High Waters Force Fellow Travelers To Substitute Suwannee For Escatawpa
Suwannee Springs. FL--Art Shelfer had suggested Alabama’s Escatawpa River for the annual spring Fellow Travelers trip. Charlie and Diane Stines traveled to the river to check it out. It is a pretty river somewhat reminiscent of Florida’s Blackwater River. Arrangements were made with Mr. Godfrey of Escatawpa Hollow Campground. All was set for a trip on a different river. The date was to be March 22-24, 2012, rather than the traditional April date.
But that was not to be. Mr. Godfrey called the King on March 21 to bear the news that an impending storm would make the trip unsafe. Other plans had to be made, and had to be made quickly. Such a situation usually means that the trip will be shifted to the Suwannee River. The small group decided to put in at the Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park, spend Thursdazy night at the Holton Creek Canoe Camp, and spend Friday night at Suwannee River State Park. Due to the late nature of the change of plans there was no attempt to contact Spririt of the Suwannee, the Suwannee River Management District regarding Holton Creek, or Suwannee River State Park.
Charlie Stines traveled to the Shelfer estate at Shiloh to pick up Art. Sam Brown drove down from Thomasville. Greg and Sean Ferrell traveled from Shalimar, Florida.
The Ferrells were first to arrive at the Spirit of the Suwannee and were greeted with the news that a big music festival was underway and it would cost $180 per person to enter. The group decided to go to the public park at Suwannee Springs and carry the canoes and gear the long walk to the river, but the park officials agreed to escort the vehicles to canoe launch without the necessity of paying for the music festival. It was only a short ime until the canoes were loaded and the trip downstream began.
The March weather was beautiful. The water level was low but not uncomfortably so. The sky was blue with pretty cumulus clouds which reflected nicely in the tannic water of the Suwannee. The Suwannee is never the prime river for viewing wildlife but there were turtles, songbirds, some wading birds, woodpeckers, and hawks. No one saw deer or alligators. Art Shelfer, the Weatherman, assured the group that there would be no rain.
The paddling was typical--little current, no obstacles, and no need to race. The first stop was at the Boys’ Ranch. There were several fisherman on the side of the ranch so the travelers decided to devour their lunches and snacks on the right hand bank. It was a long and relaxing stop.
The six paddlers then headed downstream toward Holton Creek. The section of the Suwannee from White Springs to Suwannee River State Park is marked by many limestone banks resembling Swiss cheese because of the holes made by centuries of water dissolving the limestone. The river is also crooked and there are many nice white sandbars along the inside turns of the river.
The Fellow Travelers arrived at Holton Creek about 3:45 PM. There were no other campers at the canoe camp. Once the canoes were unloaded and the gear carried to the camp the men sat around telling lies for a little while. Sean decided to build a fire. He and Greg gathered firewood and Sean began demonstrating his ability to build a fire with flint and steel. It took a while but eventually the fire was started without the use of matches.
Sean’s fire looked like just the thing for baking the potatoes. The spuds were wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in the fire. The campsite grill was filled with charcoal and fired up to grill some really nice-looking New York strip steaks.
Art was wrong. A drenching downpour extinguished Sean’s fire. The charcoal was also drowned. The steaks were cooked on the camp stove griddle and there was enough heat left in the charcoal to finish the potatoes. Fortunately the salad required no cooking. Nevertheless, everyone agreed that it was an excellent meal.
Once the fires were no longer needed the rains ceased. The temperature was pleasantly warm and the bugs were scarce. The Holton Creek camp was in excellent shape and the restrooms were very clean. Some of the campers elected to take a nice hot shower. After talking for a couple of hours everyone went to bed, but no one slept in a tents since the screened shelters provided all the protection needed.
The King arose early and made a large pot of coffee before everyone else got out of bed. Charlie also emptied the water which had accumulated in the canoes during the rain. The Ferrells prepared a truly unique breakfast of shrimp, bacon, grits, eggs, an cinnamon toast.
There was no hurry to leave Holton Creek so the friends sat around the camp contemplating the day. They paddled away around ten.
There was a rope swing over the river about a mile below Holton Creek. Sean made several jumps into the river.
The canoeists saw a few more blue herons and several turtles. The flotilla arrived at the Alapaha Rise spring run around one. The spring was less than clear but was not really muddy, either. The current was strong in the spring run, as it almost always is. All three canoes made it to the spring. There are high limestone banks surrounding the spring on three sides. The spring appears to be very deep and is a first magnitude spring. Some believe that the spring is the real re-emergence of the Alapaha River which is usually underground upstream of the confluence with the Suwannee. Sean and Greg each took time to swim in the spring.
Gibson Park is just beyond the Alapaha Rise and just above the Alapaha river bed which usually used more by all-terrain vehicle than by boats. The park is a Hamilton County facility and was clean and in good repair. The park was the logical spot for lunch. Once the food was eaten the men again headed for the boats. By that time the sky had changed to a threatening gray and the thunder was booming. The paddle began wnd within fifteen minutes the rain was pouring. Everyone had donned the rain gear but the rain did not endure long. Once the rain gear was taken off it began to rain again and it was a hard, driving rain. Art, the Weatherman, just did not do a good job of predicting the weather. However, the rain was over at about 3:20 PM and the boats moored on a sandbar to purge the water from the boats.
It is about eight miles from Gibson Park to Suwannee River State Park. It is usually a scenic and easy paddle, and was this time except for the hard rain. Three canoes and six paddlers arrived at the park’s boat ramp around 4:30 PM. The ramp is a long walk from the camping area. The group had no reservations. Jerry Ellis agreed to bring his truck and carry the gear to the campsite. Charlie walked to the park office to discover that there were only two sites still available and they were not adjacent. Not only that, but the sites were expensive. John, a park employee, volunteered to use the park pickup to transport the gear to the campsites. Once the gear was there, the tents were pitched and the cmapers prepared to eat the supper.
Jerry did bring his truck but the gear was already in the campsites. Donna came in a separate car. It was Sam’s turn to prepare suppers so he served excellent barbecue. Since Sam got the dishes dirty he was allowed to wash them. Donna brought sweet stuff to share and bought some chips and sauce which called for a fire extinguisher. Like Donna, it was hot but good.
The Ellises stayed and entertained the group. Sean built another fire but used matches this time. Sooner or later everyone went to bed.
Charlie again was out of bed before anyone else on Saturday morning and perked a pot of coffee. Greg Baker drove over from Riversong to introduce Rhett, his new Australian shepherd, to the Fellow Travelers.
It was Charlie’s turn to cook breakfast but there it was no way it could compare favorably with the breakfast the Ferrels had prepared on Friday. The meal was a simple one of Canadian bacon and pancakes. It was reasonably good. Charlie manages to coat his clothing with pancake flour because he neglected to completely screw the cap down on the shake pancake mix.
Greg Baker took all the drivers back to Suwannee Springs to retrieve the vehciles. Charlie stayed behind with the gear. It came another soaking rain. Once the drivers returned, the cars and the trailer were loaded. Despite the rain and the fact that it was not the Escatawpa it was still a very good trip.
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Visit this site to learn about the adventures of a bunch of rednecks devoted to canoeing the rivers, swamps, and sloughs of the area. You will meet those who view trips as a fun undertaking rather than a demonstration of paddling skills. You will not find a political agenda. The group includes some tree huggers and others who hold Rachel Carson responsible for many thousands of African malaria deaths. There is wide range of humanity represented. Those who would save the world are welcomed but that is not the point of the group.