Alligator Princess of America's Nile

The Journey


                                                                                                                    Photo by Daniel Flick

The journey began about 1 year ago with an idea. 

The adventure continues as I move forward to investigate and document even more sections of the river. There are so many hidden treasures in this Eco-Heritage River and I look forward to discovering even more.

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A vein of the St. Johns River system runs through my back yard. It’s the Little Wekiva River. The subtropical trees and plants around it are so thick it’s hard to see the river itself. If it weren’t for this Little Wekiva, the foliage and wildlife wouldn’t be there. Yet, my neighbors have built high fences in their backyards to avoid contact with the river. Like so many of us in modern Florida, they have become disconnected from nature and “place”.
 Little Wekiva River



 
I knew this Little Wekiva ran north to the big Wekiva, and from there to the St. Johns River. I read a book that helped me understand what that St. Johns was about. It was called “ River of Lakes” and was written by my good friend, Bill Belleville. His own passion for the big river inspired me. 

 I wanted to help others acknowledge the full breadth of the St. Johns. And I wanted an adventure. As a conservationist, I also wanted to bring attention to the importance of the St. Johns and to highlight the challenges it faces today. I wanted to help all of us to re-connect.  

 The best way to see any natural system is without the commotion of motors.  I figured the ideal way to accomplish this was to get a kayak and paddle the entire river—not just the main channel, but the tributaries and spring runs, and the canals and impoundments. Over the last few months, I’ve navigated the river from its headwaters to its ocean confluence in a single kayak. Although the river is officially 310 miles long, branches, sloughs, canals and tributaries create a larger river “system” that is well over 500 miles.  

  Authorities on the St. Johns say they know of no person who’s paddled this much of the river system by themselves. Ironically, we live in a place where so many define “adventure” by the choreographed rides at Disney World. Yet, there’s this primitive, subtropical environment right outside our door.

  On my journey, I used a 14-foot Necky rec-touring kayak (Manitou 14)  and packed away food, water, and camping gear for overnights. Sometimes, I camped on conservation land managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD).

  I began my trip in Okeechobee County at the true headwaters in the densely-wooded Ft. Drum Creek—which is far below Blue Cypress Lake west of Vero, and well below the “navigational headwaters” of Lake Helen Blazes. I relied on a compass rather than a GPS, but did use a number of topo and aerial maps.   
                                 
                                   Navigating my way through Fort Drum Creek

This river system is not quite as “known” or as domestic as most think. In addition to getting lost in the shallow, labyrinth of “Puzzle Lake,” I also fought high winds and large white capped waves on the 12 by 9 mile Lake George, and explored remote, southerly canals where large ‘gators routinely launched themselves into the water only feet from my kayak. (Gators often hang low in the water, and several times I paddled over their backs by accident.)

  At other times, I dodged stray bullets from careless hunters, narrowly missed being caught in a cattle stampede when I camped on a prairie in the upper river, and had a number of close encounters with airboats. On that shallow upper section, I had to get out a number of times and wade and pull my kayak behind me.

  The north-flowing St Johns changes dramatically, depending on where you are in its watershed. The “upper river” (which is south) is  mostly open marsh and prairie. The middle section, roughly between Sanford and Lake George, is defined by the shores of a hardwood swamp, and is more spring-fed. The lower or northernmost section is deep and averages two miles in width from Palatka to the river mouth.

 In addition to gaining a rare look at the river, I also met many locals for whom the St. Johns is a vital part of their lives—from a free-spirited Vietnam vet living in a river camp to more refined riverfront dwellers in Jacksonville. All share a devotion and conservation ethic for the future of the river.

Tree Trimmer- Vietnam veteran living  the river
 


 While the main trip was made over several months during winter and spring 2008, I continue to scout  tributaries, lakes and canals of the river in order to better understand and chronicle  the entire St. Johns.
 
 
I will include the latest photos and news on this site as I continue to document the parts of the river I have finished and  move forward to venture to new places.