgotten Coast located in the lower panhandle of Florida. This important barrier island provides protection for the Apalachicola Bay Aquatic Preserve and the nearby Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) and UNESCO World Biospher Reserve. In a word, it’s pretty special.

Interestingly, St. George Island is an exercise in balance. Half of the island is developed, with homes, condominiums, shops and businesses on the western end, and the eastern half of the island is home to a state park with 9 miles of pristine sand beach and 12 miles of estuarine shoreline. As one would expect, during the summer months, St. George Island is a haven for endangered sea turtles coming ashore to lay eggs.

Great Egrets Photo © Beverly Hill

My early fall trip coincided with the seasonal butterfly migration; Monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, Long-tailed Skippers, and other colorful butterflies dotted the flowering landscape. I chose the one-mile long East Slough Overlook trail that wound through the pine scrub to a slough flanked by Smooth Cordgrass and Black Needlerush. From the boardwalk I was able to observe a Great Blue Heron and several Great Egrets stalking their prey in the shallows. To my delight I also spotted some Southeastern Five-lined Skinks that quickly raced for cover upon my approach.

Gulf Fritillary Photo © Beverly HIll

I took my time taking in the sights from the boardwalk and adjoining sand trail before eventually returning to the parking area near the trailhead. I drove further into the park, stopping to take in the sights along the coastal dunes, including a defunct section of boardwalk that had been damaged by Hurricane Dennis in 2005. The surf was a bit rough on this day, so I decided against a walk on the beach, instead turning my attention back into the heart of the park.

Old boardwalk on St. George Island Photo © Beverly Hill

Next, I took a drive through the campground to check out the amenities available for camping and noted 60 campsites complete with electricity and water, two bathhouses and a playground. There are current plans in the works to expand the campground with an additional camping loop with up to 30 additional spots, as well as expanding the number of primitive hike-in campsites. Among other amenities, there are two natural kayak launch areas on the bay side, three covered picnic pavilions and 6 covered beach shelters, and restroom/shower areas.

Long-tailed Skipper Photo © Beverly Hill

To get to St. George Island State Park, turn onto FL 300 S from Hwy 98 in Eastpoint and follow it 4 miles across the bay. Once on St. George Island, turn left onto Big Bend Scenic Byway Coastal Trail/Gulf Beach Dr and drive 4.3 miles to the state park entrance. Other nearby parks include St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Port St. Joe and Ochlockonee River State Park in Sopchoppy. Check the Florida State Park webpage for entrance fees and closures.

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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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