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canoeing and kayaking near Tampa, Florida
Content of Articles Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada
Maritime Marlin Travel
Winter 1992
by Cynthia T. Hallett

Florida, My Florida

Exploring the watery wilderness...As a native Floridian who, like both her parents, was born in Tampa, I have a particular perspective of this southern peninsular which is a popular playground for Atlantic Canadians. The west coast of Florida is bathed by the warm, gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico and basks in the glow of a sun that is most accommodating until it disappears with the mythic "green flash" amid some of the most spectacular sunsets available for viewing on this planet. Notably, most of the beaches and all of the sunsets are free--and there's no waiting in line. But my Florida also has rivers and lakes which still teem with alligators and turtles and so many species of water fowl that one needs a "Book on Birds" to identify them all.

As a native Floridian, I share a special kinship with this state's vanishing watery wilderness. On the outskirts of Tampa, one can still find vestiges of the extraordinary waterscapes seen by the earliest explorers. Florida's beaches are as beautiful as any in the world and its weather a sun-worshipper's dream. But quiet, heavy-aired swamps and dense, steamy waterways mesh with groves of moss-laden oaks and a deep inland core of fertile soil to create the true texture of the sunshine state. On the central west coast, Tampa grew up around one of these waterways. The Hillsborough River furnishes about 75% of Tampa's drinking water--about 65 million gallons a day; therefore, much has been done to protect the river's watershed. This protected Wilderness Park comprises approximately 16,000 acres of wilderness area and some 20 miles of river. The Hillsborough begins in the Green Swamp area of Pasco and Polk counties. It has five main tributaries: Blackwater Creek, Flint Creek, New River, Trout Creek, and Cypress Creek; and receives 40 million gallons of pure water every day from Crystal Springs. The character of this river changes many times over its 54-mile run to Tampa Bay. It is a blackwater river, its tea color caused by the tannic and humic acids that are added as it flows through acidic flatwoods and swamps. The Hillsborough River is an exceptional source for birdwatching and is the home of many threatened and endangered species.

As a visitor to this state, if you can pull yourself away from the beach or the golf course for an easy canoe trip on the Hillsborough River near Tampa--do so, you will be rewarded! Just four miles east of the University of South Florida on Fowler Avenue is a most accommodating canoe livery called "Canoe Escape". Call in advance and make a reservation (you're better off on a week day since most Tampans work during the week and play, with a vengeance, on the weekends). Then simply drive to their lot and park. The friendly "Escapists" will deliver you, your picnic, your binoculars, and the correct number of canoes, life-vests, and paddles to the spot on the river where you have chosen to being your exploration. They return to retrieve you at a designated spot so many hours later--you decide how long you want to take. If you run late, they will wait or return periodically while retrieving other parties.

All trips are downstream and paddling times are based on a steady pace plus how much addition time (and you WILL want more) you'll need to sight-see from the canoe and picnic on the shore in one of the several riverside parks along the way. "Canoe Escape" has divided 13 miles of the river into three 4-5-4 miles sections. I have canoed these sections individually and in various combinations including--only once--the entire 13 miles. For your first time, I strongly recommend their trip #3; double their two hour time to four hours of quiet, easy movement down this 5-mile stretch of river. You'll want to begin with a side-trip down Trout Creek which marks your point of entry. Keep an eye out for the 16-foot alligator that has been spotted sleeping on the banks of this creek. After 15 minutes, turn back and retrace your paddle marks to the main river and begin a remarkable journey through time, zoology, and natural art. I have seen (and photographed) alligators of every size--from 3 feet to 14 feet, species of birds I've seen nowhere else--herons, ibises, limpkins, ospreys, roseate spoonbills, and eagles, and more turtles than I knew existed. The "gators" are not dangerous (i.e., not aggressive) in these areas; most will vanish beneath the water in fright of you. Some of the larger ones that are on the sunny banks will appear to be dead, for they are deeply asleep, their body temperature warmed to lethargic proportions. Please, do not be afraid, but do not be stupid. Stay in the canoe, and enjoy the thrill of such an adventure. And remember, the quieter your trip, the more you will see.

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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Canoe Escape, Inc.
9335 E. Fowler Avenue
Thonotosassa, FL 33592
ph: 813-986-2067
e-mail: info@canoeescape.com