Explore the Panhandle in a Kayak!

Explore the Panhandle in a Kayak!

Many consider Northwest Florida as the “Canoe Capitol” of the state. We have numerous rivers, creeks, and springs that are great paddling spots.  The scenery is great, wildlife is common, and most are easily accessed.

 

To introduce residents and visitors to the natural history of these waterways, UF/IFAS Extension Agents, and other experts, will lead a paddle trip down one of the many paddling creeks in our area – the Econfina Creek.  This creek is one of the more unique ones.  The term Econfina is a Muskogean (Creek) term meaning “land bridge” – which apparently existed near the present sight of Highway 20. However, the land bridge is no longer there.  This creek runs 22 miles but the upper section is very difficult to paddle.  Shallow, fast moving water winds its way through limestone gorges as the land drops at a rate of 7.9 feet / mile (one of the steepest in the state).  The lower 6 miles (where our trip takes place) slows, meandering past several springs – including the first magnitude Ganier Springs – limestone outcrops, and lush vegetation – some plant species originate from the Appalachians.  There is the chance of seeing some local wildlife including river otters.  This lower section is slower and more relaxing and the scenery was graded an “A” by several canoeing guides.

 

The participants in the program will not only learn about the local natural history of this panhandle waterway but about some of the issues these unique habitats are currently facing. Field experts with the Northwest Florida Water Management District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and others will share insight to how we can protect these treasured ecosystems. To learn more about the trip contact Dr. Laura Tiu (lgtiu@ufl.edu) or to register visit http://ufifasecofina.eventbrite.com/ .

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“Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” schedule for 2016 announced

“Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” schedule for 2016 announced

The Florida Legislature has just convened for the 2016 session, and news from the capitol is already announcing a sweeping water bill on the fast-track to passage. Supporters are quoted as saying it would provide increased protection for certain key water resources in the State such as springs and the Everglades; opponents are quoted as saying that while it doesn’t undo current protections, neither does it go far enough to assure sustainable protection of water resources for Florida’s future.

Thus it seems our legislators and lobbyists are celebrating something that’s a little better than what we’ve got now, but isn’t good enough to get the job done. That doesn’t sound very reassuring. We need a realistic blueprint for how Florida’s ever-expanding population and robust agricultural industry that produces our food can continue to use Florida’s water resources without using them up. The only way that’s going to happen is for citizens concerned about their grandchildren’s future in Florida to become the voices that legislators ignore at the peril of their political future.

So how do you know what to think, and what to say, about the state of water resources where you live – in the Panhandle? Do you understand their current status and vulnerabilities? Threats to their near-term viability? Prospects for their long-term sustainability, complicated as they are by projections of amplified climate variability?

“Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” is stepping it up a notch for 2016, to help you get a handle on these “need to know” issues that affect future sustainability. University of Florida Extension’s acclaimed “Panhandle Outdoors LIVE!” mode of exploring signature water resources with knowledgeable guides is not going away; it’s being expanded into “water school” events in 2016. We are adding expert presentations and discussion to the on-water, on-trail immersion learning adventures you’ve come to love.

Daily river cruises on the Wakulla River are a great way to see manatees and other unique wildlife. Photo: L. Scott Jackson

Daily river cruises on the Wakulla River are a great way to see manatees and other unique wildlife.
Photo: L. Scott Jackson

This year we’ll study four Panhandle water resources of regional significance – the Wakulla Springshed, St. Joe Bay, the Econfina Watershed, and Weeks Bay. Two are freshwater streams and their watersheds; two are bays. Two are in the eastern Panhandle; two are in the west (one even in Alabama). Two are being offered in the spring, the other two in the fall.

First up is the Panhandle Outdoors LIVE! – Wakulla Springshed School on March 1-2. It will base out of the magnificent “Old Florida” Wakulla Springs Lodge south of Tallahassee, and feature field trips to Leon Sinks Geological Area, Cherokee Sink and the Wakulla River – concluding with an optional paddle downriver from Wakulla Springs through a transition of ecosystems to historic Fort San Marcos de Apalachee, where the Wakulla joins the St. Marks River.

Next up, on April 4-5, is Panhandle Outdoors LIVE! – Weeks Bay Watershed School that will base out of the Episcopal Beckwith Camp and Retreat Center on Weeks Bay in Fairhope (Baldwin County) Alabama. This second watershed school will focus on the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and feature a demonstration of oyster farming and a kayak paddle trip.

 

For more detailed information, and to register, for the Wakulla Springshed School visit – http://pol-2016-wakulla-springshed.eventbrite.com

For more information on the April overnight school to Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve contact Rick O’Connor at roc1@ufl.edu

For more information on the August day school on the Ecofina River contact Laura Tiu at lgtiu@ufl.edu

For more information on the September overnight school to St. Joe Bay contact Erik Lovestrand at elovestrand@ufl.edu