Friday, February 29, 2008
Official web page
... at Big Shoals, which was roiling from the 5 inches of recent rain.
The first 2 evenings, we had spectacular "home cooked" meals of pot roast and chicken pileau catered by local cooks Willonese Tillman-Adams and Ruby Shaw. The second evening, we were entertained by Les Hebeaux String Band (the hoboes) comprised of local musicians...
... and taught local square dances. What a wonderful evening!
A class in the process of gathering and distilling turpentine came next, followed by trips to the gift shop and museum.
Wednesday we enjoyed a performance by Florida folk song writer and singer Pete Gallagher, followed by an 8 mile paddle on the famous Suwannee River. Despite the temps in the 50s and the stiff wind with gusts over 35mph, it was a wonderful paddle, and included a picnic lunch at the park's gazebo.
In the evening, we were treated to another "home cooked" meal by Willonese and her sister Sonya (lasagna this time) followed by original music performed by park ranger Kelly Green and Pete Gallagher (below) and then more music from professional touring musicians Fred Gosbee and his wife Julia Lane (together known as Castlebay).
Thursday saw a ranger-led interpretive hike to Blue Hole Spring in Ichetucknee State Park, following which we paddled 4 miles down the magnificent Ichetucknee River. From the head springs, the river begins as a narrow 5 foot wide stream, and as you pass the other 7 springs, it broadens out, but the entire run is spectacular. We did it the end of February and had the river to ourselves, but we were warned that the summer months sees a horde of 2500 people daily in tubes and rafts floating the river.
Thursday night we were treated to a dinner at a local Baptist church -- BBQ chicken and the fixins', followed by a performance by local fiddler Lloyd Baldwin and then a history of White Springs by Barbara Beauchamp.
Friday we had a demonstration by Ranger Stan Christian on how to harvest "heart of palm" to make swamp cabbage, a local delicacy. Then we dispersed to attend various folk arts/crafts of the Suwannee Valley, and I watched Carl Dowell's flint knapping and then Roy Balthazard blacksmithing (below.)
Both were quite interesting and provided another view of life in this area over the last few centuries. The Elderhostel ended with a farewell luncheon called "Florida Cracker Fish Fry" featuring fried catfish, grilled grouper, baked beans, hush puppies, and grits -- and also some of Ranger Stan's swamp cabbage! What a wonderful ending to a truly memorable Elderhostel program. This is my 20th Elderhostel, and this group of people and the staff bonded like few other programs have. The group photo is below:
More photos available at my web gallery.
Chuck's other Active Outdoor Elderhostel programs (with photos)
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Then we ventured out onto the old (closed) forest roads, some of which still had water from the rains of the last 2 days. The section of forest to the right have been ravaged by the southern pine beetle, and timber operations to remove the infected trees has made the area extraordinarily unattractive, but the proceeds from the sales will be used to restore the areas.
Then we got onto the Palmetto Trail which is open to biking and which travels alongside the Suwannee River for 1.5 miles of twisty, turning up-and-down trail -- a great ride!
At Big Shoals Rapids, we had to turn around as no bikes are allowed on the hiking trail, and the bike trail is closed there due to logging, but returning on this fun segment was absolutely no problem. The rapids were really roiling from the recent rains as seen below.
Big Shoals website
Saturday, February 23, 2008
.. enjoying the abundant wildlife exemplified below by the large alligator, one of dozens we observed, as well as by the hundreds of birds along the banks and in the sky.
Next we paddled the Big Econlockhatchee River, a twisting, turning obstacle course with much deadfall in the water. A group in front of us experienced many capsized boats, but we fared far better with only one. This river ran behind our base lodge at Big Oaks Ranch which has been honored by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as a "Green Lodging" facility.
Inclement weather chased us off the local rivers on day 4, so we traveled to the coast to visit the Merritt Island National Wildlife Sanctuary near Titusville and were amazed at the number and variety of species in residence. Below is an Anhinga, and more photos are available on my web photo gallery.
A bonfire helped the ranch dispose of unwanted deadfall, and our leader Greg dutifully protected the surrounding area with hoses.
Our final day began at Blue Springs State Park watching the manatees, and then we paddled the St. Johns River to Hontoon Island State Park where we hiked.
We paddled 36 miles on our four days, had delicious meals, great conversations, much instruction in flora and fauna of the area, as well as history and folklore of the state. In short, it was yet another wonderful Sierra Club Outing run by Greg of Adventures in Florida.
Kneeling: Greg, our leader
Front row (l to r): Debbie, Christine, Mary, Allie
Back row: Joe, Paul, Chuck, Ellen, CJ
Not pictured: Gigi and Don
Photo by Duane, assistant guide
More photos of this trip on my web gallery.
Chuck's other Sierra Club Outings (with photos)
Monday, February 18, 2008
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Though I framed these photos to exclude people, the trail and parks were quite crowded with folks and many children on this glorious Sunday afternoon.
The Little Econ River and its freshwater swamps provide an ideal habitat for a wide array of reptiles, amphibians and birds. Catch sight of some amazing wildlife while hiking the trail or paddling the river in a canoe. Birds, like Osprey and Red-Shouldered Hawks, as well as turtles and alligators may be seen while using this trail. And smaller, 4-winged friends can be found in the butterfly garden, which is also located along the trail.
We report to our kayaking Sierra Club Outing in a few hours, but wanted one last ride before we went there, and this trail was perfect. After biking a number of Florida's longer trails through magnificent dense forest, it was a refreshing change of pace to see people and parks.
Orange County's Official site
Saturday, February 16, 2008
The trail goes down the center of Winter Garden's downtown, right in the path of the old rail line. We were told that the downtown had been in poor repair and had few remaining businesses until the trail was developed and run through the area. Now it bustles with activity.
The trail crosses many roads, runs through sub-divisions, and often has large trees along the trail. It is much different from the long trails we've done the last 2 weeks, which ran through beautiful forests. Both types of trails are interesting and the contrast shows off both Florida's environment and its communities.
The trail runs 19 paved miles and is 14 feet wide. Info and map can be found here.
... entertaining us and tiring us out at the same time. After finally getting seated and getting our steaks (about 9pm)...
... Gator devoured his steak shish-ka-bob and promptly fell asleep as his rubber band wound down. He was cold and needed a pillow, so Ellen made double use of her fleece jacket.
While it is cute, it also made us a bit jealous, because we were all very tired by then!
Friday, February 15, 2008
Rest stop benches appear regularly and mileage is well marked on the pavement. In its entire 29 mile length, the trail only makes one bend, and being an old rail-to-trail bed, it is practically flat.
Another wonderful Florida trail to head for next visit! Here's the state's info on the trail.
...as Judi Carter, a licensed raptor rehabilitator introduced her 2 friends, Bee Bop, a Southeastern Kestral...
...and Cocoa Puffs, the Barred Owl.
Tuesday we paddled 8 miles on the South Withlacoochee River, a beautiful day and a magnificent paddle through the Withlacoochee State Forest and a wildlife refuge...
... where we saw many birds and even a number of alligators...
That evening we learned about the whooping crane relocation project, both non-migratory where they raise birds from eggs in a fixed location, and the migratory program, where they lead cranes from Wisconsin to Florida with ultra-light planes.
Wednesday was cooler and rained on us a few times, but since the forecast several days earlier had predicted storm cells with tornadoes, we felt we had gotten off pretty lucky. We paddled 11 miles, some against fierce headwinds, down the Hillsborough River, certainly one of the finest paddling venues I've ever encountered. The scenery was awesome, as much of the paddle was through water management property.
The twisty, turning river with much deadfall to go over or under made us stay alert to conditions, but we were constantly distracted by the hundreds of birds and dozens of gators we observed. Anhinga, Osprey, Great While Egrets, White Ibis, Great Blue Heron, vultures, Roseatte Spoonbills, and too many more to list were all in abundance. Marvelous day despite the conditions!
Our canoe guide extraordinaire, Ken Kramer, spoke to us that evening of the paddling resources available to Florida paddlers, and related many anecdotes from his 4 decades of paddling in Florida.
Thursday had more rain but that didn't spoil our 8 mile paddle down Weeki Watchee River, starting at the springs. The crystal clear water the first several miles was amazing to us after paddling the blackwater rivers...
... and the dozen or so manatees that visited us downriver made the day a wonderful success!
Thursday night our speaker was from the state fish and wildlife commission and spoke of their efforts, especially at Chinsegut Wildlife Area.
Friday we had one final speaker before we departed -- Margaret Longhill entertained us with folk songs by local Florida artists singing of Florida rivers and environmental concerns. A great conclusion to this fine Elderhostel week.
More photos are available in my photo gallery.
Chuck's other active outdoor Elderhostel programs (with photos)
Monday, February 11, 2008
... and this photo shows trees lining both sides of the trail.
Bridges or traffic lights take bikes/pedestrians safely across the bigger cross roads. Rest benches with canopies appear at regular intervals and trailhead parking areas are beautiful, with washrooms and picnic tables and landscaping. The prettiest segment is adjacent to the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park. This section crosses various rivers and creeks, including the Anclote and Pithlachascotee, and provides views of beautiful natural communities.
Trail map here
Ecology of west central Florida. We have free time this afternoon, so
we're going to bike 20 or so miles on the nearby Suncoast Trail. We
have no Internet access here, so I'll update this entry with photos
next weekend from our motel in Orlando.
Sent from my iPhone
Sunday, February 10, 2008
This southern section runs along the river in places and much of the trail goes through the Withlachoochee State Forest as seen below. A mountain bike loop is available in the Groom area near where I-75 crosses the trail. Rest areas are available at regular intervals and trail access areas have washrooms and picnic tables. Since it is a rail-to-trail, it is basically flat.
A map is available here.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Running 34 paved miles from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs, the Pinellas Trail connects numerous county parks, communities, and coastal areas. It follows an abandoned CSX railroad right-of-way and has numerous access points with parking (see website listed below for info.) The photo below shows the trail through Tarpon Springs as it nears its northern terminus by the Anclote River.
A short detour to the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs will reward you with a fine meal at one of the many Greek Restaurants in the area, as we did. Sponge diving began in 1905 when a Greek immigrant began the practice, and today this area is still famous for its sponges, its Greek Community, and its cuisine.
Much of the trail has a wide segment for both directions of bike travel and a narrower segment for walkers/joggers. In-line skaters are also welcome to use the trail. Some road crossings have viaducts or bridges to allow safe uninterrupted travel to users. Other road crossings are protected by either traffic signals or four-way stop signs.
An interesting stop is to view the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary just south of Tarpon Springs. Its cages face the trail about 20 feet from the trail in a copse of pine trees on the west side of the trail.
A high overpass takes riders over Highway 19 in Ozona, giving good views of Smith Bayou.
For more info and downloadable trail maps, go to Guide to the Pinellas Trail