Friday, August 7, 2015

2006 Canoeing Florida's Ocala National Forest with Elderhostel

This Elderhostel program was hosted by Deerhaven Conference Center located in Florida's Ocala National Forest near Paisley, Florida. I also participated in this program again in 2009 because it was so enjoyable and some new activities had been added. Each morning began with an optional hike through the forest with our naturalist leader, Dave (red shirt), before breakfast.

After paddling practice sessions on Deerhaven Lake just behind the conference center buildings and the adjoining marsh, we paddled down Alexander Springs Run from the source spring, a lovely, wide river with abundant wildlife. 

The next day we paddled on Lake Norris, beginning at the Winn-Dixie Boy Scout Camp, and traveled 2/3 of the way around where we had a delicious picnic lunch delivered to us by vehicle before paddling the long way back  to the camp. Most of the perimeter of the lake was freshwater swamp and we maneuvered among cypress trees and enjoyed the rookeries/nesting areas of anhingas, cormorants, white ibis, and osprey, as well as several alligators and many turtles.

The final paddle was on the magnificent Juniper Springs Run, a narrow ten feet wide at the start of its twisting and turning seven mile run. In the photo below, you see how narrow the river is as it begins its run from the Juniper Spring.

Dozens and dozens of fallen trees create a constant obstacle course to duck under, paddle around, or negotiate over, as seen in the next two photos, and it required constant attention and cautious maneuvering or you'd find yourself capsized. We are all waiting for the rest of our large group to get their boats in the water before paddling downriver.

Boats can easily get wedged under a fallen tree due to the current, so care must be taken when ducking under fallen trees. Hidden underwater tree limbs and trunks can capsize canoes when struck at a wrong angle, so the bow person must keep watch for such obstructions, but the distractions of beautiful scenery and captivating wildlife often divert attention, causing mishaps. A few years later I paddled this again and found they had removed most of the obstructions, making it easier and safer (but less challenging!)

A picnic lunch at the halfway point and a swim in the river at the end completed another wonderful day in the Ocala National Forest. Our picnic lunch required a large area since we had 42 friendly and enthusiastic participants, the largest of my 40 Elderhostel/Road Scholar programs. Special thanks to Marti, our infectiously exuberant coordinator, for making our week so special.

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