Sunday, May 15, 2011

Down the Amazing Ichetucknee River

Carole and Andy and I had been to Ichetucknee River/Springs before. We took Andy tubing down the river when he was only five years old. In fact, that was the last time we went there, so it has been a very long time since we'd visited.

Ichetucknee was one of my favorite places when I was a young man. I first floated the river when I was nineteen years old and made a number of trips to visit it when I was living in the hideous hell hole called Brunswick, Georgia. In those days the entire length of the river could be tubed, from the head springs all the way to the end of the state owned property. This proved disastrous for the river's fragile ecosystem and there were long runs of the waterway in which almost all of the native grasses and shoreside plants had been killed off.

These days, the park is very protective of the river's ecosystem. You can now only tube about half the river, although the entire length remains open to canoes and kayaks which don't damage the native plants (the occupants are far less likely to get out and walk all over them). So we found that we had the upper reaches of the river all to ourselves for most of that part of the trip. I was pleased to see that the river has completely recovered in the intervening years, now that people are not allowed to slog through the shallows, tearing up the vegetation.

Here, then, is a brief photo essay of our float down the river and our trip to swim in the river's head springs.

This was the put-in point for us. We used the services of Ichetucknee Family Canoe and Cabins which is just a few hundred feet from the park entrance. They were very good, with friendly owners and reasonable rates for the rentals and shuttle services.

The river quickly opens up and reveals its beauty.

I was surprised to see spider lillies in bloom. I didn't know that they grew there.

Room to go under!

Moss-draped cypress trees line the shores.

These common river turtles were literally EVERYWHERE we looked.

In short order the river began to widen and deepen as flow from more and more side springs were added as we floated along.

This is a spot where we stopped to go swimming. There are deep holes all along the length of the river, some of them ten feet or more.

Typical view looking into the cypress groves.

Back in the days of my youth, this limestone bank was a popular jumping and diving area. These were activities which caused destruction of plant life, so it's not allowed anymore. And if you think you can get away with breaking the rules, don't try. This park is HEAVILY patrolled by rangers who don't hesitate to enforce the laws.

More spider lilies.

Tubers began to show up at the halfway point. This is where they are allowed to put in, where the water is deeper and dangling legs and swimming people are far less likely to damage the river vegetation.

You want beauty? We got beauty.

When I was a kid, whole portions of the river had lost the river grasses that are supposed to grow there, supporting an array of life.

The current causes the grass to sway gently in the air-clear water.

There are some spots where the river grasses have not recovered, even after a couple of decades of protection.

Looking down on The Blue Hole, one of the most impressive springs in the park. You can see the fence that prevents passage by people from the spring into the run that flows into the Ichetucknee River. When I was young, you could swim/tube from the spring into the river, and the tributary had been denuded of plant life.

Looking down into one of the big spring fissures at The Blue Hole.

Carole took this of me as I climbed out of The Blue Hole onto the dock and boardwalk.

This is the main headspring with many Homo sapiens present .(In summer it gets so packed with people you can barely find a spot to stand.)

A snorkeler was swimming out of the main fissure at the headspring as I snapped this shot.

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