Thursday, July 20, 2006
Floating The Ichetucknee River
The first time I floated the Ichetucknee River, I was 12 years old and the state of Florida had just purchased the land around it as a future state park. There were no facilities and no signs to help you find it. Dad drove us through miles of North Florida woods and fields until suddenly we were standing in front of a crystal blue spring bowl.
Back then, you were on your own. No rules, no rangers. It was common to stretch an inner tube around an ice chest and float down the river with food and ...beverages. I still remember my Dad yelling at some foul mouthed drunks to watch their language.
The river was beautiful, but the sandy bottom held cans, bottles, and food wrappers. You had to take two cars so you could leave one at the spring head and one at the endpoint where you would get out. You also had to take your own tubes since you were in the middle of nowhere. There were some real logistics involved.
These days, with a thousand tubers on a busy weekend day, the Florida State Park Service has it down to a science. There's a nice little tram that eliminates the need for two vehicles. Tubes are easily rented ($5 for a typical tube) just outside the park entrance and can just be dropped off when you exit the river at the south entrance. Once you get out of the water, you're done. There's no need to haul tubes back to the vendors shop site.
You also have 3 choices for tubing trips. It used to be, you had to do the whole river...about 3.5 hours. Now there are two other choices, a short half hour float and a 1.5 hour float. There's also no litter on the bottom because you can't take any food or drink along with you...not even a bottle of spring water.
That's me (wearing a Seal swim mask) in the mouth of a cave cut into the limestone bank of the river. The Ichetucknee flows mainly through a cypress riverswamp, but occasionally cuts through limestone bluffs like these. I had pulled over to peek inside this cave and I tossed the disposeable underwater camera to my brother in law, Paul as he floated by. He took a pretty good shot considering he was sitting in a moving tube with his baby daughter in one hand and the cheap camera in the other.
This is my beautiful daughter Emma trying to see out of her fogged dive mask. The water is 72 degrees so masks fog quickly without a good spit or a squirt of store bought "nofog" stuff. Looks like Em didn't use either. She's a certified SCUBA diver so she should know better...I just hope her SCUBA instructor isn't reading this.
We were in the water under sunny blue skies, for a 1.5 hour float by 10:00 am and didn't finish until about 12:45. That's because we stopped at a park service floating dock and played jump in, climb out, jump in, climb out...ad infinitum to make the experience last as long as possible. By the time this crew was out and looking for a late lunch at Floyd's Diner in High Springs it was pouring rain. In summertime Florida, you get going early, because it's a given that the afternoon will be stormy.
These pictures really don't do the 'Tucknee justice. The water is crystal clear having just gushed from the spring after a long journey underground. As you drift over eelgrass and white sand, there are turtles, birds, and fish that are so accustomed to tubers that they ignore you. The only scenery is crystal water, blue sky, and forest...no houses, no motor boats...it's magical.
It's only still magical because "grownups" back in 1970 thought to preserve it for my children and yours. There's a lesson for all of us.
We must not forget the future.
Posted by R.Powers at 8:20 AM