Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Florida’s paddlers must unite to protect environment
I recently had the good fortune to be invited to speak to the Florida Paddling Rendezvous at Silver Springs State Park. Hosted by the Villages Canoe and Kayak Club, this event has been held around the state for the past 15 years.
At 446 members, the Villages has one of the largest paddling clubs in the state.
More than 200 enthusiastic paddlers gathered at Silver Springs to dip their paddles in four spring-fed waterways — the Silver River, Ocklawaha River, Rainbow River and Juniper Creek. Twenty-eight guided outings were offered during the three-day event and most attendees completed between three and four paddling trips (including night excursions on the Silver River), with trip distances ranging between six and 10 miles.
The event was flawlessly orchestrated by volunteers from the Villages Canoe and Kayak Club. The entire state park campground was occupied by paddlers, as were dozens of surrounding motel rooms. While some meals were included in the registration, many visitors dined in local restaurants, spent money on transportation and other supplies, and paid park entry fees to state and local governments. An estimated $40,000 was infused into the Marion County economy from this one weekend of paddling. Paddlers came from all regions of Florida and from at least five other states, including California. Best of all, paddling sports exert a minimal footprint on the natural water systems they visit.
Paddlers take only pictures, kill only time and leave no trace as they glide over the water surface. They do not scar the river bottom, damage the vegetation, or subject wildlife and fellow humans to noise pollution.
Paddling a canoe, kayak or paddle board provides an excellent opportunity to leisurely see and appreciate wildlife and natural plant communities, and to leave them almost untouched in their natural splendor.
Florida is home to the 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, as well as 57 inland water trails that include hundreds of miles of spring runs, rivers, lakes and estuaries. More than 40 communities in 15 counties have earned the designation as “paddling-friendly destinations.” The 501(c)(3) non-profit Florida Paddling Trails Association has a host of “trail keepers” and “trail angels” who maintain trails and help paddlers utilize this Florida Blueway network. The diversity and majesty of Florida’s paddle trails is legendary throughout the U.S.
There are currently no estimates of either the number of non-motorized watercraft in Florida or the number of residents and tourists who annually enjoy these sports.
Too much has already been lost due to excessive groundwater pumping, discharge of nutrient-laden wastes and lax enforcement of environmental laws intended to protect these natural treasures.
We have only ourselves to blame if we do not elect and hold accountable governmental officials to better protect our valuable natural resources.
You the voter must be alert for election-day environmentalists who hope to be re-elected, only to continue their real agenda of supporting developers and industries that prioritize short-term profits over the health of Florida’s waters. Please consult with your local environmental watchdog organizations between now and next year to find out who they recommend as trustworthy candidates.
Robert Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in High Springs and a member of the Silver Springs Alliance board of directors.
*Kayakers endure a chilly morning to paddle near the headwaters of the Silver River in Silver Springs.
[ALAN YOUNGBLOOD/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER/ FILE]