The Tampa Tribune
August 12, 1995
by D. Quentin Wilber
Hillsborough River becomes a canoe trail
Thonotosassa - The upper reaches of the Hillsborough River, where
wildlife thrives under verdant canopies of tropical vegetation and water flows
from bubbly springs, are now an official Florida Canoe Trail.
officials made the designation Wednesday, joining 31 miles of the river from
Crystal Springs in Pasco County to Riverhills Park in Temple Terrace with 36
other Florida trails.
Last year, nearly 20,000 people meandered down
the river past snakes and alligators and under birds and butterflies.
Those numbers likely will rise thanks to the new designation, which will allow
the river to be added to numerous guidebooks and brochures that promote
Florida's other canoe trails.
Supporters of the trail say the state
finally is recognizing the river for what it is.
"It's a beautiful
and natural resource," says Tom Dyer, chairman of the Hillsborough River
Greenways Task Force--a public/private partnership designed to protect the
Dyer, also vice-president of Two Rivers Ranch,
which owns six miles of land along the river and Crystal Springs, says the
trail adds an extra layer of protection. "The state recognizes the value of the
river and will have to consider the designation before they can condemn and
build on the land."
For centuries--from Seminole Indians and Spanish
explorers to ecological zoologists and bass fisherman--men and women have
paddled this long, winding waterway that supplies 75 percent of Tampa's
A few miles west of U.S. 301 in Hillsborough River
State Park, the river has narrowed and hardened with the passing of millennia,
creating some of Florida's fastest and only rapids. The smooth water crashes
into the jagged limestone outcrops, shooting foam and bubbles downstream.
"It's not a good idea to go through those rapids," says assistant park
manager Dennis Cap. "The rocks are sharp and will tear the bottom off your
boat. A lot of people come here to listen to the water rush by."
few miles past the rapids, the water slows. In its glassy brown surface, the
outer world's reflection mingles with its own oblong and circular shadows.
On this August day, drifting with the slow current, Joe and Jean Faulk
ease their paddles between fallen trees and grasping, outstretched branches.
Owners of Canoe Escape, Inc., the only full-time canoe outfitter on
the river, they rent their shallow boats and kayaks for two, four, and six
Four years ago, they started the rental business and now send
15,000 adventurers a year through 20 miles of the river, from swamps to
The Faulks leisurely float down run No. 1., from
John B. Sargeant Park to Old Morris Bridge Park, in two canoes. This trip
displays the most wildlife, including gators, turtles, birds, spiders, snakes,
fish and -- if you're lucky -- a turkey.
But with the river so
swollen from incessant downpours and the banks under four feet of water, they
say most of the animals have gone elsewhere.
After a particularly bad
storm last week, trees collapsed and blocked several runs downstream.
"I had to come out here, wading up to my neck, and cut that off," says Joe
Faulk, 48, pointing at a broken and battered tree lying across the river's
10-foot span. "I cut it just below the water line and left the rest there. I
cut just enough to let canoes through. We want it to look natural."
There are no slashes or jagged limbs on this tree--only a small tunnel under
the crisscrossing boughs.
"We make our livelihood out here," Jean
Faulk, 47, says as she pushes her paddle against the trunk to wedge past. "We
consider ourselves its stewards."
A few yards away, a pair of
gleaming eyes and a green snout gently break the water's surface like a
periscope. They move furtively and soon dip under a log, leaving a trail of
Three squawking white ibis burst forth from the dense
foliage and flap their way to the tree tops.
Skirting across the
placid tea-brown water, spawning the river's only ripples, a tiny whirligig
beetle darts between floating leaves and twigs.
In the distance,
sprawled in a patch of tall grass, its nose shadowed by the wide roots and
branches of a cypress tree, an alligator slowly turns its head and yawns.
"It's so peaceful out here," Jean Faulk says. "People are trying to do too
much. They're stressed out. Being out here is better than a power nap."
A warm breeze passes under the arched dark-green canopy, rustling leaves
to polite applause."
"With the designation," Jean Faulk says, "More
people will know about the river and they will become more aware of it."
Nearly all the riverfront land from Crystal Springs to Temple Terrace is
publicly owned and protected.
And now, this long and diverse
river--which pumps nearly 65 million gallons of water a day from its beginnings
in the Green Swamp to its mouth at Tampa Bay--will join the 36 other canoe
trails, totaling more than 100 miles in Florida.
But to the people
who have fought for the designation, the river is more than facts and
statistics. It is the twists and turns, the shadows and sun, the fish and
They say that people like themselves are seeking nature in a
world of amusement parks and concrete palaces.
becoming a big thing now," says Karen Kuhlmann, an administrator for the
state's office of Greenways and Trails, the department that made the final
recommendation for the river. "People have all been to Walt Disney World. Now
they want to go canoeing in the wilderness. They want to see the beauty of
Only a few miles from downtown near Old Morris Bridge, a
baby alligator suns itself on a short log. Its long yellow-striped tail dangles
and kisses the murky water a few inches below.
On the other side,
wrapped tightly around a thatch of weeds and twigs, a brown water snake flicks
its tongue at several unwelcome visitors.
"It's amazing that you're
to close to Tampa, so close to the wilderness," Jean Faulk says as she paddles
her canoe against the current.
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