The Post-Star, Glens Falls, NY
Sunday, March 6, 1994
by Patricia and Robert Foulke
Paddle away from all your troubles
Fla. - Have you been looking for an escape from the stress of life? We found
one that lingers in memory.
Those of us fortunate enough to live in
or near the Adirondack Park often equate wilderness with a lot of blank space
on maps. Flying over the park reveals just how many mountains, lakes and forest
remain and how tiny the incursion of roads, camps and hamlets is.
you can also find the same wilderness where you least expect it--in the middle
of a bustling city. According to some people, the Hillsborough is the best
wildlife river in Florida.
The Hillsborough River twists and turns
like a piece of ribbon candy--you can, too, as you deftly swoop your canoe
around a bend for the next view. This is real wilderness, and all within the
Tampa city limits.
Joe Faulk launched our canoes in Sargeant Park,
and we paddled through the looking glass, just like Alice, into infinity. The
trees and river closed in around us, and city noises stopped, replaced by birds
and rustles in the woods.
We oozed up into Flint Creek, where we saw
our first alligator, who was sleepily sunning at the edge of the river. This
one was half the size of the 16-footers usually spotted along the way. He
didn't care to move, but the next one slipped quietly into the river as we
approached. We saw two bulbous eyes moving alongside the bank as another chose
to remain submerged.
By the way, visitors needn't fear paddling by
alligators. They are not aggressive and will not attack humans who are minding
their own business. Besides, the chubby alligators have plenty of birds,
turtles and fish to dine on; they needn't bother to add humans to their diet.
Faulk told us about a 12-foot 'gator who was surprised by his son
quietly paddling along. The alligator slid into the water--his defense--and
glided under the canoe without touching it.
alligator-watching, we heard bird calls and spotted blue herons, egrets, ibis,
ospreys and a hawk or two. Our paddles avoided flat lily pads or hyacinth beds
as we swerved around.
Look for the "knees" on cypress trees; the
trunks are large at the bottom, and more roots stand up to the high-water mark
We sometimes felt as if we were going into a tunnel as
leafy trees met in a canopy over the river; oak, cypress, elm and maple
mingled. Fallen trees have been left where they lie, eventually rotting and
joining the tea-colored, tannin blend of the water. When it is necessary, Faulk
carefully trims a trunk just the width of a canoe to allow passage but not
disturb the environment. Sometimes canoeists have to duck to pass under a
Spanish explorers called the river San Julian de
Arriaga. The British named it for the Earl of Hillsborough in 1769. The
Seminole Indians called the river Lockcha-popka-chiska, which means "where one
crosses to eat acorns." They lived here before the 1836 Seminole Indian wars
forced them to flee to the Everglades.
The river begins in the Green
Swamp section of Pasco and Polk counties. Crystal Spring spouts 40 million
gallons into it every day. As it meanders, the river becomes a tea-colored
blackwater river. The river is a protected watershed that provides 75 percent
of Tampa's water every day. The Wilderness Park contains 20 miles of river.
As we dipped our paddles around each bend, we felt any tension
disappearing. Two hours on the quiet river is definitely a stress-reducer;
cares seem to wash away. Business people tend to head for a canoe venture
between conference days in Tampa. And the river is a haven for local people on
weekends after a heavy work week.
Prospective canoeists can rent an
Old Town-Discovery canoe, complete with paddles, backrests, life preservers and
a map and take off after a short instructional session. Canoeing is not
difficult, and you'll find it becomes second nature after rounding a few bends.
We headed for a thick patch of water hyacinths and wondered how they
got there. It turns out that a woman in 1910 introduced them into the river
because they looked so pretty. As tough plants, they multiplied and are now
subjected to spray to thin them out.
The river led us by an old tram
trestle, and we could see some of the posts sticking up in the water. Loggers
had a route right through the wilderness.
Several people were fishing
for bass along the quiet river. Turtles were sunning themselves on logs; a
couple of snakes stretched out for a siesta. We didn't see any wild hogs,
although Faulk told us that a hog's head had been floating until the alligators
finished it off.
At the end of our trip, we paddled onto a sandy
shore, pulled up the canoe and waited for the Canoe Escape van and trailer to
take us back to our car. Our adventure into the wilderness just 14 miles from
downtown Tampa had rejuvenated us, and we felt ready to return to the
Self-Guided River Trips, Rentals
& Shuttles Interpretive
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9335 E. Fowler Avenue
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