Central Florida is known for its sunny weather, sandy beaches and of course vast numbers of over the top themed attractions. With the rise environmental consciousness and the fast pace of our modern lives, Central Florida is quickly becoming the destination of choice for those seeking outdoor adventures as well as a playground for locals rediscovering the beauty of their own backyard wilderness. With this rise of interest in low impact, nature based adventure, local governments and organizations are stepping up their efforts to offer planned trips, access, education and partnerships to get the word out about their hidden treasures to those looking to explore these natural destinations.
One such group is the non-profit Paddle Florida who has partnered with local governments to offer low cost, low impact paddle trips to each of Florida’s five water management districts. Working with the municipalities has kept the costs low, granted access to pristine locations and garnished resources such as guest environmental speakers, top notch entertainers and local naturalists. Having beautiful natural treasures and partnerships such as these are the first steps in offering awesome adventures. These highly organized trips provide a venue for experienced and novice paddlers alike to gather and enjoy paddling and camping for several days in the outdoors. There is even enough time to squeeze in a little fishing while meeting like-minded folk from all walks of life.
I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days exploring with the Paddle Florida group on the annual St. Johns River Ramble in the St Johns River water management district along with a few dozen other enthusiasts from across the United States. Paddling along with Bill Richards, the groups managing director revealed his passion for the outdoors and his drive to share trips in these wondrous locations. With his contagious enthusiasm and wealth of experience that is shared by the rest of the group, it is no wonder that they has been so successful at offering trips across the Sunshine State over the past few years.
With the routes pre scouted and itinerary taken care of, we were worry free and left to wander in the primordial beauty of some of Florida’s most historic and beautiful waters. We moved away from the crowds of people and slowly drifted into the leafy canopy filled with anticipation of what lurked around each bend. Alligators were seen perched upon fallen palm trunks at the bank of the river, wading birds prowled for fish in the branch strewn shallows all the while we drifted along with the current like ghosts in time.
At the end of each day we were greeted at camp by the Paddle Florida folks with wonderfully prepared hot meals, a warm fire, and entertainment and guest speakers to discuss the environments in which we spent our day exploring and to build excitement for the next day’s adventure to come.
Long ago Florida was known for its unspoiled natural beauty that brought visitors from the world over to experience its unique sense of history and place. Once again as we focus on the natural world around us we find ourselves rediscovering these treasures that have been tucked away waiting for us to explore and enjoy. Community partnerships, environmental education, conservation and low impact adventure intersect with these places to show our state is once again becoming a Natural Attraction.