A pristine, serene trip along the river
Leave the scenes and sounds of the city behind and settle into a kayak or canoe to commune with nature. This scenic journey will take you on the Weeki Wachee, where marine life and wildlife are just around the bend.
By LOGAN NEILL
Published July 21, 2006
WEEKI WACHEE - Once summer arrives, most Floridians tend to disappear from the outside world, holing themselves up in air-conditioned cocoons as they wait for the heat and humidity to subside. If they do venture outside, it's usually in pursuit of the cool comforts that the beach or a swimming pool provide.
Sadly, the Central Florida outdoors is perhaps at its most beautiful during the months when folks are less likely to enjoy it. Many native trees and shrubs are at the height of their green splendor this time of year, and innumerable critters scurry about in the lush habitat.
All of which is why we North Suncoast residents should be thankful to live near such an environmental jewel as the Weeki Wachee River. Fueled by a 64-million-gallon-per-day charge from the Floridan Aquifer, the pristine waterway flows from its headwaters inside the Weeki Wachee Springs theme park through one of the area's most scenic wild spaces.
The only legal way to get on the northern stretch of the river is via Weeki Wachee Canoe and Kayak Rental, where, for about the cost of a ticket to an overhyped summer blockbuster movie, you can spend a few leisurely hours enjoying the wonder and beauty only nature can bring to the screen.
Since taking over the business in December, owners Lou and April Olivas have endeavored to make the river accessible for the seasoned paddler and novice alike.
"We get quite a few people who have never operated a kayak or canoe before," April Olivas said. "Fortunately, it's one of those activities where you can make a few mistakes without worrying much about the consequences."
True. Even if you have fairly limited physical capacity, paddling a kayak is a fairly easy endeavor once you get the hang of it. It's one of those activities that actually takes very little practice to get good at.
Once you plunk down your rental fee for a single-seat kayak $30, plus tax, two-person kayak or canoe ($38, plus tax), the Olivases' staff will assist you in launching the boat. The nice thing about the Weeki Wachee River is that it flows fairly steady its entire length. Most of the time you don't even need a paddle, except to steer.
There are, however, a few stretches where the water narrows into some tight turns - not too difficult for a solo paddler, but for two-person vessels it means having to do some work in order to stay out of the bushes.
The first hour of the journey is a dream. As you traverse the heavily wooded Weekiwachee Preserve, which is managed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, you are unaware that bustling Cortez Boulevard lies just a few hundred yards north. Even on a hot day, the 74-degree water keeps you cool and comfortable as you slip quietly beneath the canopy of oaks, bay and cypress.
The abundance of wildlife that thrives along the sandy banks is amazing. You'll see lots of birds - egrets, hawks and ospreys - and it's not unusual to find otters popping their heads up or manatees floating beneath the surface. If you're quiet, they might even venture closer.
What you likely won't see are alligators and poisonous snakes. These critters don't like living in clear, spring-fed waters, preferring to reside in murkier confines where they can hide. If you do encounter them, they'll usually head in the opposite direction.
Later in the trip, the river flattens into a sparse scrub pine area on the southern edge of the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area. Though still scenic, you won't find the cool shade of the journey's first stage. There are some beach-like spots where you can stop if you want to take in lunch or a swim, but be wary of venturing onto private property.
The final third of the 7-mile journey is something of a mixed blessing. The shady trees return, but at the cost of having to travel through a heavily developed area. In this stretch, you will likely encounter more people on the water than anyplace else. Most are friendly, though, and will give you plenty of room to maneuver. By the time you reach your pickup spot at the Weeki Wachee Christian Camp, you will be surprised how quickly three hours went by.
A few things worth considering:
First, don't bring anything you don't really need. The rental vessels, especially kayaks, have limited storage.
Snacks and drinks are okay, but alcohol is not permitted on the river. (There's a $148.25 fine for a single unopened beer.) And be sure to bring something to stow trash until it can be properly disposed of.
If you bring cell phones, cameras and other gadgets, be certain they're packed in water-tight bags and secured in case of a tip-over.
Finally, it's worth noting that most people consider river sightseeing a quiet leisure activity where they can get away from it all. Be considerate when you approach others on the river, and remember that excessive noise drives away shy wild creatures.
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.
[Last modified July 20, 2006, 19:32:17]
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