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canoeing and kayaking near Tampa, Florida
Content of Articles The St. Petersburg Times
Sunday, April 17, 1994
by Dave Lowerre

Florida Canoe Trips: The Hillsborough

Plying the waters of the Hillsborough River brings one eyeball-to-eyeball with gators, storks, herons, otters and more

Exploring the swampThe swamp echoed the slow pounding of a pileated woodpecker. Five alligators watched us as we floated past about 35 white ibis and perhaps twice as many vultures. Little blue herons hunted breakfast at the river's edge; anhingas dried their wings in the trees above. Turtles lined up on logs. It was perfect; even the lilies were blooming. It seemed we were the first humans to ever set paddle there.

But that wasn't possible. Even though we would soon see an otter, kingfishers, storks and six types of herons, we were only 12 miles from downtown Tampa. And we were floating the city's main supply of drinking water, the Hillsborough River.

Although the river eventually flows into the city, its upper reaches meander through forests protected by the Southwest Florida Water Management District to ensure plentiful drinking water.

Protected as well are the homes of deer, opossum, snakes and a myriad of birds including storks, limpkins, owls and eagles. Bass, perch and bream dart through the tea-colored river. Migrant songbirds such as the phoebe and warblers use the forest as a winter home or as a refueling stop on their long flights.

And it is all so easy to see.

Unlike some "opportunities" to view wildlife, no deprivations must be endured to see the Hillsborough River. There is no three-mile hike, no 4 a.m. alarm, no Disneyesque fee and no sweating.

Joe Faulk at Canoe Escape has put together the best and most accessible wildlife-viewing experience in Tampa Bay. It is a safari made to order for the harried or the unhurried, a great place to take a first date or your in-laws. My sneakers never even got wet.

Joe and his family wrestle the canoes and gear in and out of the water and provide transportation to and from the river. If you've never been in a canoe, the Faulks can teach you what to do--but practice may include ducking brush and bumping into stumps. Joe's best advice: "If you manage to tip over and all else fails, stand up. The river is only 3 feet deep."

The Hillsborough River obligingly provides just enough current to slowly carry a canoe through hardwood and cypress swamps. Only light paddling is needed to maintain momentum and to steer through countless turns and occasionally narrow passages.

Fresh water and toilets are available every two or three hours at public parks maintained by Hillsborough County. The parks are good spots to stretch one's legs or picnic, although there are many dry spots along the river where a canoe can be beached.

Everyone see wildlife. The slower you go, the more you see. Some large wading birds will allow a quiet canoe to come quite close. Binoculars come in handy for watching ospreys and other treetop species. Deer and otter are unusual, but turtles and alligators are out whenever the air is warmer than the mud on the river's bottom.

Look for gators basking on any sunny river bank or log. They also float unseen in streamside weed mats, a good reason for staying in the current. Usually content to be observed from a reasonable distance, they slip into the water if a canoe comes too close, their eyes and nose the last part to disappear.

The gators may be less than a foot long or longer than a man. Some really big gators live up Trout Creek, opposite the take-out spot at Trout Creek Park. It's worth a side trip and Joe Faulk will understand if you are a little bit late.

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