Will sequestration hurt Florida’s National Parks?

Barring a miracle, Friday will see the federal government go through something now being called “sequestration,” a series of across-the-board, indiscriminate cuts to federal programs.

Sequestration was never supposed to happen, though.  It was a time-bomb signed into law to force our government to come up with rational, meaningful reductions before March 1 – something that now seems unlikely to happen.

If nothing happens in the next 48 hours, these cuts will go into effect, and they could have a dramatic impact on national defense, education, housing aid – and, of note for the adventurers among us, our national parks.

Florida is fortunate to have three amazing national parks: Everglades, Dry Tortugas and Biscayne. Like other federal programs, our national parks are scrambling to figure out how they’ll continue normal operations despite significant budget cuts.

Everglades rainbow

Everglades National Park | Photo used under CC license by Flickr user Photomatt28

The New York Times reported Monday that some parks have already begun slashing services – closing roads to avoid paying for plows, closing trails, reducing visitor center hours and closing campgrounds.

[Read more…]

Advertisements

In search of the Paynes Prairie Bison

There are many ways into Paynes Prairie, and I’ve been on a quest to explore them all in hopes of finding the elusive prairie bison.

There’s the Bolen Bluff entrance, off of U.S. 441 near Gainesville, and there’s the La Chua Trail entrance,  off the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail.

I’ve hiked each of these several times, but despite my passionate finger-crossing, I’ve yet to spot the bison.  So, I went to the only park entrance left – the main one. (Scroll down for an interactive map of the park entrances.)

Paynes-Prairie-watch-tower

The three-story watch tower looking over the prairie.

The main park entrance, which is along U.S. 441 near Micanopy, provides access to the park’s campground, ranger station, observation deck and several trailheads.  I went for the trails and the tower, hoping to spot the bison before the herd is no more.

I went twice, on consecutive weekends, to no avail.  But I did get to check out the trails on that side of the prairie, and I had another encounter with the Spanish horses that roam the park, which was a nice consolation prize.

The two main trails that leave from the park entrance are Cone’s Dike and Chacala Trail.  Cone’s Dike is a four-mile, one-way trail that heads straight (literally) into the prairie.  It’s beautiful scenery, but the hike itself isn’t terribly enjoyable.  Cone’s Dike Trail is four miles and exactly three 90 degree turns.

Cardinal-Paynes-Prairie

The view from Cone’s Dike Trail (and a solitary cardinal).

Built on the route of an old ranger service road (still apparent, as the first two miles of the trail are gravel), the trail runs in a straight line for a half mile before making a sharp right, where it goes for another half mile.  Eventually, and this is exciting, the trail turns left.  In two miles, another right.  Eventually, it dead ends, and you walk back.

[Read more…]

A Fitness Hike in Newnans Lake Conservation Area (Terri Mashour Guest Post)

I’m happy to have Terri Mashour guest posting today about a fitness hike she led at Newnans Lake Conservation Area, near Gainesville.  Read on to hear about her encounter with a water moccasin, an unfortunate split in her hiking group and (I never knew this) how the land management staff uses horses to assist in prescribed burns.

Terri owns Gainesville Ecotours, a company that offers interpretive and informative hikes in some of Alachua County’s most interesting parks and preserves.  Before running her own show, she worked in land management for over six years, specializing in prescribed forest burns, among other things.

But now, her focus is on hiking.  You can catch up with Gainesville Ecotours on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and GainesvilleEcotours.com.  Check Terri’s calendar to join a hike!

—-

Newnans Lake Conservation Area is owned and managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District and is located in Alachua County, just outside of Gainesville, Florida. It is 6,500 acres found in three disjunct parcels with around 16 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian multi-use trails divided amongst the three. Mostly mesic flatwoods habitat with some sandhills, the northern most tract, Hatchet Creek, has some floodplain systems via Bee Creek, Little Hatchet Creek, Hatchet Creek, and Gum Root Swamp that allow for some beautiful hiking minutes from Gainesville.  That was the setting for our hike on this adventurous day.

Wild Azaleas

The beautiful wild azaleas.

The hike started out with a brief meeting with the on-site resident for the Rotary Club outparcel.  Mr. Sullivan noted that there was a Florida black bear sighting at the entrance the week before. Checking for any food-related care packages, I’m sure! OK, as a veteran of the woods, but a relatively new hiking guide, I could handle that: talk loud and keep a good look out. The group of five – four long time Gainesville residents/friends and me, the fearless guide set out on the main hiking trail at the Newnans Lake Hatchet Creek entrance on the north side of SR 26, five miles east of the Gainesville Airport.

[Read more…]

Hiking the Big Oak Trail at Suwannee River State Park

One of my favorite trails of last year was the Big Oak Trail, which winds through Suwannee River State Park and visits two of Florida’s most impressive rivers – the Suwannee and the (north) Withlacoochee.

There are a number of ways to hike this trail, and a number of trailheads (some official, others less so), but the main loop of the trail is between 11 and 12.5 miles, depending on who you ask.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of hiking at the park is finding where to park.  You have  a few options:  Starting at the ranger station (where admission is $5), the hike is a full 12.5 miles.  Starting from the parking area across the Withlacoochee (free admission), the hike is 9.5 miles.  And starting from the “gas pipeline entrance” along C.R. 141 (free side-of-the-highway parking), it’s only about 4.5 miles.  All of these hikes are possible day hikes, but you’ll want to make sure you bring the right provisions for the longer ones.

I parked near the abandoned bridge across the Withlacoochee.  Heading west on U.S. 90, take the first right after you cross the Withlacoochee – follow that road to the right until you reach the dead end.  To your left will be a small parking area, straight ahead will be an abandoned bridge, and to your right will be a single home with a rabbit farm (you’ll smell it).

Withlacoochee Bridge

The abandoned bridge over the Withlacoochee, once a vital passage for livestock transport.

Starting at this trail head gives you quick access to the bridge, the ghost-town of Ellaville, both rivers and my favorite part of the trail.  Also, it’s a fairly secure parking lot with free admission.

You have three options from here, and all of them are worth exploring.  You can head across the bridge to hike back toward the Suwannee River State Park, you can hike out on the blue-blazed trail that connects to the parking lot, or you can head through the opening into the woods.  I’d suggest the third option.

Even though this is an unofficial and unmarked area, there’s an amazing number of things to see back here.  It’s the shortest walk to the river, and it’s also the quickest route to some of the more interesting ruins from the town of Ellaville, which disappeared from the map about a hundred years ago.  But in the late 1800s, Ellaville was a town of about 1,000 and home to Florida’s first governor, George Drew.  Ruins from this town can be found all over the park and all along the trail, but the greatest concentration is right near the abandoned bridge trailhead.

The most interesting of these is the dammed Suwannacoochee Spring, which flows into the Withlacoochee.  I haven’t found a definitive answer to the function of the dammed spring, but I’d imagine it was used as a source for clean, cool, fresh water with easier access than the river itself.

Suwannacoochee Spring

The spring flows through the ruins of the old dam and out into the Withlacoochee.

Hiking along the river from the spring, you’ll run into all sorts of old brick structures, wells, storage silos and machinery.  It’s a bit of a puzzle to figure out what any of them are, as most are in the process of being swallowed up by the vegetation.

If you decide to hike along the river here, be careful.  There is something of a trail, but there are no blazes or other markers, and often the trail disappears altogether.  Clearly, people hike here, but it would be easy to get lost.  Stay within sight of the river and you should be OK.

Ruins Ellaville Suwannee

A 20-foot deep brick storage silo (maybe?) along the river.

For better hiking, though, you should head back to the parking lot and get on the trail marked with the blue blazes.  Hike for about a half mile on this trail and you’ll come to a split.

Ellaville cemetery

The most well-preserved of the tombstones in the Ellaville cemetery.

Blue blazes head to the left, orange blazes to the right.  The blue blazed trail is about two miles long (four miles roundtrip) and takes you out to the old cemetery and the former site of Governor Drew’s mansion.

The cemetery is one of the oldest in the state and is in pretty dour shape.  A very, very rough logging road runs nearby, but otherwise, there’s no access to this cemetery but by foot.

Finding the governor’s mansion is a little more difficult.  It’s along this same trail, but the remaining wood structure was burnt to the ground by arsonists in the 1970s.  I found it impressive that it lasted that long, abandoned in the woods as it was.  If you’re looking, you’ll still find some broken piping, a well and a foundation, under a foot of fallen leaves, if you’re there in early winter.

There’s also a picnic table that has somehow made it’s way out into the woods.  It’s a good indicator of the home site, though probably an improbable place for a picnic.

Ellaville cemetery

The remains of the Ellaville cemetery.

Drew Mansion

The Drew Mansion in its heyday.

Drew Mansion Site

The Drew Mansion “clearing” today.

Drew Mansion ruins

Ceramic drainage pipes near the Drew Mansion site.

Heading back to the blue-orange split, you can enter the actual Big Oak Trail and begin the nine-mile loop.  If you imagine the Withlacoochee and Suwanee Rivers coming together in a Y shape, the loop sits in the bowl made by the upper arms of the Y.  Leaving from the Blue-Orange split, the trail hikes up along the Withlacoochee, then cuts east to meet up with the Suwannee.  Hiking down the Suwanee and back across the abandoned bridge, you’ll eventually return to the parking lot where you began.

This section of the trail is part of the Florida Trail, meaning it’s well maintained and well marked by our friends at the Florida Trail Association.  The hike offers wonderful views of both rivers, more ruins, sinkholes, wildlife, and some of the more interesting terrain in Florida.  There are no major inclines or declines on the hike, but it is rarely flat either.  At several points, unofficial side trails lede down to the river, and they are certainly worth taking.

Florida Trail entrance

Florida Trail Entrance at the Blue-Orange split.

Suwannee River railroad

Crossing the old, but still active, railroad tracks along the Florida Trail.

Withlacoochee River

The Withlacoochee River in December.

On the back side of the hike, as you follow the Suwannee south, you’ll pass the big gas pipeline that crosses the river.  Shortly after, you’ll notice the massive Big Oak, for which the park is named.  It’s big.  You can’t miss it.

Big Oak Trail.

Hiking the Big Oak Trail.

The whole trail is great, but it’s important to have a plan and a good map before you head out.  There are side trails and shorter loops within the big loop (along the pipeline), and getting side tracked on a full-day hike could leave you out in the cold.

If you plan to hike overnight, and there are primitive campsites along the river, I’d suggest leaving from the official park entrance, where the parking lot is secured and maps are provided.  Leaving from the other two spots, while shortening the hike and providing quicker access to the highlights of the park, are a bit of a gamble in terms of parking lot security – especially overnight.

Make sure to bring water and snacks if you’re heading out on the longer hikes.  There’s nowhere to stop along the way – once you’re out there, you’re out there.  And again, make sure to have a plan.  This is a big park with lots to see, but it can get confusing once you’re out on the trails.  A trail map is must-have:  Here’s the map provided by the park (PDF).

On the map below, I’ve marked the three trailheads.  Any of the three would make for a great day of adventure, but my recommendation is the abandoned bridge trailhead.

Enjoy!

 

Hiking the ravine at Gold Head Branch State Park

Halfway between Gainesville and Jacksonville, there’s a state park with long trails and a really long name.  Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park (a mouthful) also has the distinction of being one of the oldest state parks in Florida.

Originally established in the 1930s as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps program, the park is consistently rated as one of the best in the state’s system.

Florida Trail entrance

The entrance to the Florida Trail, near the ranger station.

The park has more than eight miles of trails, 5.4 of which are part of the Florida Trail.  This scenic stretch is the best hiking in the park and makes for a nice afternoon trek.

The trail begins across from the ranger station at an informational sign with emblazoned with the familiar Florida Trail logo.  From the trail head, a mile’s walk through the sandhill ecosystem takes you to the junction with the ravine trail.

Sand trail Gold Head State Park

The ravine is the most dramatic feature in the park and is a unique formation for this part of Florida.  The naturally occurring ravine is about (best guess here) 50-60 feet down at its deepest.  A staircase, and a number of unofficial side trails, take hikers down to the bottom, where a small creek – Gold Head Branch – flows through the park.  As you hike along the ravine, the creek’s flow increases as new water sources join in.  By the time the creek approaches Big Lake Johnson, it’s moving a substantial amount of water.

[Read more…]

Silver Springs to join the state park system in October

The Florida State Parks system is about to get a big, wet addition.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet voted to let the current leasers of Silver Springs, near Ocala, out of their contract with the state.  Their theme park, which has operated on the spring since the 1980s, will be closed on Sept. 30, and the land will be turned over to the state park system and returned to its natural state.

Nearby Silver River State Park is already a wonderful place to camp, bike and kayak, and soon that park will extend to encompass the spring that feeds it as well.

Silver_Springs_Florida

Algae blooms taking over Silver Springs | Photo from the Audubon of Florida

Surely, this is good news for us.  Recently, concerns have been raised about the impact of the theme parks on the spring’s water quality.  The water flow has slowed, a thick layer of brown algae blankets the spring bottom, and water visibility has diminished dramatically.

Alan Youngblood, a photo editor with the Ocala Star-Banner, wrote in July about the changes he’s witnessed in the years he’s photographed the spring.

Diving in Silver Springs used to be like diving in air. The virtually pure water that shot like a fire hydrant from the main spring was so clear and clean you could lay on the bottom and read the names of the glass-bottom boats that passed over 40 feet above you. You could easily recognize the tourists looking down at you waving.

Now, though, that’s not the case.  It’s hard to make out underwater landmarks.  From the bottom, the surface seems much farther away.

Silver-Springs-water-quality

Algae overtaking the spring floor. | Photo courtesy of Ocala.com and Alan Youngbood/Staff Photography

I don’t mean to imply that the theme parks on the site, Silver Springs Nature Theme Park and Wild Waters, are the sole cause of this – they are not.  Polluted runoff, agricultural chemicals and overuse have  introduced new chemicals into a dangerous ecosystem, and skyrocketing nitrate levels have fostered massive algae blooms.

But there’s hope for the historic, world-famous spring.  The owners of the theme parks have agreed to pack up shop and return the spring to a close-to-natural condition before their departure.

At that point, the state park will expand and conservation will begin.  This likely means that the spring, one of the largest in the world, will be open to minimally invasive recreation as well – diving, snorkeling, canoeing and kayaking.

According to the Gainesville Sun, Palace Entertainment, the theme park operator, is planning to spend $4 million to improve the ecology of the site before turning it over.

Environmental officials from the state have already begun discussing plans to manage the river basin and to reduce the nitrate contamination.

Department of Environmental Protection secretary Herschel T. Vinyard, Jr., said in a statement,

We are pleased that the Governor and Cabinet have decided to approve this agreement so that the Department can return the property closer to its natural state, involve the community in recreation opportunity decisions and continue our efforts of improving water quality in Silver Springs, one of Florida’s most iconic treasures.

Count me in on that sentiment.  When the state park opens the gate to the new Silver Springs State Park on Oct. 1, I’ll be there.

Silver Springs has a fascinating and colorful history, and I’m excited to see how the state park system incorporates those elements into the new park.  For a time, Silver Springs was the biggest tourist attraction in the state and a hub for river travel.

George_Barker_Silver_Springs_Florida

An 1886 photo from George Baker shows a steamboat heading up Silver River from Silver Spring.

Silver_Springs_Early-1900s

Silver Springs, circa 1900. The Okeehumkee riverboat docked and waiting for passengers.

Six_Gun_Territory_Silver_Spring

Six Gun Territory, a theme park that operated at Silver Spring until 1984.

There have been numerous theme parks on the property, including the two that are there now.  There have been, and still are, glass bottom boat operators.  There have been movies (James Bond) and TV shows (“Sea Hunt,” “I Spy,” “Six Million Dollar Man”) filmed there.  There’s even a population of wild monkeys at the park, escapees from a failed ploy to attract even more tourists to the area.

Silver Spring really is one of the most interesting and beautiful springs in the country, and I could not be happier that it will now get the commitment to preservation that it so deserves.

Photo Friday – 100,000 bats over the University of Florida

Bat houses UF Gainesville

 

 There exists, in one of the less-academic corners of the University of Florida, two tall structures overlooking a lake.  Like houses without walls or sheds on stilts, the exist not for the 50,000 students who attend the school, but for the 100,000 bats (roughly, I didn’t count) that call the field home.

Inside the bat houses, which stand among a lake, a community garden and several fraternity houses, a large colony of Brazilian free-tailed bats hang and squeak all day long.  When the sun sets (on days when the sunset temperature is over 70 degrees), the bats leave the houses in a swarm and head toward the lake, where they spend the night eating mosquitoes, moths and other small insects.

If you’re looking for a free show, head out to the bat houses shortly before sunset and join the crowd of onlookers – and there’s always a crowd of onlookers.  Arrive even earlier and watch the sun set over Lake Alice (right across the street).

These are the largest occupied bat houses in North America, according to UF.  And the bats eat 10-20 million insects every night, begging the question:  Why are there still so many bugs in Gainesville?

The bat houses were original built to lure the bats already on campus away from other buildings (like the football stadium and the journalism school) where they had set up camp.  The move was successful, although I’m not sure how you convince 100,000 bats to move across campus.  A question for another day, I suppose.

UF bat houses

The two bat houses are home to over 100,000 Brazilian free-tailed bats.

 

Hunting for shark teeth in Central Florida

I got a tip a few weeks back from someone who told me to look for shark teeth in the creeks around Gainesville.

The teeth are there, they said. You just have to know where to look.

So, I set out to find them. And find them I did.

Hogtown-Creek-Gainesville

Hogtown Creek in Loblolly Woods Nature Park

I went to Loblolly Woods Nature Park, which is one of many parks that protects Hogtown Creek, the small, swift brook that cuts across the city.

Loblolly Woods has a few miles of hiking, biking and jogging trails and, likely because of how convenient the it is, the park gets a lot of use.

But the star of the show is the creek. The ages-old creek plays a vital role in Gainesville’s ecology, and it ultimately flows into the aquifer from which Gainesvillians draw their drinking water.

The creek has a mostly sandy bottom, but pebbles gather in the bends and where the elevation of the creek bottom changes. Grab a handful of pebbles and you’ll be surprised what you find.

In 15 mintues of looking, I found about 10 sharks’ teeth. Most were small (1/4 inch, maybe), but some were of a decent size. All of them were very, very old.

Like, 10 million years old, according to the experts.  The creeks in Gainesville cut into a phosphate layer under the soil, which formed when central Florida was first rising out of the ocean.  That layer holds the fossilized remains of aquatic animals and land animals – saber teeth have also been found in the area, for example.

Hogtown-Creek-shark-teeth

A handful of shark teeth found along the creek.

gainesville-shark-teeth

Ten-million-year-old shark teeth, found at Loblolly Woods.

In fact, Gainesville is one of the best places in the state to look for fossils, especially shark teeth.  Hogtown Creek, Rattlesnake Creek, and many of their tributaries are littered with shark teeth.

The best time to go for a hunt is after a heavy rain, when the high water levels recede and leave less-dense fossils on top of the more-dense rocks.  The best places to look are in the bends of the creek, where small pebbles tend to accumulate.

Hogtown Creek

Pebbles and fossils have collected under this fallen log.

Take care to leave the creek in a better condition than you found it.  Don’t step on plants, don’t dig and take out any garbage you come across.

If you’re interested in reading more about the ecology of Hogtown Creek, check out the brochure created by the GainesvilleCreeks.org.  For more on the other parks in he Hogtown Creek basin, visit Gainesville’s parks website.

A Florida “bucket list” for 2013

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, and I don’t have a bucket list.  But I do like making goals (for example, seeing all of the National Parks) and I’m a sucker for a good list.

In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of adventures I want to experience in the year 2013.  Some are things I’ve never done but feel like I should.  Others are things that I’ve recently discovered.  And a few are things I’ve already done but want to do more of.

Please add your suggestions in the comments section and share with friends!

 

1) Explore the Florida Caverns

Yep, that’s right.  If you’re not a panhandle-ite, you’ve likely never heard of the Florida caverns.  Located in Marianna, these caves are the only ones in the state park system, and park rangers offer “moderately strenuous” guided tours Wednesday through Sunday.  There are also opportunities for kayaking, camping, biking and hiking at the park – I’m planning on making a weekend of it.

Florida Caverns

The Florida Caverns | Photo from Florida State Parks

2) Swim at Devil’s Den in Hawthorne

Situated in the middle of an admittedly hokey-looking themed campground, Devil’s Den holds its own as a unique geological formation and one-of-a-kind dive spot.  The crystal-clear spring waters are almost entirely enclosed in a cave formation, save for a small vent directly above the spring (in the mornings, steam rises up through the vent, giving the spot its underworldly name).  Snorkelers and divers are allowed in the water, but no swimmers or gawkers.  It’s a narrow staircase down to the spring and a small platform from which to enter the water, so they don’t allow onlookers to clog them up for the divers and snorkelers.  Bring some gear and get ready to dive.

Devil's Den

Devil’s Den in Hawthorne, Fla.

3) Hike a section of the Florida Trail

OK, this is one I’ve done (in part) before.  But the Florida Trail runs for 1,400 miles, and I’ve not seen nearly enough of it.  The central Florida section is great for long section hikes, particularly as it winds through the Ocala National Forest.  And there are some wonderful sections in the panhandle, which make for great day hikes along the Suwanee River.  But I’m looking forward to getting out onto the southern sections of the trail in the cool early spring months.  Hiking along Lake Okeechobee sounds like a great February adventure to me.

Florida Trail

The Florida Trail winds all the way up the state and through the panhandle.

4) Kayak the rapids at Big Shoals State Park

Big Shoals boasts the only class III whitewater rapids in the state of Florida, and it’s calling to me for an adventure.  Of course, you can kayak or canoe the river and portage around the shoals, if that’s more your speed.  Make sure to call ahead and check the water levels before you go, as low water makes the river impassible, high water makes it flatwater paddling, and between 59 and 70 feet above mean sea level, it’s whitewater.  The park also has miles and miles of riverside hiking trails (maintained by the Florida Trail Association) with great views of the river.

Big Shoals State Park

Big Shoals State Park | Photo by B A Bowens Photography

5) Dive in Biscayne National Park

There are good reefs to dive all over Florida, but I hear some of the best are at Biscayne National Park.  I’m waiting for some warmer weather, but I couldn’t be more excited to explore Florida’s least-well-known national park.  The park itself doesn’t offer dive trips, but an outside company, Biscayne Underwater, offers daily snorkel and SCUBA trips to reefs throughout the park.  Located in the waters off Homestead, there are plenty of hotels and campgrounds nearby.

Biscayne National Park

The lighthouse at Biscayne National Park | Photo courtesy of Corey Butler

6) Try to find Fort Caroline in Jacksonville

Fort Caroline (the fort) was built in 1564 as part of Fort Caroline (the settlement) by French explorers near present-day Jacksonville.  Fort Caroline (the settlement) was the first French settlement in the United States.  The main defense at the settlement was a fort by the same name – although it was mostly ineffective.  A year after it was built, the Spanish destroyed the fort and built their own on the same spot.  Two years later, the French set the new fort ablaze.  The Spanish rebuilt the fort again (this was all great news for the Spanish construction companies), but abandoned it a year later.  Now, nobody has any idea where the fort is or was.  There’s lots of speculation, and a lot of people think they know, but archaeological digs and satellite images haven’t proven anything conclusively.  I’m going to find it.

Fort Caroline National Memorial

Fort Caroline National Memorial | Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

7) Make a donation to the Florida Trail Association

If you hike in Florida, chances are you’ve been on trails blazed, maintained or built by the Florida Trail Association.  This volunteer army of intrepid hiking enthusiasts keep trails marked, remove fallen trees, build boardwalks and provide information to hikers across the state.  They are partly funded by a federal grant but still rely heavily on donations.  Money is tight for everyone nowadays, but if you’ve got some extra bucks, send them their way.

Florida Trail Association

The folks who pave your trails | Photo courtesy of Florida Trail Association

8) Fly around in a hot air balloon.

Never done it.  Always wanted to.  Hot air balloons are one of the most peaceful ways to see the state (so I’ve heard).  Out in the fresh air, no noisy engine and nothing between you and the ground except a wicker basket and 1,000 feet of air.  Big Red Balloon Sightseeing Adventures offers untethered flights in and around Hillsborough County – a welcomed departure from balloons-for-hire in Orlando, the city with the most balloon companies in the state.  Flights at Big Red Balloon leave every day of the week at sunrise.

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Photo by dfbphotos

9) Check out the remains of the steamboat Madison in Troy Spring

The steamboat Madison was intentionally sunk in Troy Spring in 1863 to prevent it from falling into Union hands.  This Civil War-era ship is still visible to snorkelers and divers at Troy Spring State Park in Branford.  Troy Spring is a first-magnitude spring, one of only 27 in the state.  Better still, kayakers can stop by this park on their way to a number of other springs down river.  Before you go, read this fascinating National Geographic article about the Madison and the sunken boat at Troy Spring (which they speculate may not be one in the same).

Troy Spring Madison

Some remains from the Madison in Troy Spring | Photo by Phil’s 1st Pix

10) Hang Gliding in the Florida Keys

…And you thought hang gliding was for the mountains.  At Paradise Hang Gliding in the Florida Keys, you can soar over the beautiful blue water near Islamorada.  After you’ve been strapped into your glider, you get towed behind a boat until you reach altitude (1,500′-2,500′) – at which point you’re cut free and left to sail back down to earth.  Sounds awesome to me.

Hang Gliding in the Florida Keys

Hang Gliding in the Florida Keys

That’s our top 10 Florida adventures for 2013.  What’s on your to-do list for the new year?

 

 

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.