On November 11, 2014 at 08:20PM, at Ichetucknee Alliance published the following article:
by Jill Lingard
Sometimes the most effective way you can raise environmental consciousness is to simply spend a day on a river…or forest, mountain, beach, whatever natural place makes your soul sing. Most people who enjoy tubing the Ichetucknee consider Labor Day weekend to be season’s end for the river. It’s just beginning for paddlers.
I’ve been kayaking the Ichetucknee River for a couple decades. With its supreme beauty and proximity to our home in Gainesville, “the Ich” is my go-to river. It’s where I go for a quick pick-me-up paddle when time is short. It’s where I take visiting friends and relatives who are new to paddling. And it’s where we took 45 paddlers signed up for Paddle Florida’s Suwannee River Wilderness Trail trip this past October 24-29, 2014.
I’ve been associated with Paddle Florida since its first Suwannee expedition in 2008 and joined their board of directors as Vice President in 2011. Since then I’ve been interested in how we could re-route our popular Suwannee trip slightly to include my beloved Ichetucknee. With the support of Ichetucknee Springs State Park staff, we figured out a way to do it this fall.
Park rangers gave our group special permission to camp at the south take-out point along the river on our opening night. The next morning, our group ate breakfast, broke camp, and paddled upstream to explore the beautiful Devil’s Eye and Ichetucknee Head Springs. They then returned downstream, paddled past the park to where the Ich meets the Santa Fe River, then followed the Santa Fe down to Ellie Ray’s Landing, just before the confluence with the Suwannee. We then shuttled paddlers and their boats to Suwannee River State Park for the night. From there, paddlers worked their way down the Suwanee over four more days to the town of Branford, camping at state parks and river camps along the way.
One of the many things that make the Paddle Florida experience so special is the educational programming we provide each evening. On every trip, we invite various experts to come talk to paddlers about the ecology, wildlife, or environmental issues of the region we’re paddling through. You spend a day on a gorgeous river watching huge, prehistoric-looking fish jump in the distance…and then later that evening the foremost expert on Gulf sturgeon, affectionately nicknamed ‘The Sturgeon General’ by our group, comes to tell you all about them. It’s like paddling through your own personal Nova special!
From my involvement with Ichetucknee Alliance, I recognized that we had a perfect opportunity to educate paddlers about this gem of a river they were about to experience the next day. Alliance Secretary Lu Merritt concurred, and together we assembled a joint presentation to deliver to the group just a few feet from the banks of the Ich.
That night, we led a conversation about the Ichetucknee’s geology, hydrology, wildlife, cultural history, artistic inspiration, and economic impact to the region. We also discussed threats to its flow and water quality from overpumping and contamination from nitrates and phosphorus. We invited paddlers to not only join us in our fight to save the Ichetucknee, but to better understand how water decisions are made at local and state levels and to participate in those decisions. Several paddlers asked questions during and after our presentation and offered positive comments about the work of the Alliance throughout the week.
Ahhhhh, but nothing can match the impact of actually BEING THERE firsthand. As the sun rose the next morning, an eerily beautiful mist wafted off the river’s surface into the chilly October air. Paddlers slipped into their boats with quiet reverence. They photographed brilliant blue springs and the promised rows of turtles on logs, delighted in spotting otters frolicking along the bank, pointed to eagles, egrets, cranes, and kingfishers. They also noted the green tint of the water in some stretches and the fuzzy black algae coating much of the eel grasses along the riverbed.
I believe people rarely want to protect something they don’t know. Our trip brought both Ichetucknee veterans and first-timers to the river, older and younger paddlers, conservatives and liberals. All paddlers left with a better understanding of what’s at stake. Perhaps this comment from a trip evaluation summed it up best: “This trip is the poster child of why we need to pass Amendment 1.” Amen.
Every time you introduce a child or adult to a beautiful natural place for the first time, you’re taking a powerfully positive step that ripples well beyond the great day you enjoyed together. You’re showing them what’s at stake. You may help shape how they vote, the kinds of stewards they will become, the conversations they’ll have with friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues.
When was the last time you took a friend or family member to see the Ichetucknee for the first time?