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canoeing and kayaking near Tampa, Florida
Content of Articles The Sunday Gazette
October 24, 1993
by Bill Rice

Canoe ride catches wildlife up close

An Great Blue Heron up ahead...Tampa - The best ride I ever had in Florida wasn't at Walt Disney World or Busch Gardens. It was in the front end of a canoe on a 4.5-mile stretch of the Hillsborough River a few miles outside of Tampa.

Expertly guiding the craft as it slipped beneath moss-covered oaks on the narrow, twisting waterway was Joe Faulk, the owner of Canoe Escape.

A mom-and-pop outfit located on East Fowler Ave. just outside of the city, Canoe Escape can put visitors in touch with "real Florida" with the swish of a paddle.

On our leisurely trip down the river I saw more alligators lounging on mud banks and turtles snoozing on logs than I'd seen in my entire life.

And the birds were incredible.

It seemed that every time we rounded a bend a different kind was waiting--black-crowned night herons, ibises, blue herons, limpkins and anhingas.

The blue herons, in particular, seemed to welcome the approaching canoe, and they would sometimes stretch out their necks and cock their heads as if they were waiting for the click of a camera.

As we paddled, Faulk talked about the wildlife.

"We could do this every day of the year and see something different," he said. "This is one of the best wildlife rivers in Florida and we don't sell canoeing, we sell nature. Our customers are people who want something special."

Like the sight of an anhinga perching on a limb and spreading its wings to dry after a head-first lunge into the river for a fish.

The anhinga is sometimes called a snake bird because when it swims its body is underwater and its slender neck and head resemble a snake's.

Faulk has eyes like a hawk and at one point he spotted an owl high in a tree. I could hardly make it out even after he pointed to it because its color was so similar to the bark of the tree.

My guide pointed out apple snail eggs on the bottom of tree trunks along the water. The snails, he said, are the primary food of the limpkin, a bird on the endangered species list that travels with a jerky walk along the shore looking for food.

Endangered or not, we saw quite a few.

We also saw many ibis, white birds that roost on the river at night and commute to the ocean during the day to look for food.

During the winter, Faulk said, it's possible to see 5,000 or so ibis in a day on the river.

As we skimmed over a huge, submerged cypress log, a small alligator swam in front of our canoe and proceeded downstream in front of us.

He seemed to be leading our canoe and Faulk said that was something he'd never seen before.

The Hillsborough River begins 54 miles from Tampa Bay 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 it receives 40 million gallons of water daily from Crystal Springs.

The appearance and character of the river change as it flows from the Green Swamp toward Tampa.

At its spring-fed source it tends to be clearer and less desirable for alligators and turtles.

As it flows, however, it becomes a blackwater river, with tannic and humic acids in the flatwoods and swamps giving the dark tea color that alligators and turtles prefer for hiding. The lazy flow of the river never gets much faster, even after a heavy rain, Faulk said, because as the volume increases the water spreads out into the cypress swamps. Alligators contribute to this desirable water distribution because their favorite paths are natural channels for the water.

At one point, Faulk said there were a lot of wild pigs in the area.

He said one of his customers had actually seen an alligator grab a wild pig and pull it underwater.

Faulk felt that was a real once-in-a-lifetime experience and after thinking about it I had to agree that it was.

Especially for the pig.

The river, which furnishes about 75 percent of Tampa's drinking water, runs through 20 miles of Hillsborough County's Wilderness Park System and it is protected by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Faulk runs the only full-service canoe business on the Hillsborough.

Canoe Escape offers three basic trips on the river. The first, which we took, is a 4.5 mile trip from Sargeant Park to the Morris Bridge Park. The second is a four-mile paddle from Morris Bridge to Trout Creek Park, while the third is a five-mile stretch of the river from Trout Creek Park to Rotary Park.

It is possible to combine the first two or the last two legs or paddle the entire 13.5 miles.

Another trip of five miles is possible from Crystal Springs, the source of the river.

Customers can take as much time as they want because you don't pay by the hour.

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