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Blackwater River Report
(Deaton Bridge to Milton)

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Report By:  slashpine    Date: 2/15/2009 
Rating:Trip Rating     Photos: See 6 photos     Map & Directions: View

15 mile trip from Deaton Bridge to the Russell Harber park in Milton, Florida.

My Report:

As we pulled our kayaks from the Blackwater River at the Russell Harber Landing in Milton, Florida, a cyclist noticed us. He stopped for a chat. When he learned that we’d just come through the swamp south of Deaton Bridge, he said he had a friend who had abandoned his canoe in that area and called for help on his cell phone. A helicopter spotted him and hovered until rescuers could arrive. We were glad to have heard this story after the journey. It was bad enough starting out in the rain.

Three of us began planning this trip in December 2008. A sign at Deaton Bridge warned that we should not go past the bridge. A call to the park ranger (Blackwater Forest) cleared up the mystery. He said you could go about three or four miles but then you encounter a swamp. There are no exits. We began planning the route (in all, we had over 20 waypoints through the area, most in the swamp). Google Earth (30.680267, -86.952794) reveals a river that seems to disappear for about a mile before reappearing where the Coldwater River joins the Blackwater. Calls to water management and DEP shed no light on the area. However, Mark of Adventures Unlimited said that apart from a half-mile portage, we could get through the swamp.

Trip began around 9 a.m. Ninety percent rain greeted us. We brought more than our usual gear, including safety orange (hunters), whistles, GPS, compass, a flare gun, food, and warm clothes stuffed in a wet bag. A smudge of gray hung low above us. Hard rain fell on the drive out, but this weakened to a drizzle that vanished an hour after the trip began. The air was steady at about 60 degrees. Rain from the night before left the river high (about five feet from the base of Deaton Bridge), swift, and dirty brown like coffee. We rounded one bend after the other at a fairly fast pace, surrounded on all sides by ghostly oaks and maple with an occasional fir providing some relief from the dreary backdrop. We were on the trip for over an hour before we finally came upon a cornmeal-colored sandbank. We saw no more until well after the swamp, several miles down. However, hunting property lies to the east, so there are occasional access roads (during our pre-trip reconnaissance we found these roads chained, no trespassing signs nearby).

Nests are low and exposed in the winter bleakness. Deer stands were numerous. Deer, too, though we saw only hints of them. They splashed loudly through the water behind the trees. A blue heron surprised us and massively winged his way across the river and then vanished around a bend. Soon, the river narrowed, the water became shallow, taking on an amber color. We had reached the swamp. Toward the west, the river flowed quietly among understory, cypress, oak, and maple. This route looked tempting; however, the GPS said go SW. We hauled the kayaks over a small land mass and plopped them down into molasses black water, pale grass on either side of a narrow waterway. As we were dragging the kayaks, I spotted a creature dashing through the bush. I had only a glimpse, noting the beast was much larger than a rabbit, but had no tail. We thought, bobcat. We floated in one to two foot of water through these water grasses. Three wood duck boxes with tin bafflers marked our way. Then the river widened for a while.

We crossed a few log jams, and then the river dried up again. This time, we began a half-mile overland trek that wasn’t so bad because the water was high and we were able to float the kayaks in inches of water for short periods. However, the water then deepened to about three feet, and the way was strewn with knees and slender maple. Part of the time we were aboard the kayaks pulling ourselves through by the trees, while the other part we just worked the kayaks through the bog. We half expected to see gators in this dark, tenebrous place—at least to have one grab an ankle. But perhaps the cold kept them buried deep in mud. Finally, after about an hour, we made it through the swamp.

The river widened after this, and we came upon fish camps of various sizes, shapes, and ages. One called “Pucker Point” was a houseboat surrounded by tires. At another, a woman standing near a U. of Michigan banner waved at us. A motor boat filled with men and boys barreled past, but this was only one of three boats we saw all day. As the river widened, houses rose on the eastern bank (mostly), entire communities perched on stilts. We went round a large island that must have been a mile long. The current, as the river opens up, slows down, so we were having to paddle constantly to make any distance. At a long yellowy sandbank, we cleaned our kayaks and ate a small lunch. Then we resumed the journey. Ironically, though we didn’t get lost in the swamp, we got lost on the bigger river and wound up in Wright Basin. The man on his dock gave us street directions: Go out and make a left.

Around 4 p.m., we rounded a bend and spied the old buildings of Milton, white concrete and red-brick, two stories high. The arching bridge over the Blackwater came in view. And then the landing at the Russell Harber park on the eastern bank.

Get Map & Directions for this trip

Location Data:

Difficulty: Difficult
Location Type: River
Boat Type: Kayak
Distance (miles): 15
Fees/Costs $: 0

Photos from Deaton Bridge to Milton:    (Click image to view full size)

meandering No Comm

prior to the swamp, water is high, many winding bends.

pulling through No Comm
pulling through

in the swamp, had to pull trees to get through often, no room for paddling

swamp exit No Comm
swamp exit

the view of the swamp after we left it...

reflections No Comm

pic is actually inverted, but looked cool this way, water around the swamp very still...

eerie No Comm

landscape after exiting the swamp... looks spooky, surreal....

ghostly No Comm

wider river after the swamp, landscape retains its gray apparel....


Special Interests and Comments:

Special InterestsSwamp is navigable with portage (and GPS). Winter is probably the best time to go (less foliage, better visibility). Wild life appeared more abundant, as this area is frequented only by hunters and biologists (I assume).

Post Date: 2/17/2009

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