An interview with Lars Andersen, river guide and Florida author

If you are even moderately involved in the Florida canoe/kayak scene, it won’t take long before you stumble upon Lars Andersen.  His name pops up all over – he’s an author, a river guide, owner of Adventure Outpost, lifelong Floridian and an expert in the natural and cultural history of north Florida.Lars Andersen

With his wife, Lars owns Adventure Outpost, an outfitter and guide service in High Springs.  He offers tours at more than 60 Florida waterways, including the Suwannee, Silver River, Chassahowitzka, and trips to Cedar Key and St. Augustine.

He writes about many of his adventures on his blog, and even wrote a wonderful history of Paynes Prairie in his 2003 book “Paynes Prairie: The Great Savanna,” which also includes a complete guide for hikers, bikers and kayakers.

Lars keeps a busy schedule guiding kayakers down Florida’s best waterways, so I was thrilled that he was able to take some time to answer a few of my questions.  He told me all about his interest in Paynes Prairie, his favorite rivers, and his go-to kayak.

How did you get started paddling in Florida?  Was it a childhood pastime or were you a late adopter?
A: I have loved the outdoors since I was a kid growing up on Rattlesnake Creek in Gainesville, Fla. As a teenager, I focused my interests on outdoor survival skills, with emphasis on learning animal lore and edible wild plants (how to identify, find and cook them). In my 30’s, I began writing about Florida history and nature. In 1988, I wrote and produced an educational audio tape about North Florida titled, “The North Florida Adventure.” After that I wrote a book, “Paynes Prairie: A History and Guide,” about a place I spent many days of my early youth and throughout my life. Interest in that book and other writings prompted people to ask me to lead them on tours to places I was writing about. So, in 1996, my wife Patsy and I started an outfitter and guide service called Adventure Outpost.
 
A question you’ve been asked a million times, I’m sure, but what is your favorite paddling trail in the state?
A: It sounds ridiculously cliche, but I really have a hard time picking favorites from the 60+ rivers on which I lead tours. Obviously, I’m very partial to my home river, Santa Fe. With dozens of springs, record numbers of turtles and lots of birds, it really is a special river. But, I really love many of the other rivers I do on my tours. Each one has it’s own unique look, wildlife, plants and history, archaeology… you get the picture. Rivers like Ocklawaha and Withlacoochee are excellent for raw, wild beauty and semi-tropical settings. Suwannee is beautiful with limestone outcroppings and high bluffs. Gum Slough is a waterway I’ve been doing since 1997 and it is still one of the favorites among our regular clients. Silver River and Ichetucknee River, are both amazingly beautiful spring runs, with lots of wildlife. Both of these, however, can be busy sometimes and very quiet if you time them right. Some of our coastal trips are excellent for scenery and wildlife–especially birding. High on this list are Cedar Key, Ozello, Shired Island, St. Augustine (a trip I call the “Wild Side of St. Augustine”) and Canaveral National Seashore.
Silver River in Ocala, Fla.

Silver River in Ocala, Fla. – one of the beautiful river that Lars guides

 
When you think back on your decades of experience exploring Florida’s wild spaces, is there one particular memory that you hold above others?
A:  The most memorable wildlife experiences for me are those that seemed to transcend normal experiences and became more spiritual. Spending a day in company of a dying owl, experiencing the death of a back bear, and other such things added depth to my understanding and appreciation of nature.
As a nature guide with a passion for teaching, the moments that really resonate are those times when someone has a very special experience on one of my tours. It might be awakening a passion in a young person (or a senior!) that they may not have been aware of before, or providing them with a wildlife sighting or encounter that I know they will remember all their life. In several instances, I have been asked to facilitate some wonderful end-of life experiences for families where a family member is nearing death. In one special instance, a long-time customer asked me to be in charge of her ashes after she passed away.
 
Paynes Prairie: The Great Savanna

Paynes Prairie: The Great Savanna, by Lars Andersen

Was there something particularly surprising you discovered when you were doing the research for “Paynes Prairie: The Great Savanna”?
A: There were many surprises that could be lumped under the general theme that I had no idea how many important events in North Florida’s history took place at the Prairie or were directly influenced by the Prairie.
 
Can you tell me more about how you got started in the guided tour business?
 My wife Patsy both love nature so, in 1996, we decided to open an outfitter and guide service to facilitate inexpensive opportunities to explore nature. At that time, there were no tour providers in North Florida, so we had to introduce the idea and convince people it was something worthwhile. So, for the first year, to introduce the public to the idea of going on a paddle tour, we did tours for only $10 per person. We called them “ten buck tours.” For only $10  I gave them the full tour of whatever waterway we were doing. It was a hard-earned, low-income way to introduce the idea, but it caught on.  Now, I lead 3 – 4 tours each week–and I charge a bit more than $10.
 

What’s your preferred flatwater kayak?  Is there any gear that you never kayak without?

The Old Town Adventure 139

The Old Town Adventure 139, 2009 model

A: While I do like kayaks very much, I actually prefer to paddle a solo canoe. The feel and maneuverability of a solo canoe is much more pleasing to me than a kayak.  There’s a wonderful grace of motion and feel of the water that I don’t experience in a kayak. But that’s just me. As for kayaks, my favorite all-around kayak for Florida waters is the Old Town Adventure 139. This is an older model that might even be discontinued by now. It’s 13’9″ length gives it versatility to do small creeks and open water with equal ease. It’s long enough to track well, while still being an easy length to turn in tight spots. I also like its super-durable three-layered construction.
 
Could you leave us with one piece of advice for the new Florida kayakers out there?
Go slow! The slower you move in nature, the better. When hiking, that means sitting still as often as possible. On the water, that means going at the pace of the river as much as possible, (which usually means, when you your friends start throwing rocks at you). Only when you go slow can you see the subtle movements around you. Sit still and soon the world around you comes to life. I understand the enjoyment of sliding quickly over the water and the feel of a sleek, fast boat; I also understand the love of paddling hard and making every muscle and sinew burn as they are pushed to their limits. But, regardless of whatever other speed or style of paddling you prefer, I recommend allotting some time for going very slow or even drifting. No hard-paddling workout will achieve the benefits of going slow and feeling the vitality of the forest and the pulse of the river below your boat. When I hire a guide, I’m much more inclined to hire the person who has drifted a river once, than to hire someone who has raced its length a hundred times.
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To find more of Lars, visit his blog, and to book a tour, visit the Adventure Outpost.  “Paynes Prairie” is available on Amazon (free shipping too).
If you’re interested in exploring Paynes Prairie on your own, you can start by reading our reviews of La Chua Trail and Bolen Bluff Trail, both of which offer relatively easy access into the prairie.
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Comments

  1. Great post. You’re giving us ideas on more places to go and photograph

  2. Just ordered the book! Thanks for the heads up!

  3. Although I am not an adventurer like yourself or Lars, I love seeing how someone with a passion for nature views Florida. Thank you for this interview and thanks to Lars for his work and passion about this gorgeous corner of the world we share!

  4. Traveling Ted says:

    Sounds like a fascinating person and a great resource for those interested in Florida Rivers. I have canoed the Santa Fe a couple of times, and I can see why he would be partial to that river.

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