Juniper Springs Paddle and Camping Wrap Up , Friday February 15 through Sunday February 17, 2013
Winter camping and paddling makes life refreshing, brisk and alive. Challenging conditions chase away most, and attracts the hearty, the free-spirited. Camping and outdoor travel in the harsher elements is a way to escape the big crowds and allows one experience to the Wilderness to themselves.
Eleven hearty souls braved freezing temperatures in the Ocala National Forest for camping and paddling at Juniper Springs. Three parties arrived Friday evening and enjoyed some camaraderie near a campfire before retiring quickly to bed.
On Family outings, a great idea earned through experience is to allow folks to sleep on Saturday mornings, and do the paddle portion on Saturday afternoon or Sunday. Most of the families participating on our outings are arriving in the evening on Friday, and really appreciate a stress free weekend. Not paddling first thing on Saturday mornings helps to facilitate a smooth experience. For this trip, Andy allowed folks to sleep and anticipated a later launch on the Spring, due to cold temperatures and the threat of late afternoon wind blowing from the northwest. Also the weather was predicted to be even cooler through the weekend.
The paddling group was composed of Anna and Ken, their two children Caleb and Levi, Dan, and his son Matt and grandson Austin. Susan and Lenora stayed at the campsite to watch two of the group’s dogs and to swim in the spring. The beauty of Florida’s springs is the opportunity to swim year round. Juniper Spring is one to the best swimming holes the state with its circular trough and a great place to dive off. There is an even an old mill that continues to be powered and rotate from the spring flow.
The group appreciated the Forest Service initiative to keep folks from bring disposable plastic off the Run, taking the time to actually check paddlers packs for plastic. This was also an unexpected logistical problem that we could have not planned for or foreseen, Luckily there were enough water bottles to go around. The group was limited on snacks do to this protocol. This paddling group had great chemistry, as indicated by lack of complaining about the forest service initiative. It was wonderful to see folks who did not know each other be so warm to one another!
After some basic kayak instruction,some introductions and a short nature talk, Andy and the group launched in to the shallow clear stream at about 1030 on an overcast slightly cool day The decision to launch late was also guided to maximize the heat of the sun, that there would be a forcible west by northwest wind in the late afternoon, and to get participants off the river significantly before the sun dropped. The Run is seven miles and takes about four hours, so we hoped to be off the Run by 3pm, plenty of time for our bodies to adjust to the cooling air.
Juniper Springs Run starts as a narrow shallow clear stream. If one capsized, the water would be ankle-deep. As the Run moves along. the channel get deeper and the stream gets wider. There are numerous places where it would be easy to capsize. The group had a great time enjoying their solitude and interacting. Nature has this way of bringing people together. without really forcing anything, it just happens.
The group was able to see an alligator resting on the with her young alligators. We were quite amazed to see this gator given the cool air and lack of sunshine. Accordingly,the gator seemed rather lethargic. There were not many other outward signs of wildlife, just a few birds, like a red-shouldered hawk and a belted kingfisher. At one point, as we were moving through a point in the Run where there was a small tunnel of wax myrtle and other small trees, there was a lot of small yellow breasted birds, with a high-pitched shriek, zipping back and forth across the creek. There was also only one other boat on the Run, a canoe with three folks. It was almost like we had the Run to ourselves.
Later the Run broadens and takes in areas where there are embankments that appear like meadows with high grasses. There is one quick rapid that thrilled everyone. Dan and Levi were to fall into the Run, yet find great humor in their swim. It was fortuitous that we were close to the end, for it was cooling off and folks were getting cold.
That night we enjoyed some good food and company. A great idea is to have some warm soup for folks when they come off of the river. Ken broke out his guitar and most of us were able to enjoy singing. There may have been some other folks in the campground that were disapproving of the quality of our voices! However a great time was experienced by all and we couldn’t wait to do it again!
For more information about future Ancient Islands Sierra Group Outings, contact Andy Quinn, 863-683-9600 or email@example.com.