Bikes & boats: a two part Ochlockonee adventure

October 13th, 2015 by Red Hills

Rick Zelznak at Lake Talquin State Forest near Talquin dam

by Georgia Ackerman, published in Tallahassee Democrat 10/1/15

I loaded the bikes onto our camper van and told my spouse that I was whisking him away on a “spontaneous fish camp staycation.” He grinned quizzically, and asked if we were also taking the kayaks and “should we invite some friends?”

“Of course,” I responded.

The northern tip of the Apalachicola National Forest in Leon County, bordering Talquin State Forest was our weekend destination. Apalachicola National Forest is Florida’s largest national forest encompassing more than 550,000 acres. An easy drive from downtown Tallahassee, both the Apalachicola and Talquin forests offer ideal settings for big or small group, nature-based exploration. Our spur-of-the-moment adventure would commence with a 15 mile sunrise bike ride at Pine Creek landing along the Ochlockonee River. We would then trade the bikes for boats, and meet up with a couple of kayaking friends for an 18-mile river tour on a hot summer day. The forecast called for frequent sandbar detours and spontaneous river wading.

Rick is a cyclist and I am a paddler. We both dabble in the other’s recreational sport. And, while negotiations and compromises are necessary for a healthy partnership, Rick and I seldom worry about compromising on outdoor adventure locales, because we live in the Red Hills region — a recreational paradise! Outdoor enthusiasts have limitless choices for exploration by land or water. The Ochlockonee River, designated an Outstanding Florida Waterway and surrounded by these state and federal public lands, provides a rich, tranquil backdrop for pedaling and paddling (along with camping, birding, fishing, hunting and more). We hitched the kayak trailer to the van and headed west towards Fort Braden.

Shortly after arriving at Ed & Bernice’s Fish Camp at dusk, we off-loaded the kayaks and prepped the bikes for the sunrise ride. The fish camp’s boat ramp, just below the dam at Lake Talquin, is a popular launch site for both fisherman and paddlers. Rick and I chatted with two affable young anglers preparing their boat and trailer for the drive home. Seeming somewhat disappointed when we declined their leftover bait containers, they reported that the “river was quiet” and “the fish were biting.” It was a successful afternoon on the river for them.

The following day, our group of four paddlers experienced similar conditions to the anglers. We met no other humans, but fish were abundant, including sturgeon. In fact, the slow current and low water level seemed to amplify the jumping fish. Concealed in the Ochlockonee’s tea-colored water, the fish startled easily by the kayak paddles slicing forward through the river. This in turn startled me and I mildly embarrassed myself by shrieking occasionally. Multiple alligator tracks on the sandbars also reminded us of the river’s healthy reptile population. Basking gators surely slipped into the river upon hearing the approach of noisy humans. Ever-patient egrets and herons quietly stalked the edges of banks and sandbars in search of sustenance provided by the river.

Prior to the group paddling, the morning sunrise bike ride along Smith Creek Highway was picturesque. Rushing down the small hills of Wakulla County, I tried to imagine Florida’s prehistoric shoreline when sea levels were much higher. Traveling south from Thomasville to Tallahassee, the Red Hills gradually give way to the Woodville Karst Plain separated by the Cody Scarp, left behind by the ancient shoreline. This explains the gradual flattening of the landscape from the Red Hills to the Florida coast.

Like the rolling hills that descend to the coast, the Ochlockonee River flows from Georgia southward to the Gulf of Mexico. Jackson Bluff Dam, built in 1927, created Lake Talquin which separates the upper from lower Ochlockonee River in Florida. We traversed 18 miles on the lower Ochlockonee that day, beginning just below the dam and continuing to Pine Creek. The boat adventure ended where the morning sunrise bike ride had begun hours earlier, and where the cooler with icy drinks and crackers complete with fancy blueberry cheese was stowed. The group devoured the goodies and loaded up the kayak trailer, all the while extolling the ecological magnificence of our regional landscape.

Georgia Ackerman works at Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy in Tallahassee. She is happy to explore any part of the Red Hills Region with her best adventure partner, Rick Zelznak.

Find out more

To learn more about Ochlockonee River in the visit:

In Florida, www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/guide/designated_paddle/lOchlock_guide.pdf

In Georgia, www.orwt.org/

To learn more about the public forest areas, visit:

www.fs.usda.gov/apalachicola

www.floridastateparks.org/park/lake-talquin

http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service

 

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