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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.