Ocklawaha River – End of Year Exploration

Ibis on the Ocklawaha River
Ibis on the Ocklawaha River

2019 comes to an end tonight and Florida Paddles Notes brings another year to end paddling on one of Florida’s beautiful waterways, The Ocklawaha River. This final paddle had a mission to find one of several Sentinel Cypress’ located throughout the swamp forests of the Ocklawaha Basin. With tips from previous guides, and without being given the exact location, we were able to locate one of these beauties and photograph it! It was the perfect way for Florida Paddle Notes to end 2019…James

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Ocklawaha River Overview:

For a detailed Ocklawaha River history and overview please visit previous Florida Paddle Notes – Ocklawaha River

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Exploration Notes:

Location IconLocation: The ‘Lower’ Ocklawaha River is usually considered the section from the Eureka Dam on Hwy 316 East of Ft. McCoy, to its confluence with the St. Johns River. Today’s paddle covered an 8 mile stretch along this section.

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FYI…As a previous Land Surveyor and Topographic Surveyor, I have had the privilege to explore many swamps and forests throughout Florida. Using old notes from as far back as the 1700’s, I retraced old survey lines and boundaries using descriptions of the terrain that included many tree species. I came across many old beauties on these surveys and gained a deep appreciation for these rare trees. Seeing several posts and articles on the trees of the Ocklawaha River, my interest was definitely piqued!

I spoke with two persons who have great knowledge about the Ocklawaha River and mentioned my interest in visiting the trees based on my previous profession. Both were hesitant to offer the location for fear of the tree(s) becoming ruined or vandalized from excessive human visitation. I understood this. Both provided hints and caution and set me in the right direction for me to discover the trees ‘on my own’, and I thank both for their help. In keeping with their requests, I too will withhold the exact location and allow others to seek out their own adventure in searching for these old specimens.

For those who have been asking me about the location, I wrote the following response…

Along the Ocklawaha, these Sentinels standing bold
silently through centuries their stories yet untold
Through plight from man and weather, they bear the scars of years
a reminder in this present day of Ocklawaha’s tears

Among the miles of shoreline swamp, Bay, Hickory, Ash et al
stand remnants of majestic past, Bald Cypress standing tall
Often gone unnoticed, and unseen by casual eye
These Sentinels still hold their ground, while many paddle by

Location is a state of mind, and many unaware
may never see these silent wonders, towering in the air
but those who search, who seek to find, without location told
from hints and clues, from those before, the secret will unfold

                                                                                                   …James Steele 2020

The Exploration begins…

Maple on the Ocklawaha River
Maple on the Ocklawaha River

It was a chilly morning in the upper 50’s when we launched at 9:00 am. The sky was blue, there was a breeze in the air and it foretold of a beautiful day for an exploration! I told my partner I was excited about this trip, reminded of my days as a surveyor and was looking forward to this day. Having been rainy and damp the previous few days I had my eyes set on this particular day with a good weather forecast!


Winter on the Ocklawaha…

Winter on the Ocklawaha River
Winter on the Ocklawaha River

By now the Ocklawaha River, at least on this section, is a combination of leafless Bald Cypress and Tupelo covered with Spanish Moss and accented with the green of Palms and Mistletoe. Some fall color barely remains on the Maples. Bordering the waterway is the bright green of Spadderdock and Water Lettuce. The shoreline swamp is a deep maze of tree trunks and gray, yet it has its beauty!

Occasionally, the shoreline opens to the wide expanse of the river, covered with Smartweed, Sawgrass and Wild Lettuce. Burr Marigolds and Tickseed Sunflowers linger on to provide a splash of yellow color. It is a pretty day and we are prepared to paddle upstream, against a brisk current for several miles to our intended search area.

Birds of a feather flock together. Among the floating vegetative mats, hundreds of Ibis and Storks flush into flight as we paddle by as do the occasional Heron and Limpkin. We did not see any Spoonbills on today’s paddle, and as the temperature warmed the Gators began appearing.


The Sentinel Cypress…

Old Cypress 30' Girth
Old Cypress 30′ Girth

Having paddled several miles against the current we were quite warmed up and comfortable and it was time to start piecing together the clues we had to begin our search.

Two of the clues were from photographs posted by others that gave hints of what to expect along the shoreline…these proved to be valuable. We paddled as far upstream within the limits of our search, then were prepared to drift and paddle the shoreline slowly, with eyes focused into the maze of tree trunks, looking for large bald cypress. 500′ before the designated turn around I glanced over at a fisherman in a boat drifting and fishing the banks. Low and behold, beyond him, in the layers of trees was the dark shadow of a large cypress trunk and I got very excited, paddled over and based on a photograph I viewed online, knew this was the spot on the river as well as the tree!  We found it! View the short video below

The water level at the location was a couple of feet higher than usual, during the Rodman Drawdown. I waded in a few inches of water, even up to a foot deep in order to photograph the entire tree. The tree itself was on dry ground but not by much. We admired the tree, amazed at the textured and weathered trunk and admired the view from inside looking up…quite cool! In 2012, Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca, measured the girth at 29′ 10″.

This was a treat for sure and will be remembered. My exploration needs were met. We enjoyed a leisurely paddle back to our launch, the sun getting lower and the air getting cooler. It was a great day! I will return again…


Guides, Maps & Info…


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