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canoeing and kayaking near Tampa, Florida
Content of Articles The Post-Star, Glens Falls, NY
Sunday, March 6, 1994
by Patricia and Robert Foulke

Paddle away from all your troubles

Exploring an isolated cove...Tampa, 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.

But 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.

In between 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 around them.

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 fallen trunk.

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 city.



MORE ARTICLES
Canoe Trip Glides Through the Real Florida
Florida, My Florida
Tampa Canoe for an Hour or Two
Canoe Ride Catches Wildlife Up Close
Wild Times on a Tame River
Paddle Away from all Your Troubles
Florida Canoe Trips: The Hillsborough
Taking a Glide on the Wild Side of Florida
Hillsborough River Becomes a Canoe Trail
A Peaceable Kingdom Awaits Those Who Step Into a Canoe
Quietly Taking In Nature
Paddle Into Paradise

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