Georgia Wilderness Society
Florida Panhandle Paddling

A summary of the trip: 

Sat. March 3: Shoals River - Fast & Flooded 
Our initial objective was to paddle Titi Creek, but difficulties reaching the put-in caused a change of plan to Shoals River.  The expected shoals were washed out due to three inches of rain being dumped on the area two days previously.  The river was full, bank-to-bank, with an estimated 3 mph current.  So, even with a put-in around lunchtime, we took out at 3:30.  Sand banks lined the upper stretches, the black titi and red maples were just starting to bloom, and there were frequent downed trees to paddle around.  

Sun. March 4: Turkey Creek - Crystal Clear 
We put in from an interior road in Eglin AFB on a bright sunny morning.  The spring-fed water was so clear, it seemed as though our boats were floating in the air.  The white-sand bottom contrasted with the dark greens of Atlantic white cedars and the blue sky.  This was one of our more technical paddles, as our single file of boats followed the twists and turns of the narrow creek.  Toward the end, the creek was subject to tidal influences, and we passed the extensive boardwalks in the Niceville town park.  We took out in the estuary around 4:00pm.

Mon. March 5: Boiling Creek - Upstream Delights
After a cold night (below freezing), we paddled another Eglin creek (named from the many "boiling" spring runs feeding it)  .  After putting in near a fishing access area, we paddled upstream for about 2.5 hours until a downed pine tree halted further progress.  The water clarified as we paddled upstream, through extensive marshy botomlands.  Spatterdock and water lilies were just starting to bloom, as well as black titi shrubs, red maples and sand live oaks.  It was a delight to watch bass and other fish scoot among the downed logs on the creek bottom.  After lunch we retraced our route downstream.  We spotted a red shouldered hawk transporting a dangling snake, and another large brown snake peacefully digesting its meal on the creek bank.  About 1/4 mile below the put-in was the confluence with Shoals River; and about 1/2 mile below that was the confluence of Shoals and Yellow Rivers.  We took out in mid-afternoon after a pleasant day.

Tue. March 6: East Bay River - Rich Bottomlands
We put in from an interior road in Eglin AFB, not far from the Gulf.  The river paralleled the coastline for about ten miles, through lovely bottomlands of titi, cypress, slash pines, red maples, gallberry and St. John's wort.  We spotted sundews (a carnivorous plant) in the black mucky soils.  After lunch in a pine clearing, the river formed the Eglin boundary, with private docks and cabins on the left and the AFB on the right.  As we approached the estuary, the low banks were covered with sawgrass and black needle rush, indicating slightly brackish water.  We took out in mid-afternoon.  

Wed. March 7: Rocky Creek - Flashing Dolphins
We put in after lunch from an interior Eglin road.  Rocky Creek was narrow, with a steady flow of moderately tannic water.  There were about ten pullovers, some quite complex.  One mostly contained floating logs, which made it slippery to haul our boats up and over.  Another jam had logs piled head high, and the last was a "double header".  After the halfway point, the river widened, and we could paddle around the downed trees.  The creek ended in the estuary (called a bayou), where we faced a 1/4 mile paddle into the teeth of a stiff wind.  Our take out was on the other side at Rocky Bayou State Park.  As we crossed the bayou, two pods of dolphins surfaced to our left, seeming to check us out.  

Thu. March 8: Escambia River - Limestone Ledges
After a long drive to an Alabama Wildlife Management Area, we put in on the upper Escambia River.  The river was fast flowing, with reasonably clear water, and extensive gravel bars.  The day was pleasantly clear with no wind.  There were occasional riffles and rapids over limestone ledges, as well as downed trees to paddle around.  We delighted watching small schools of large fish (bass?) scoot up the river.  We took out around 4:00pm.

Fri. March 9: Yellow River - Disappearing Takeout
After another long ride to Alabama, there were difficulties setting the shuttle, as the take out had been moved due to bridge construction.  We did not put in until 1:00pm. The Yellow River had medium flow, opaque water and occasional riffles .  It expanded and contracted as it wound through the bottomlands.  There were a few downed trees to paddle around, but none large.  I spotted five deer, three pairs of wood ducks, and five turtles (sunning on logs).  A large alligator was sunning itself on the bank, and plopped into the water with a loud splash.  We took out late, with the sunset staining the clouds various shades of purple and peach.  

Sat. March 10 Sweetwater Creek - Towering Pullovers
By the last paddle, our group had dwindled to five boats and seven people.  We put in close to camp at about 11:00am, planning to paddle Sweetwater Creek to its confluence with Big Juniper Creek, then another nine miles to the takeout.  Sweetwater Creek was narrow with high banks, flowing through dense stands of Atlantic white cedar.  There were many pullovers and blockages from trees downed by the 2005 hurricanes.  Some were stacked four layers deep, others towered over my head.  The current flow was about 1mph, so there was not much danger of being swept under the tree limbs.  However, the logs were slippery, and the broken cedar limbs were sharp and jagged.  Many people fell.  There was a pullover about every hundred yards, some quite complex to negotiate.  Our pace slowed to a crawl.  As I was pulling my boat under one multi-layer obstruction, a 2-foot yellow-bellied water snake dropped into my canoe.  It seemed as anxious to depart as I was anxious for it to leave, so I maneuvered it onto my paddle, and flipped it back into the water.  We finally reached the Big Juniper confluence at 5:00.  It had taken us 6 hours to cover 2.3 miles.  With another 9 miles to go, about 1 3/4 hours of daylight left, and everyone fairly exhausted, we decided to bail out.  Fortunately we soon found some campers on a sandbar who graciously transported Terry back to his car at the put in.  

Florida Panhandle Paddling
(March 3-10, 2007)

-- Reported by Carol A. Schneier

Seventeen folks joined trip leaders Bob Sippey and Terry Neely for a week of paddling on the creeks and rivers in the Florida panhandle near Pensacola.  We set up base camp at Blackwater River State Park with day paddles in the area, many on Eglin Air Force Base.  I was impressed by the diversity of panhandle paddling; no two rivers were alike. The names of many watercourses were descriptive of what one would encounter.  For example, wild turkeys were spotted near Turkey Creek, and Rocky Creek traversed limestone outcrops.