On a recent paddle boarding trip I discovered the Apalachicola River is not just a river, but an elusive adventure every Floridian and visitor must experience. The river’s winding body twists and turns carving out a dramatic foot print down the center of the state’s panhandle.
With every paddle through this majestic nature preserve, our team of two could not help feel a sense of mystery from hundreds of years of rich history. The Apalachicola carries some of Florida’s richest memories and provides food and life as it feeds our gulf waters. Unfortunately, like many freshwater rivers and lakes the Apalachicola is at risk and needs protecting. Fellow paddler Justin Riney and I got to experience this first hand.
We chose to paddle this river as the first expedition in a series of six. Our mission: to pick up trash and document our experience through photos and blogs in order to bring awareness to the status of this vital natural resource. We both felt especially passionate about this trip because of the rich history of the Apalachicola River and the threats it currently faces.
Because of drought and the water war with Atlanta, flow rate coming out of the dam was restricted which created low waters and less fresh water for the oyster beds. As we meandered down the beginning of the river, remnants of old barges and what looked like an old port from logging days protruded out of the water. Low water levels in the river created sand bars along the river bends for camping– and we had plenty to choose from.
At the beginning of the trip, wildlife was sparse but as we made our way to the interior we were thrilled to spot deer, boar, water-foul and alligators in their natural habitat. Alligators swam right in front of us with no fear and their tracks and slides were a common site. Osprey soared above us scanning the waters for mullet and the bass that swam beneath us. We noticed big swirls in the water as we came around bends in the river. We discovered later this was a school of huge river carp scattering as we glided across the water above them. This is what it’s all about.
Along this stretch of river we also passed many abandoned house boats and some still in use. These odd fashioned floating shanties were mainly used for hunting and fish camps. The dead lakes were a stunning sight with cypress grave yards you could get lost in if you were not careful. River Styx was a tributary flowing into the Apalachicola. Folk lore tells of this river being haunted and trust me after we witnessed its eeriness first hand, I believe that may be the case. Fort Gadsden, just off the bank was a site to behold. It was an old fort used in the war of 1812, the Seminole wars, and the American Civil war.
Our last campsite before we finished was surreal and made us realize why we were doing these paddles. There was trash scattered along the entire sand bar. After the diversity of wildlife, habitat, and natural splendor we were crushed to see the disgusting effects of human apathy. Everything fits together in a delicate web and when men disengage and stop caring, the ecosystem is affected. At this rate, there will be no rivers for our future explorers to enjoy.
Stay tuned for more stories of hurricanes, wild chickens, food stealing raccoons and a life saved as we travel the water ways of Biscayne Bay, from Key Largo to Miami.
Gabe Gray is a Firefighter, Outdoor Adventurer and Founder of Walkin’ on Water Paddleboards that provides Florida Eco-tours and Paddleboarding lessons.