River Trip 2013 - Week 2 - Chattahoochee to Apalachicola

Chattahoochee Arrival – For those joining us for the second week of the trip, please plan to arrive early on this day to check in for the trip and get situated at the camp site. If you are going to take the shuttle bus, be sure to arrive on time. The departure point for the shuttle from Apalachicola is the Maritime Museum at 103 Water Street. Alternatively, you can leave your car at the Chattahoochee Landing departure site and plan to take the shuttle back from Apalachicola after the trip. If you are taking the shuttle from Atlanta, the departure site is The Dam Store at 1250 Buford Dam Road.

Day #8 : Chattahoochee to Blue Spring Run (10 Miles) – This first day on the Apalachicola River is a relatively short paddle trip to allow everyone to get introduced to the river and to get settled in for the trip. The departure point is on Lake Seminole where we will paddle a short distance and then enter the lock to make passage down through to the river level. This is the start of the Apalachicola River which is formed by the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. The dam and lock were part of the 1950s era project that established the shipping channel which extends all the way to Columbus, Georgia. After exiting the lock we will paddle to the Chattahoochee Landing Park for lunch and an education session. We will paddle to Means Creek where the creek along with the adjacent watersheds along the bluffs of the upper Apalachicola River, has the steepest topographical relief in Florida. In addition, The Nature Conservancy has listed is area as one of six hot spots of American biodiversity with the upper Apalachicola River having the highest biodiversity of reptile and amphibian species in the United States. Of the rare plant species to be found here, 16 occur nowhere else. After a hike through the area, we will continue down the river to the Blue Spring Run with a hike to the spring head before setting up camp.

Day #9 : Blue Spring Run to Alum Bluff (14 Miles) – This day of the trip will lead into the bluff country where the eastern shore of the river is flanked by towering bluffs with a broad diversity of species and home to the endangered Toreya Pine Tree. Rising more than 150 feet above the river, the bluffs have been shaped and divided by deep ravines that have been eroded by streams throughout the centuries. The park is named for a species of rare Torreya tree that occurs only on the bluffs along the Apalachicola River. This once plentiful tree was nearly destroyed by disease in the early 1960s and may be doomed to extinction. Other rare plants found in the park include the Florida yew tree and the U.S. Champion winged elm. The forests of the park include river swamps, hardwood hammocks and high pinelands. Each community contains a different set of trees, shrubs and wildflowers which offer variety during each season of the year. The bluffs and ravines are forested by many hardwood trees that commonly occur in the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia. These hardwoods provide the finest display of fall color found in Florida. Over 100 species of unique and colorful birds may be seen throughout the area. An array of animals commonly found in the park include deer, beaver, bobcat, grey fox and the unusual Barbours map turtle. Animals were not the only inhabitants known to exist in the area over the centuries. A number of Indian sites have been discovered here by archaeologists. During the first Seminole Indian War in 1818, General Andrew Jackson crossed the river here with his army.

Day #10 : Alum Bluff to Estiffanulga (21 Miles) – We will pass through the limestone shoals where huge granite boulders are located in the middle of the river and clear cold springs feed into the river just below the bluffs. From there the river flows through the historical Blountstown which was once a vital center of river commerce and the bricks of the old wharfs are still to be found by the river’s edge. In this section of the river, the bluffs of the Pelham Escarpment give way to the ever widening river flood plain. Time permitting, we will take a side trip into either Sutton Lake & Bayou or one of the oxbow lakes created by the meandering river known as the Poloway Cutoff, one of the few places where the endangered species of mussels, Elliptoideus sloatianus, can be found.

Day #11 : Estiffanulga to Gaskin Park (21 Miles) – This day of the trip departs “‘Stiff-’n’-Ugly’ Bluff, the highest bluff on the river between Apalachicola and Bristol and takes us through the ever broadening floodplain with many tributaries including Mary's Slough, Iamonia Lake, Hageman's Ditch and the Florida River eventually ending at the Chipola Cutoff. During this portion of the trip you will see the impact of dredging of the river where entrenchment of the river bed has lowered the river level leaving many of these tributaries inaccessible because of waterfalls or very shallow water at their junction with the main river channel, except during periods of high flows. About 4,000 acres of isolated aquatic habitat, mostly tupelo-cypress swamps, with standing water less than 3 feet deep, is present in the floodplain at very low flows. Large tributary lakes in the middle and lower reaches of the river, such as Iamonia Lake support diverse fish communities. In a recent study, 44 fish species were collected by the Florida Wildlife Commission in tributary lakes during low flows. Eighty percent, or 73 of the 91 fish species known to inhabit the Apalachicola River have been collected in river floodplains of the eastern United States and are probably present in the Apalachicola River floodplain during medium-high and high flows. The day ends at the first confluence with the Chipola River where this major spring fed tannin stained water meets the brown silted waters of the Apalachicola.

Day #12 : Gaskin Park to Owl Creek/Hickory Landing (19.6 Miles) – This day of the trip will continue through the pre tidal floodplain, which at roughly 7 feet above sea level has many tributaries including Swift Slough, Virginia Cut, River Styx, the second and main confluence with the Chipola River, Kennedy Creek and Owl Creek. We will paddle up Owl Creek to our overnight camping spot at Hickory Landing. We will see the continuing efforts of the Battle Bend restoration project to reopen low flow connectivity to the Battle Bend Slough which had been filled with spoil from channel dredging operations of years gone by. Time permitting, we will explore River Styx with it’s clear blue green water flows. This river isnamed after the river in Hades, according to Greek mythology, across which Charon carried dead souls, and it is a hauntingly beautiful place of rarely seen flora. The Apalachicola River continues to broaden through this stretch with enormous sand bars and canopied banks of cypress, oak, palm and tupelo trees. The paddle trip up Owl Creek to Hickory Landing offers the tour of a unique cypress swamp.

Day #13 : Owl Creek/Hickory Landing to Bloody Bluff (13.7 Miles) – On this day of the trip will enter the tidal region of the Apalachicola River. During this trip, we will come to old Fort Gadsden. The site contains the ruins of two forts, and has been known by several other names at various times, including Prospect Bluff Fort, Nichol's Fort, British Post, Negro Fort, African Fort, and Fort Apalachicola. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Fort Gadsden Historic Site is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1972. It was at Blount's Fort on Prospect Bluff, where in 1816 a single, red-hot cannonball landed in the powder magazine, causing an explosion heard 100 miles away in Pensacola and destroying the fort, killing nearly all inhabitants. Anger at this attack in Spanish territory led to the first Seminole War a year later. The earthen works of the fort are still visible and provide a look backward into the times when the Apalachicola River was the only means of accessing the inland regions of Florida, Alabama and Georgia; when control of this river meant control of commerce within the region; somewhat setting the stage for the current water wars.

Day #14 : Bloody Bluff to Apalachicola (13.7 Miles) – On this day of the trip will continue the passage through the tidal region to the river’s end at Apalachicola Bay. The river delta region sprawls out into numerous sloughs and streams including Brothers River, Howards Creek, Brickyard cutoff, Owl Creek, East River and others which meander in an interconnecting fashion to spill out into the Apalachicola Bay. During this stretch, the river banks have given way to cypress forests in the river swamp with palm lined banks that are primordial in appearance. The sand bars on the main river of this region are largely the result of spoil banks from the channel dredging. Our entrance into Apalachicola will be through these interconnecting waterways and will ultimately pass at the city docks where we will take part in the blessing of the fleet at the annual Florida Seafood Festival. We will then paddle the short distance back to the Apalachicola Maritime Museum. Lodging is your own responsibility. You can make a reservation at St. George Island State Park (up to 8 per camp site with hot showers) at SGI_Campsites or for more stay at one of the Bed & Breakfast Inns or hotels on St. George Island or in Apalachicola. Go to the Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce for more information on lodging. We recommend the historical Apalachicola Inn or Coombs house Bed and Breakfast inns. We will provide shuttle to and from camping at the St. George Island State Park where camping and shower facilities are available for all who need it.

Day #15 : Apalachicola into the Blue Waters of the Gulf (10 Miles) – This last day of the trip will see us transition from paddle to sail as we embark on the Heritage of Apalachicola for a morning sail into the blue waters of the Gulf. The Heritage is a 58’ wooden ketch and centerpiece of the Apalachicola Maritime Museum. Depending on the winds, we will sail out from the docks in Apalachicola across the bay and through the cut into the Gulf of Mexico. From this trip you will have the opportunity to view the transition from river, to bay, and then to blue Gulf waters and observe firsthand how the nutrient laden waters of the river systems flow forth into the ecosystem of the Gulf Stream. You will have the opportunity to experience travel as it was in the 1800s and try your hand at the tiller. Following the sail trip, we will provide the shuttle transit back to the Chattahoochee Landing, Columbus and Atlanta. And from there to travel on though life with a profound appreciation for this great river and all that it means for the ribbon of life that depend on the river flows and the value as nourishment to the human spirit.