The day started off on the wrong foot, literally. I woke up to find that my good Columbia water shoes had been stolen off my front porch. It put me in a bad mood and I had to grab a pair of backup shoes to protect my lifeless feet. The hour drive up I-95 and across SR46 to the launch spot had me pondering what may have happened or who stole my shoes and why. Once I got my boat in the water, I went barefoot for the rest of the day and didn't think twice about those shoes. Problem temporally solved.
The life of a camera phone photo can live outside of the camera.
Wiki says....."The Econlockhatchee River (Econ River for short) is a 87.7-kilometre-long (54.5 mi) north-flowing blackwater tributary of the St. Johns River that flows through Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties in Florida. Its name means "River of mounds". It flows through the eastern portion of the Orlando Metropolitan Area (east of State Road 417)."
I recently read an article about a Miami-Dade , 140 acre critically endangered forest. It's considered one of the worlds rarest forest and South Florida's most biologically diverse habitat. Surveys for this rare piece of land currently sit in the hands of a developer for none other than a brand new Wal Mart. When I paddled the 12 miles of the Econ Sunday I didn't see a single Wal Mart. However, I can't help but imagine that this untouched Florida treasure will one day have houses lining each side and small relief bridges connecting neighborhood streets and shopping plazas. The width will be half of what it is now and every once in a while an old man will sit on the relief bridge and say, "I remember the days when we could paddle down this river and see so much wildlife".
My wife Stephanie and I with a big Cypress Tree in the background (August 2013).
I first paddle the Econ when I was about 7 years old. I would paddle it with my parents in a rented canoe from Hidden River canoe rentals off of SR50. We continued to paddle it from time to time as I grew up and it was truly one of my most favorite things to do. As I started to become a teenager I lost my connection with this Florida gem. I got a car and drove to Orlando a lot to skateboard and I couldn't help but smile every time I drove over the Econ relief bridge on SR50. It wasn't until earlier in 2013 that I was physically reconnected with the river. Tammy Wilson had asked if I wanted to paddle it and I didn't have to think twice about my reply. I have now been up this river four times since.
Tammy Wilson with a Red Belly (August 2013).
The portion I paddled as a boy is located south of the portion we paddle now. The difference is the south end is very narrow and is made up of mostly Florida hammock with the landscape staying about the same. The leg we have been currently paddling is 12 miles and it takes the greater part of a day to complete. It is one of few rivers that you can say you "paddle up the river" without going against the current. The day starts by dropping off all the gear and kayaks at the Snow Hill Rd. bridge and then everyone drives to the bridge at SR46 to drop the cars off except one. That one is used to drive everyone back to the gear that someone has so kindly been waiting with. Once that is done, you jump in and go with the flow.
Jason with a nice Econ Bass (Jason Dewees-March 2014)
This leg of the Econ is the most scenic because of the variety of landscapes you paddle through. A hallway of big pines and palms create your path as the sun comes up and shines through during the morning trek. Sunglasses aren't needed during the first few hours. They only become a barrier between you and everything that is real, like the 100+ year old oaks that curl just inches over the ground like giant bonsai trees. A few miles into the trip and you start to see more and more big cypress trees that tower over the smaller cypress stumps that surround their base. If you're calm and patient you can spot wild orchids in the trees. If you're quiet and stealthy you can sit an observe American Bald Eagles while they observe you right back.
American Bald Eagle wondering what I'm doing in my plastic boat (July 2014).
With a steady float you can make it to one of the multiple places to stop and eat by 11:00am. When I was a kid I ate cold fried chicken with lots of salt. I still bring it for lunch because my trip is not complete unless I do so. If you put some work in you can catch enough fish for a fish fry. I always go for the packed lunch. It helps with the lazy altered state of mind that the trip has already put you in.
Lunch at the shack with the crew and me with a chicken bone (July 2014-photo courtesy of Frank Zarzour).
As the trees start to become sparse, you gradually enter what is true Florida wetlands. Depending on the time of year will depend on how much farther your paddle will be. This past weekend we knocked off an hour because the normal switchbacks were nonexistent. We're obviously in the rainy season so this gives you the ability to paddle right over what is normally hard ground. On the edge of these wetlands is where you will find a lot of resting wildlife.
Roseate Spoonbill stretching and relaxing in the shade (March 2014)
Horses and cows take residence on the edge of the wetlands (March 2014).
I can't speak more highly about the Econ. Florida's untouched land is getting smaller and smaller every single day. As I worry about paddling down the Econ one day with houses on each side, I can't help but think about the day SR50 didn't span across it's southern leg. I'm very fortunate to be living in this generation and I do my best to take it all in. If you are intrigued about making this trip with me one day, don't hesitate for a second. Say the word and I would be happy to get you in a kayak to share this trip with you and chances are, Tammy will join us.
They built homes long before we did.