Tuesday, November 29, 2005

O’Leno State Park and Ichetucknee Springs

When we started our trip in the summer we had plans to stop at these parks while heading north, but we found the bugs were too difficult to deal with at that time so we skipped this area and bugged out of North Florida, pun intended. This time around was perfect. There were a handful of mosquitoes at night, but not bad at all. O’Leno is a gorgeous park with towering pines and oaks. It encompasses a section of the Santa Fe River that “sinks” underground and then “rises” again above ground 3 ½ miles away. At the River Sink you would never guess that the vent is 150’ below the surface. That would be quite a dive to check out that passageway. We took a bike ride here in this park to see the River Rise. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, though, since the trail was supposedly closed. Ha! The sign said it was closed due to High Water. But we figured that was old. A Park Ranger told us the night before that after last year’s Hurricane Frances, the water level rose so high it flooded most of the park and the river bumped up against the bottom of the suspension bridge spanning the river. This was a pretty scary thought since the bridge is about 20’ or more above the river when we saw it. So, knowing the water level is actually low, we figured we would take the trail anyway. The bike ride was through a pretty forest and passed by sinkholes and the occasional spring-fed lake. The trail was a bit of a pain, though, since you had to slog through a lot of sand pits. We biked about 9 long miles. The trail might’ve been “closed” since they haven’t finished maintenance and repairs since the last storm. A part of the trail had a couple of large trees blocking the way so we had to carry our bikes either under or over the fallen trees to continue on. And other areas looked like there were fresh cuttings. But we did make it to the River Rise. We expected to see the water swirling to the surface or some movement. But it was still, almost stagnant, just like at River Sink.
Here is the pavilion the CCC built in 1932 and the suspension bridge the CCC built spanning the Santa Fe River.

Sunday morning we paddled Ichetucknee Springs State Park. We had a hard time trying to get complete information before going there. One ranger encouraged us to do Ichetucknee versus Santa Fe if we only had time for one paddle. She mentioned it was about a 3-mile paddle, but we didn’t get specifics from her on put-ins, etc. When we went looking for information, the other rangers at O’Leno didn’t know specifics, and actually gave us inaccurate information. This surprised me considering the parks are only 12 miles apart from one another. You’d think they’d know everything about both parks, wouldn’t you? Well, there are two entrances to the park, with no connecting interior road. We chose the South with the thought that we’d paddle against the current to the head of the spring and then coast home. At the South Entrance there were three put-ins all requiring a hike in. There’s a shuttle system, but we couldn’t get any info on it being off-season and we couldn’t find a warm body to talk to. So we chose Dampier’s Landing which had the shortest hike, maybe about 1/3 mile. We were glad we had our kayak wheels. Once we were on the river, all of the confusion and frustration disappeared. The river was beautiful and completely surrounded by nature. We saw egrets, herons, kingfishers and an osprey. Below in the crystal clear water we saw tons of fish fighting the current. And turtles were sprawled out on almost every log. At the north end we thought we’d be able to paddle to the blue hole, but they had it fenced off to protect the area. Sadly it was only 2 miles each way from our put-in/take-out. It was so pretty, we wished it was longer. This river is popular with tubers. I could just imagine how crowded it must get during the season considering the shuttle system and the size of the parking lot. I guess this was our big advantage for being here off-season, we only saw a handful of other kayaks and canoes.


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