Down by the river: a tributary trip through the Eglin range

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
A new tradition may have started this week with the first-ever kayak tour of the Eglin range April 19.

I was initially hesitant about covering the tour. The photo imagery would be great, but juggling a paddle, an eight-pound camera, backpack and an inexperienced kayaker on a 15-foot plastic boat over water, sounded nearly impossible. I was willing to try, however.

Luckily at the last moment, I was provided a personal tour guide in Kevin Mock, 96th Civil Engineer Group, who said he would paddle me through the tour in a canoe.

The five and a half-mile tour led by Erica Laine, an environmental scientist with Jackson Guard, began at Boiling Creek with nine other people. Among them were many kayak veterans, members of CE and Col. Bruce McClintock, 96th Air Base Wing commander.

The mood was somewhat cautious with no one really knowing what to expect. We were in uncharted waters, so to speak, with this being the first Eglin adventure on the river.

The "Gilligan's Island" theme bounced around in my head, "three-hour tour, a three-hour tour." Although, when we arrived at the creek, the mood lightened, and we were ready to hit the water.

The picturesque vision of the clear flowing water, surrounded by the greenery and capped by the blue sky was more than most us expected. The bright neons of the kayaks, paddles and life vests juxtaposed with rich green and brown scenery made for excellent sights through the viewfinder of my camera. The creek current moved seemlessly, so the kayakers didn't have to consistently paddle to continue, just to steer.

The creek was narrow with grass, trees and Lilly pads filling in sides of the waterway, which made the experience more intimate and kept the kayakers close together. This allowed everyone to enjoy the sounds and sights around them.

Frogs, woodpeckers and other Eglin wildlife announced to the flotilla they were there, but hiding. Dragonflies were in abundance and skimmed the water on all sides of the kayaks. It didn't take long before we encountered our first snake, a brown water snake curled up on a tree branch hanging over the creek. Then, another one soon after - sunning itself on a log. I stayed in the back of our water caravan and watched the heads turn and fingers point out nature as we slowly drifted.

Our guides pointed out the carnivorous Whitetop pitcher plant and Golden Club along the banks.

Off one of the veins of the main creek, the mini-armada discovered and observed Ospreys and their nests. The creek was lower than usual due to lack of rain and had left a chalky white residue along the banks.

Before we stopped for lunch, we encountered instructors from the 6th Ranger Training Battalion preparing for a class.

After a quick lunch break, we entered the Yellow River. Just before that, we encountered two older gentlemen also having lunch by the bank. When asked how they were doing, one said "Better now," as he held up a chicken leg. They appeared to be in their 70s and said they'd lived here their whole lives. They could've played on that same bank as children.

Leaving the creek for a river, there were noticeable changes. The water was no longer clear, and it was much wider. The kayakers were much more spread out now and needed to paddle against the headwind.

The intimate surroundings fell away, but gave way to expansive banks and large Bald Cypress trees, and Cypress knees (tree roots) that resembled wooden fingers and spires reaching out of the water.

Slowly civilization crept in and the faint sounds of Hwy 87 drowned out the natural world, and the tour came to a close. The group bunched together again and seemed to slow as we moved toward the bank, maybe not ready for it to end.

As we wrapped up, a few people talked about riding the river again and saying "next time when they go." The atmosphere on the trip home was of overall satisfaction.

Just as an observer along for the ride on our Eglin excursion, I am ready to venture down again. The beauty and serenity of floating within that alive natural world that dwells on Eglin can "restoreth the soul" to paraphrase.

Here's hoping it becomes a regular occurrence or at least an annual event. For Nature lovers it is an honest priority and for everyone else a great chance to see an Eglin you've never seen and enjoy the cool water and fresh air.