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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Rice Creek to Jug Lake (Fisher Island) platform
Saturday, March 19, 2005

Bob, Paul, Rick and I met at Rice Creek Landing, north of Stockton, at 4:00 PM, for a leisurely paddle out to the Jug Lake platform for dinner and overnight camping. The afternoon was beautiful, with clear skies, 75 degrees, no wind and a fairly high water level. We took the direct route out to Briar Lake, took the cut-through to Tensaw River, turned left alongside Larry Island, cut over to Bayou Jessamine and took the right turn into Jug Lake.

At this time of day, we found very little current flow on the Tensaw or Jessamine, which suited us just fine. I had already done a workout paddle early that morning and the others were more interested in the ambience of the moment than when we arrived.

Along the way, we saw many Maples in full blood red color and beautiful new green growth bursting from the Cypress lining our way. The mullet were jumping and we heard what we thought were deer rustling through the woods. A new experience for me was to see the many flocks of Little Blue Herons and White Ibis heading to roost for the night. There were dozens who just kept coming, the Herons quietly, but the Ibis making noticeable wing noise.

We arrived at the platform by 6:00 PM, unloaded and started preparations for our evening feast. This wasn't typical freeze-dried trail food, as we had a huge fresh vegetable and lettuce salad, garlic french bread and a large pot of fresh shrimp boiled with sausage, sweet corn and fresh whole garlic. The bugs didn't have a chance with our breath, spread around while telling tall tales. Even with my appetite, we couldn't finish all of the shrimp.

The evening was perfect, with a half moon shining brightly in the still air. Close by, Bard Owls called to us all night, while we followed the sounds of coon hounds in the distance, chasing and treeing their prey.

Sometime after retiring to sleeping bags on the open deck, I awoke and jumped a foot in the air, to the sound of a large splash. Disoriented from sleep, I looked around to see if an alligator was nearby, and then saw Paul pop up out of the water and back onto the platform. He had taken an extra step, when approaching the rear side next to the cooking table, and found out the water level is about chest deep and the bottom is soft and muddy. Unfortunately, he grabbed the edge of the securely fastened table, which scraped some large hunks of flesh off of the fingers on his left hand. After climbing out of the cold water and getting dried off, we cleaned and applied antiseptic to the mangled mess of a hand.

Since Bob slept through all of the excitement, when morning came and while eating breakfast, we retold and enhanced the story at Paul's expense, while his hand throbbed in pain. Suggestions were made Paul was sleepwalking, taking a moonlight skinnydip or sleeping with the fishes.

We broke camp early, heading straight back to Rice Creek. The morning was again beautiful, the water in Jug Lake like glass. On our way out, the Herons and Ibis were flying overhead, back to their day feeding spots. The current on Bayou Jessamine was a little stronger and following on the way out, as we enjoyed the morning light slicing through the canopy.

As we arrived at the landing and were loading up, a Birmingham family drove up, who had reservations for Sunday night on the same platform. They asked for route information and day paddle opportunities. It is great to see use of the platforms are starting to gain some interest, which hopefully will continue to grow, as people become aware of, and familiar with, the public assets we have available for our use.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Maple Slough
March 6, 2005

This was a beginner friendly flash paddle. Larry McDuff announced the paddle before the weekend, so we had plenty of notice, resulting in a turnout of 21 boats and paddlers. The wind was light out of the south, plus the tide was flooding, giving us all a boost on the outbound leg of the journey.

The put in is known as Riverdocs, named after the business that occupied the location until recently. Since the state cleanup of the causeway, this location has a more open parking area and the put in appears wider. The weeds are gone from the east side of the ramp exposing a gravel beach. No 'gators were around at the launch, or they might have taken away the hogs heads left there by some previous visitors.

We headed north at 1:45 with 18 boats; two late arrivals were still getting ready, but Carl was there to get them pointed in the right direction. At the entrance to Conway Creek, a 60 foot line of mudhens eased away from us until someone got too close and they all started running for take-off speed. We took a right turn and followed Conway Creek northward at good speed with the tidal current pushing us along. In Conway Creek, the roar of the Bayway traffic fades away.

The land in the delta is just starting to green up, so the view is often unobstructed. A flight of herons headed towards us, close to the water, so we saw the V-shape of their wings until they broke right and climbed steeply to 30 feet above us.

We reached the turn into the creek that goes to Maple Slough. It is the smaller of two right turns and it was marked with a tall PVC pipe about two inches in diameter. The current followed us in to this creek, which has a few sharp turns at the beginning. The water level was high and rising so going aground was not a concern. The bank of the creek was not much higher than the water, so we could see across the open reaches of marsh towards the trees on our left. About 3 p.m. we reached the entrance of Maple Slough on our left. The waterway looked choked with floating weeds, but three of us went into the mess anyway. Paddling through was not too bad; the rafts of weeds moved, and the water around them was deep enough to allow a boat to pass.

The slough is a delightful waterway. It has lots of curves, but it stays wide enough for a 16 foot boat to navigate. The banks have many small holes in the mud. Later in the year, I would expect to see small birds nesting there. As we reached the trees, the gray sky made a contrast with the red seeds and buds of the maples. Cardinals chirped and added their red color to the red color of the trees. The slough goes on and on, until it gets narrower, such that you have to decide: is it worth the struggle with rafts of plants on the left, shoaling mud on the right and nowhere to turn a boat around? I don't know how my companions got out of there, but I got stuck for a bit, until I backed out 90 feet, rammed the bow forward and to the left into the bank, and let the current swing the stern around, until I was pointing the direction I wanted to go. Carl caught up with me and after he satisfied his curiosity about the diminishing stream, we paddled against the current to leave. We saw the remains of a truck trailer in the woods on the right. The trees hide it from arriving paddlers. This trailer was placed there by Hurricane Frederick; Hurricane Ivan took it apart and left the pieces in the trees.

At the entrance to Maple Slough, Carl and I saw no one around. We took a look at Big Bateau Bay, which has a point of land blocking some of the view south. We went back into the creek and started paddling pretty fast against the current, to try to catch up. The two of us raced down Conway Creek; I don't think we even stopped to take a drink of water. We did not see any boats in the ditch to Chacaloochee Bay. We caught up to the group and slowed down. As we reached the mouth of Conway Creek, the first motor boat of the day overtook us. We saw an airboat and a few speed boats earlier, but they were far from us before we got into Conway Creek.

As we headed south to the take out, I saw one kayaker (Roland) in a yellow Cape Horn, and then five other boats coming from Chacaloochee Bay, on my right. All 21 boats were either at the take out or converging on it.

Congratulations to the beginners who made the trip! This was a three-hour ride up into one of the prettier spots in the delta. And we only saw one 'gator, a little one, in Conway Creek.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Rice Creek to Big Cypress to Jug Lake
March 5, 2005
by Gary Worob

Lots of people were out playing golf on such a beautiful day. Some were even playing a foursome. Four of us got together at the Stagecoach and had a great foursome.

We paddled on very placid waters from Rice Creek Landing, exploring new places for some of us and seeing lots of signs of spring. The cypress were just starting to open new leaves, as were the red maples. We saw a huge flock of pelicans, who were courteous enough to miss me with a fuselage of unwanted greetings. We saw lots of hawks and heard them screaming the sounds of spring, while scouting out the best hunting places. Best of all, we found marker number 5 on Bayou Jessamine, towards Jug Lake, and waded through calf-deep water to the giant Cypress, that truly was a grand sight.

The weather was in the mid to upper 70's, making for a perfect paddle from Rice Creek to Jug Lake and there was very little wind. What we did encounter, was a continuous change of currents and flow of water, to make it hard to predict whether we would be paddling upstream or down. Our trip leader, Tom Meyer, gave us lots of history, biology and botany lessons along the way and even a backwards entry into Jug Lake, from the platform, while in his kayak. My good friend Don, was visiting from Ohio, and had never paddled in the Delta. His comments were the same as mine, that it is truly a unique and wondrous adventure, but better done with someone who knows the way. We took about 5 hours to paddle the eight or so miles and had a very leisurely day, including shared lunch on the Jug Lake platform.

Don and I explored Blakeley State Park afterwards, and then went to dinner at Dave's Catfish House and had a great dinner. It was another perfect day in paradise!
Econfina Creek
Saturday, February 26, 2005

Linda and I left Spanish Fort Friday afternoon and drove east on I-10 into Florida to exit 85. We turned south on Hwy. 331, traveled 13.8 miles to Freeport and turned east on Hwy. 20. After passing through Bruce (Hwy. 81), Ebro (Hwy. 79) and past Crystal Lake (Hwy.77), we continued east on Hwy. 20 for several miles until we crossed Econfina Creek. As we continued up the next hill, the next crossroads was Blue Springs Rd to the right and Padgett Drive to the left. Another mile further, Blue Springs Rd also turns to the left (north), which we took and carefully made our way for 1.5 miles on the loose sandy surface. We came to two gates on the left, letting us into the Blue Springs campground.

This is a beautiful site capable of handling 25 campers. After a 2.5 hour drive, we arrived near dusk, and set up our tent. We found Gary, Tom, Tony, Fritz & Paula and others already set up with Bob, Carl, Charlene and Wendy and Billy to arrive later that night. We had a nice campfire, clear sky, and song with Tony's guitar accompaniment, to close out a beautiful evening.

In the morning, after a nice bike ride exploring the dirt roads in the area, we all left for our put-in on the southwest side of the bridge over Econfina Creek. We started out heading upstream against a moderate current, passing the pontoon landing on the north side of the bridge and Pitts Springs along the west bank. We continued upstream and took the next left turn into a beautiful spring tributary. The water immediately cleared up to a beautiful blue or aqua color with white sand bottom covered with bits of sparkly shell. There were dozens of large 6" tadpoles sitting on the bottom or swimming around, as well as numerous small fish. We found our way to the end of the spring, where we circled a small island like riding a carousel.

Upon exiting the spring, continued north for another 0.5 miles, and took the next left up into Williford Springs. We stopped here for lunch, while several adventurous paddlers donned fins and snorkles, to dive down to the cave entrance about 13' below the surface, where the crystal clear spring water was bubbling from.

Our trip back downstream was, of course, considerably quicker, so we continued past our put-in, to visit two more springs about 0.5 miles downstream below the bridge. One of the springs had a large PVC pipe pumping water directly out of the bubbling source, which we were told is the source for Coca Cola's Aquafina bottled water.

After taking out of Econfina, we drove back to the campground, where Linda and I put in for a short paddle around Blue Springs and out to the entrance to Econfina Creek. This is another beautiful springs area teaming with fish, water birds and plantlife.

Late in the afternoon, Gary, Tom, Billy and others set up a sweat lodge, which later would accomodate eight participants. We went out and collected more firewood, cut it up and stoked the fire to begin heating the flat, round river slicks Tom brought to heat up the sweat lodge. When all was ready, eight of us entered, while we had a designated rock provider on the outside, start to hand in the red-hot rocks on the end of spade. It did not take long, and we soon were all well heated up and drinking from our water bottles. All of a sudden, Tom broke the silence with a scream that shook the trees, echoed around the springs and made several people jump right off their towels. He continued with a spirited Indian chant that added to the eeriness of the experience.

After about 20 minutes, we all filed out of the lodge and proceeded to jump into the spring to complete the sweat lodge experience. We then joined the others around the campfire for a great feast and continued festivities into the night. Carl and Tom brought several beautiful drums, which were enthusiastically beat and pounded for hours, while others shook rattles and I took a long turn blowing on a 3' long wooden digeridoo, making sounds like a wild female water buffalo in heat. We had a great time, and while the crowd around the fire dwindled down to only a few, we finally all went off to our tents, leaving Tom snoring by the fire.

In the morning, we awoke to light rain, which appeared to be socked in for several hours. Linda and I decided to break camp and not try to wait it out. He headed out by 8:00 AM, on our way back to Spanish Fort. Along the way, we took a little detour to see the Seven Runs area, we had planned to paddle that day. Even in the rain, it was a beautiful, flooded Cypress forest, where we almost decided to put in and explore for awhile. But, clearer heads prevailed, so we continued back home after a very enjoyable weekend of paddling, camping and cameraderie.

by Gary Worob

When do one and one make more than two? When you combine the unlimited talents of Brint and Linda, into the dynamic duo of entertainment. Certainly the kumbaya king and queen of our camping trip on Econfina.

The neighborhood was rocking Saturday night in more ways than one. Tom got "hot rocks" going for the great sweat lodge, that he brought and we filled it full of sweaty bodies, song and chants to start the festivities off to a rolling boil. It was an easy dash to the springs to rinse off and be "renewed" for the great feast that followed.

Hard to believe that such great foods could appear in the middle of the woods and harder to believe that anything was left, it was so good. But what followed was an amazing rockfest, started by Carl and progressed to the "Rockette" version of the Lind-Y., courtesy of our own favorite belle de la nuite-Linda. She was creating some of the most innovative sounds and limericks I ever heard.

No sense in talking about the body count, cause no one even dared, but two were huddled by the campfire, for part of the night and more will try to figure out how they made it to their campsites or vans....I, for one, can't remember and I, for sure, never touched a drop. I swear to it!

As for the paddle, it was just as wonderful as any could be, with 16 of us exploring the beautiful springs and some of us donning snorkeling gear and diving to the cave in Williford Spring. Blue Springs Campground is part of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, and they do a wonderful job of keeping a great campsite, right on a series of beautiful pristine springs. We also discovered a series of sink holes in the woods and speculated about the creation of the area, and the changes that time was making in front of us.

The actual paddle was barely 4 miles, if that; but the visuals at Econfina Creek are always wonderful and the chance to dive into a beautiful and powerful spring is worth the drive. I always have to use a big rock to be able to go down to the entry of a 175' lateral underwater cave.

I had another unexpected venture, when Bob Andrews and I started out in little canoes, about an hour before sweat lodge time, through the Blue Springs and out into the Econfina Creek. I was unable to navigate the creek a couple years ago, due to excessive downed big trees. Bob asked if I wanted to try to go the 4-5 miles and have him pick me up. No hesitation and soon I had one of the best slalom paddling courses I ever experienced. It was just me and the many deer along the banks, ducks that took off when I got near, and I raced the course as if it were a real slalom race. It was great fun and I planned to have most everyone do it early in the morning before the next paddle at Seven Runs Creek, but the heavy rains came and we all packed up and went our ways.

We ran into George and Mackenzie on the way home and Bob and George paddled Seven Runs Creek into the great cypress forest. I went home after two weeks on the road having camped along and explored many rivers along the way in Florida. I swam with the manatees, dove with the cormorants, tickled an alligator and saw the amazing sights of some of the great rivers and springs in Florida, and was anxious to be back in Fairhope and rest up for the next great adventure.

The diversity in this club is apparent and the harmony is sublime.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Two Rivers Point/Mound Island land-based campsite
Feb. 26th and 27th, 2005
by Brian Westcott

My brother and I left Gadsden Saturday morning, Feb. 26th, around 8:00 AM. We parked at Rice Creek Landing and unloaded the truck around 12:30 PM. According to the Bartram Trail web site, the optimum water level was about 15'-18', while we found it was about 28 ft and hazardous, when we went. Afraid we would run out of daylight following the designated Route 1, we decided to paddle the route in reverse (from Rice Creek to Bayou Jessamine, to Bottle Creek, to Tensaw River, to the designated camp site. We had to paddle up Jessamine in a moderate current and then up Bottle Creek and the Tensaw River, upstream in a strong current which was tough and draining.

We were not too impressed with the camping area which looked like a big summer hangout with common beerfest debris. At the campsite, a fisherman in a jonboat, came by and warned us of a potentially dangerous 18 foot alligator on Bottle Creek, which is where we were going again in the AM. We woke up to RAIN!!! The river and creeks had raised another 2-4 inches!!!!! We packed up in the rain and shoved off. The landing area was not kayak friendly.

We decided to follow the same route we used on the previous day. Thinking the paddle down river/creek/bayou was an advantage, proved to be a bit risky and VERY tricky. You can imagine how the water can control these long boats- 14' & 16' long. So, we checked out the Indian Mounds on Mound Island, which was absolutely worth the entire messy day 2. It was really unreal!!!! Later, we read there are 18 mounds on that island, many of which we saw. We climbed to the top of the big one (45-50 ft tall). The place was really majestic.

We eventually started our strenuous paddle back up Bottle Creek, to get back to Bayou Jessamine. We were relieved to reach the mouth of Jessamine, and thought the rest of the trip would be fast and relaxing. NOT!!!!! About 200 hundred yards in, Chris, my brother, capsized near a stump in chest deep water. He ruined his professional grade $1500 digital camera, although his memory card still works. That incident was a miserable experience for both of us. It was very difficult for him getting back in his boat. Thank God, he bought a bilge pump recently. It was the only way to get the water out.

The rest of the trip was miserable, because we couldn't maneuver very well, due to the down stream current and all of the STRAINERS!!!!!!!! It was tough and stressful. We had to portage once around a Z-bend, with multiple strainers. Doing that was a real pain!!!! When we reached the Tensaw River, near Larry Island, I wanted to smile and think the rest of the way was going to be easy, but I was afraid to assume anything more, until we saw the truck.

We did make it back to the truck, but had to drive back to Gadsden, in pouring rain all the way. Day 2 was not the best time we have had, but neither of us regret the trip down there. The first day, camping with the barred owls, and the Indian Mounds, were certainly the pay off.

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