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Paddling the Forgotten Coast: EcoAdventures North Florida

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Published on Sep 20, 2011

http://wfsu.org/blog-coastal-health/?...

Doug Alderson has a pretty neat job. Make that jobs. In his spare time, he's an author, writing books about his adventures paddling and hiking. His day job is pretty cool, too. He's the paddling trail coordinator for Florida's Office of Greenways and Trails. He manages all of the state's freshwater and saltwater trails. He admits that most of the time, he's at a computer answering e-mails. But sometimes, he gets to head to Saint George Island with a local PBS affiliate producer, and he did spend three years mapping a paddling trail that takes you the whole way around the state. That's right, the whole state, from Pensacola, down to the keys, then back up around to Jacksonville. It's the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.

Only five people have completed the whole trail. It's not for everyone. Luckily, it breaks down into 26 regional segments, each of which can be done over about a week of paddling and camping. If that's too much, you can take a day trip, or a couple of days. The trail is flexible that way. A beginner can take a day to tackle a segment near them, or a more experienced kayaker can go as long as they can take off work.

The segment I was interested in was Segment 4: Forgotten Coast. This starts at the tip of Cape San Blas and goes to the end of St. George Island. You pass a lot of protected land, a lot of rich natural habitats, and the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Fishery. If you don't want to pass a lot of developed land, but do want to see a bit of wildlife, this might be a segment for you to try.

We kayaked around St. Joseph Bay with Debbie VanVleet of Happy Ours Kayak and Canoe Outpost. The first leg of Segment 4 travels through the Bay before crossing over to the Gulf at Stump Hole. With her we went snorkeling in shallow seagrass beds. Doug planned each day's travel to be able to be paddled at a leisurely pace, and St. Joe Bay has clear water and an abundance of marine life.

Other highlights are the St. Vincent Island Wildlife Refuge, where you can pull up on the beach and look for sambar deer, wild boars, or the elusive red wolf. And there is the incomparable St. George Island State Park. You paddle on the bayside, which with its rich oyster and seagrass habitats is exploding with fish and crabs- Doug likes catching redfish and trout. And if you camp at Sugar Hill, you're not too far from one of the top ten beaches in the nation.

This is not a trip to be taken lightly. Consult this web site for safety tips, campground information, and guidance on how to "leave no trace" on the natural habitats:

http://www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/paddli...

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