Category Archives: Ocklawaha

Ocklawaha River – February 10, 2018

Continuing with our Ocklawaha series, today’s paddle was from the Orange Springs Park boat ramp across Lake Ocklawaha/Rodman Reservior with a take out on the Rodman Dam embankment.  There is no boat ramp or launch on the dam embankment, we just had to haul our selves and our boats up over the vegetation and the rocks to get up to the road on the top of the dam.

Orange Springs Park boat ramp

Orange Springs Park boat ramp

It was a warm and foggy morning when 8 of us met up at Orange Springs Park and unloaded our boats onto the grass there.  After the long shuttle drive around to the dam we finally hit the water about 10:15 as the morning fog was lifting.

Map of the trip

Map of the trip

The “island” that shows on the topo map is not land except during the periodic drawdowns when the river is 6-8 feet lower than normal.  Fortunately, the dredged channel for the “go-fast” power boats is on the north side, so along the southern stretch all we saw were a few fishing boats stopped or moving at slow speed to avoid the obstacles

We first crossed the river to the southern bank, which we would skirt all the way to the dam.  There were many floating rafts of vegetation just loaded with Red-Winged Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Very wide and shallow with some chop, especially after lunch at Cedar Landing when the wind rose a bit – more like open water paddling than the rivers we normally do.

Wide open under blue skies and fluffy clouds

Wide open under blue skies and fluffy clouds

I didn’t get many wildlife pictures because most of the birds stay far away and my little point-and-shoot camera cannot reach far enough to capture most of them.  We saw Gallinule, White Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Red-winged Blackbirds, Anhinga, Cormorants, Great Egret and spent a few minutes watching an Osprey pair building their nest.

Osprey nest-building

Osprey nest-building

After lunch at Cedar Landing we entered Rodman Reservoir proper.  This is the area of the river valley they flooded for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal.  Rather than harvest all the trees in the valley they either left them standing (figuring they would rot when submerged) or used a huge steam roller called the crusher-crawler to simply push the trees down into the mud.  40 years later, the trees are still floating to the top and some are still standing, either just above or just below the surface of the water.  This creates a slalom course and provides the occasional hull bump to surprise the unwary kayaker.

300 ton forest-leveling machine known as the Crusher-crawler. 1969.

300 ton forest-leveling machine known as the Crusher-crawler. 1969. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Slalom paddling through the dead tree tops

Slalom paddling through the dead tree tops

After rounding the final headland, Rodman Dam came into view about a mile in the distance and we headed south, still paddling close to the shore line.

Rodman Reservoir

Rodman Reservoir with the dam in the distance

Behind the kayaker you can see many of the dead trees that continue to float up from the bottom lining the shore.

Dead trees along the shore

Dead trees along the shore

After a hard pull against the rising wind we finally reached the south-west corner of the dam embankment and where we pulled our kayaks through the wind-driven vegetation and rocks up to the road at the top of the embankment.

Immature White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) on the dam embankment

Immature White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) on the dam embankment

Hauling up the rocks and bank.

Hauling up the rocks and bank.

With a lot of teamwork, we made it to the top of the dam

With a lot of teamwork, we made it to the top of the dam

Ocklawaha River – February 7, 2018

Finally, the weather has warmed up and dried out a little and our February Ocklawaha trips can go off as planned.  Last fall I was asked by several people on an Ocklawaha trip if I ever did the stretch from Eureka up to Rodman Dam.  I replied that it is not one of my favorite stretches since it was so wide and open and had lots of motor boats, but since they wanted to say they had paddled the whole Ocklawaha River I set up two paddles to cover the distance  Of course, none of those people showed up!  But 8 more folks DID sign up for the 13-mile paddle from Eureka West boat ramp to Orange Springs Park boat ramp.

Map of our trip

Map of our trip

We met up at the Eureka West boat ramp off CR 316 and had all the boats ready to go before 9 am.  There is a nice circle drive at the ramp with a grassy area and picnic table inside posts to unload and prep. We drove all the cars up to Orange Springs and the drivers return in one vehicle, hitting the river before 10 am.  The boat ramp at Eureka West has been refurbished and is no longer a slippery accident waiting to happen.  They also built a little area off to the side that I assume is for hand launches and to cut down on erosion.  If indeed it was intended for hand launched boats the design was a little off, because even at a water level higher than normal we couldn’t get the boats over the lip of the boxed area designed to retain the sand.  Still, it shows someone is thinking about things, which I guess is an improvement over paddlers being ignored.

Eureka West boat ramp

Eureka West boat ramp

Our first stop, just a few minutes after launching, was at the defunct Eureka Lock.  Built for the Cross-Florida Barge Canal between 1965 and 1970, the lock was never opened.  It was left derelict when the Barge Canal project was halted in 1971.  Today it is still maintained by the Office of Greenways and Trails (together with the Buckman Lock and the Rodman Dam and Reservior) to the tune of about $1 Million per year).

The never-opened Eureka Lock

The never-used Eureka Lock

I never get many wildlife pictures on this stretch of the Ocklawaha River because it is very wide and open and my little point-and-shoot camera cannot reach far enough to capture most of the myriad of birds that live on the water or along the forested edges.  We saw a Bald Eagle, Osprey, Gallinule, American Coot, White Ibis, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Boat-tailed Grackle, Rusty Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbirds and Great Egret as well as many small birds in the undergrowth that would not come close enough for identification.  Also a few small gators and turtles.

A small gator sunning

A small gator sunning – about 30 inches long

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Red-shouldered Hawk and white ibis in flight

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) and white ibis (Eudocimus albus) in flight

We stopped at Cannon Springs for a lunch break but everyone decided it was too cold for a swim.  During the drawdowns (needed every 3-4 years or so to kill off the vegetation that clogs the river due to the dams) Cannon Spring is a lovely turquoise crack full of fish. At other times, with 6-8 more feet of water it really can’t be seen, but still makes a great local swimming hole.

Lunch break at Cannon Spring

Lunch break at Cannon Spring

Cannon Spring during the 2015 drawdown

Cannon Spring during the 2015 drawdown

North of Cannon Spring the river opens up to cover the whole valley, lined along the edges by cypress, marsh grasses and vegetation.  This area is a bird photographers delight if you have a long telephoto lens.

Cannon Springs canal

Cannon Springs canal

The wide open Ocklawaha

The wide open Ocklawaha under lowering skies

Paddling amid the cypress trees

Paddling amid the cypress trees

A lone, stunted cypress tree

A lone, stunted cypress tree

Sun dogs in the clouds near Orange Springs

Sun dogs in the clouds near Orange Springs

We arrived at Orange Springs Park around 3:30.  We all had fun and I was particularly proud of our newer kayakers who completed the long, open 13-mile trip with little difficulty.

 

Ocklawaha and Bear Creek – January 13, 2018

A cold, breezy and cloudy day for our Ockalawaha and Bear Creek paddle, but 8 people showed up at the Johnson Field Landing boat ramp – all bundled up to brave the 40 degree temps.  After seeing so many trees uprooted on the the trip earlier in the week on the Ocklawaha between Rodman Dam and SR 19 I was a little concerned about Bear Creek being open.  However there are a number of places to cross from Bear Creek back to the Ocklawaha and we strapped our saws to our decks and decided to go for it.

Bear Creek is a favorite wildlife viewing area.  It is a braid off the Ocklawaha between SR 19 and the St Johns River with usually a very sluggish current.  It runs parallel to the Ocklawaha and there are several places where you can cross back and forth between the two.  We generally float with the current the 5 miles down the Ocklawha to the St Johns, then after a short sprint upstream on the St Johns we turn into Bear Creek and follow it upstream almost back to SR 19.  This makes a great 10-mile paddle with varied landscapes and plenty of bird watching opportunities.

Leaving the Johnson Field Landing boat ramp we played slalom racers among the SR 19 bridge pylons due to the uprooted trees across the canal out to the Ocklawaha.

Slalom racing under the SR 19 bridge

Slalom racing under the SR 19 bridge

The trip down the Ocklawaha to the St Johns was scenic but uneventful.  We chatted back and forth, getting to know each other, talking about our boats, catching up on things we had done over the holidays.

All bundled up on the Ocklawaha

All bundled up on the Ocklawaha

We saw Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Little Blue Herons all around us, but few would hold still or come close enough for a picture.

Great Egret in flight

Great Blue Heron in flight

As we approached the St Johns River we were a bit concerned about the wind, but it was blowing out of the west, not down the St Johns, and there was NO motor boat traffic so our passage up the St Johns went very smoothly.  In fact, in our entire day we only saw 4 motor boats and they were all very courteous fishermen.

Paddling up the St Johns to turn into Bear Creek

Paddling up the St Johns to turn into Bear Creek

After turning into Bear Creek we stopped for a short lunch break.  The water level was high so what little dry ground we found was pretty muddy and few got out to investigate.  We simply huddled in our kayaks out of the wind to eat our sandwiches.

Lunch break on Bear Creek

Lunch break on Bear Creek

And now the fun began.  Bear Creek is one of my favorites for wildlife viewing.  The whole Rodman/Little Lake George Wilderness Area is a rookery for many types of water and shore birds and the narrow, winding nature of Bear Creek means you can get much closer to them than out on the more open Ocklawaha.

Great Egret on Bear Creek

Great Egret on Bear Creek

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We passed many uprooted trees and downed trees overhanging the creek, but nothing blocked our way through.  With all the recent rain, the Resurrection Fern enlivened the winter landscape with its bright green.

One of many trees uprooted by Hurricane Irma.

One of many trees uprooted by Hurricane Irma.

Resurrection Fern on overhanging tree

Resurrection Fern on overhanging tree

In addition to the Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Little Blue Herons we saw Pileated Woodpeckers, Black and White Warblers, Belted Kingfishers, and Yellow-Crowned Night Herons.  We were particularly fortunate in that on two separate occasions we were able to view an adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron along with a juvenile.

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron “giving us the eye” for getting too close

Immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Immature Yellow-crowned Night Heron with his neck stretched in alarm

We also spotted a very large otter (which was too fast for us to get any pictures) and a Nutria.  With their large head, big incisors and furry reddish-brown body, Nutria here in Florida are often mistaken for small beaver – except Nutria have a long rat-like tail.  Nutria are an exotic invasive from South America that does a lot of damage, denuding wetland areas of vegetation and causing severe erosion problems.  Nevertheless, they are an interesting and retiring creature and it was fun to catch a glimpse of one, if only peeking its head out at us.

Nutria hiding on the stream-side vegetation

Nutria hiding on the stream-side vegetation

As Bear Creek continued on its way, getting narrower and narrower we enjoyed winding through the trees until we finally popped out to rejoin the Ocklawaha River just east of the SR 19 bridge.

Twisting Bear Creek

Twisting Bear Creek

Winding through the trees on Bear Creek

Winding through the trees on Bear Creek

 

Reaching the Ocklawaha River just east of SR 19

Reaching the junction with the Ocklawaha River

We once again we wove in and out of the bridge pylons and the downed trees to arrive back at our boat ramp, chilled but happy with the day’s paddle.  Everyone had a good time and vowed to return – when the weather was a little warmer. 🙂

Johnson Field Landing boat ramp through the downed trees

Johnson Field Landing boat ramp through the downed trees