Sunday, June 07, 2015

Ecofina Splash!

Highest on our list of kayaking trips was Ecofina Creek. Now...there is also an Ecofina River, which was actually closer to where we were based at the state park. But we wanted to kayak the Creek because of the large number of freshwater springs along the route. And visiting the big springs of Florida is our favorite pastime when we're there. So we made arrangements to visit and float the Ecofina Creek.

There are a number of options one can choose to do that float. The upper reaches of Ecofina Creek are, however, considered very rugged and only for advanced kayakers. That section didn't really interest me at this point so it was never under consideration. What we decided on was a seven-mile stretch between the Ecofina Creek Canoe Livery and a take-out point at a bridge some miles distant where the Livery service would pick you up and return you to the original launch site. Due to the weirdnesses of GPS devices, we had a hard time locating the livery, but when I chose to ignore the computer voice and follow logic (none of the paper maps we had even showed the dirt roads we had to take) we soon figured out where it was.

The kayak ramp at the livery service was actually in a clear spring run and part of a very large spring that the state currently has closed while they renovate the infrastructure. It won't reopen until 2016. But in quick order as we kayaked down Ecofina Creek we began to encounter the first of many spring areas along the way. We paddled up a side tributary to Sylvan Springs and got out to take photos and to swim a little. Then it was back in the kayaks down to Pitt Springs where we tied up to a dock and walked up to see that spring, which was quite beautiful and not accessible by kayak directly from the creek (due to barricades to keep boats out). That spring area had its infrastructure repaired recently, and if this is what is in store for the one currently closed, then the reopening will find a much improved site.

After that we passed under a bridge and we floated down a long stretch of the quiet, tannin-colored water of the creek. I kept pulling ahead of Carole and would have to stop from time to time to allow her to catch up. Finally, at one point she was invisible to me as I had rounded a curve in the creek. So I reached up to snag a branch in my hand to stop myself so that she could catch up. This was a very bad decision. The current at the point where I chose to do this was deceptively strong, and it immediately pivoted me to the right so that my kayak was instantly cross-wise against the current. Before I could even release the branch, the current overturned my kayak and I found myself in deep water and my kayak hull-up.

At that point Carole appeared around the bend just in time to see my screw-up. She paddled over and prodded my kayak toward the shore. I struggled to keep the dry bag with my stuff from going downstream. It was partially opened and leaking. The first thing I did was get it up on the bank to make sure I hadn't lost anything of great value (including the keys to our truck). Everything was okay, except that I had soaked a spare (cheap) camera I take along because it was something I wasn't concerned about losing. It was there, but soaked. I lost a towel and I also lost my spare pair of glasses which are an old prescription and were also being worn for the sole reason that losing them would not be a disaster.

All in all, it could have been much worse. It only took a few minutes to right the kayak and drain the water from it. Carole has a bilge pump that she brings for this and it worked fine and got the excess water out that I couldn't just pour free. In just a little while we were on our way again. I will know in the future not to do something as silly as grasping an overhanging tree limb to halt my progress in a creek.

Our next stop was a vast group of springs known as "The Gainer Springs Group". They are listed as a group because there are quite a number of them issuing from the earth in close proximity. This area forms a vast set of blue pools pouring millions of gallons of water into the Econfina Creek. One thing that makes this area different from most other springs that Carole and I have visited is that the entire area surrounding each of these massive springs is privately owned. The dry land all around the water is posted against any form of trespassing. Some of the warning signs are specific enough to threaten you with arrest if you so much as set foot on dry land. This even includes a large island in the middle of a vast pool of water formed by these springs. Just consider all of the dry ground as private property and off limits.

We were able to climb out of our kayaks at this point by maneuvering them to shallow water beside some exposed limestone outcrops. And we spent about an hour in this area snorkeling and swimming in the cool, gorgeous water with the fishes. A few other kayakers were already there but they left before we did and so we had the place to ourselves for a while.

After this we hit the creek again and began the longest stretch of our journey along the Ecofina. The rest of the route is very unusual, the waterway having sliced its way through the limestone and sand banks, creating some cliff faces and steep geography. I kept hoping to encounter some unusual wildlife, but we just didn't see much on the way down to the takeout point beside the next bridge where the folk from the canoe livery were waiting to pick us up.

Carole and I very much enjoyed this kayak trip (despite the fact that I overturned my kayak). The next time we are in that area we are going to do pretty much the same trip, except that we will use the public canoe launch at Pitt Springs and just paddle as far as the Gainer Springs group, then kayak back to Pitt Springs. This way we won't have to arrange for a pickup to bring us back.

This kayak/canoe trail is known as one of the best, most scenic, and most fun of any in Florida. It well deserves that reputation.

Carole captures this image as we head down Ecofina Creek.

We arrive at Sylvan Springs.

Spring boil at Sylvan Springs.

Back out into the main course of the creek.

Pitt Springs.  We just stopped briefly to take a photo.

We pass Pitt Spring and Carole heads toward the first bridge.

Arriving at the Gainer Springs Group. The island in the center here and all of the land around the springs on all sides is privately owned and fiercely protected against trespass. For those of you not from the South, southerners are very jealous over their private property boundaries. When they post it as "Keep Out", they absolutely mean it. Don't test them.

Snorkeling at one of the big vents at Gainer Springs.

One of the spring heads where we got out of our kayaks.

"Glub glub!"

Limestone under the surface.

Carole precedes me as we reluctantly head out.

I've heard this spring referred to as "Emerald Spring". Stunning.

This is the last spring you encounter along the Ecofina Creek. The land around this one is also private. I've heard it referred to as "Emerald Springs" which is apt. It's part of the Gainer Springs group and is easily one of the most beautiful and impressive springs I have ever seen. There is an obvious boil that pushes up above the mean level of the water and the pressure of the water pushes you back if you approach the outlet. I really want to go back to visit this one.

Downstream, the banks and limestone cliffs are surprisingly steep.

We encounter other kayakers and canoeists along the way.


We saw a lot of these magnolia trees that overhang the creek.

And this big, gnarly old cypress just before we reached the end of the ride.

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