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Econfina Creek Report

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Report By:  quincypair    Date: 5/19/2013 
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Econfina (e-con-FINE-ah) Creek begins in Jackson county and flows through Washington and Bay Counties, ending in Deerpoint Lake reservoir in Bay county, source of the county's drinking water. It is almost wholly under NW Water Management District.

My Report:

This report will report on an incredible 3 day paddle of Econfina Creek from Scott's Bridge to Highway 388 sponsored by the Florida Panhandle Canoe and Kayak Connection (membership free, a connection, not a club, It ended today.

For two years we had thoughts of doing the upper Econfina. The first year we didn't think we were up skill-wise to doing it. When the paddlers returned we heard harrowing stories of the number of portages and carryovers they had experienced -- everyone came back to camp absolutely beat. Last year, we gingerly asked the trip organizer if he thought we might be ready -- he diplomatically suggested that the river was running low and perhaps (since we hate portages) we might want to wait for another year. The paddlers returned from this trip as before, exhausted.

Like Goldilocks we tried again the third time. The river was running quite well, the issue was how high -- the greater the volume, the greater the speed along those serpentine limestone walls. But we qualified, two of 12.

We now know why the trip leader qualifies paddlers for the upper Econfina paddle. Water level is changeable and because of the conformation of that creek bed and the limestone walls the water level can determine the skill required of paddlers. At any rate, first time kayakers and newbies should probably hone their skills on other creeks, first. Any responsible trip leader does not want paddlers who do not have the skills to deal with the challenges on this 11.5 mile run, for safety sake.

When we paddled the upper New River over 2 years ago, we lucked out and had only one portage and the river ran fast through tightly growing cypresses, giving us a great paddle in the upper reaches. We were fortunate again, the upper Econfina water levels which were high two weeks ago and therefore covered the limestone chutes, was now much lower and we were able to paddle the whole length of these narrow limestone channels. They were curving flumes with occasional sharp curves. One of us has a 14 foot Perception Carolina and there was some early discussion as to whether it was too long for such eventuality. The trip leader's canoe is 14 feet, so the Carolina was allowed in. And it handled the chutes well.

One particular section of the chutes has an almost 90 degree hair-pin turn and one of the experienced paddlers paddled ahead and positioned himself at the edge of the turn to deflect the bow of the canoes or kayaks in the right direction after making that turn. Without his help, there would have been a few crack-ups at this turn. He also helped in several other tighter technical sections and no one cracked up or capsized. There were scoot-overs and pull overs. The river was shallow, but with enough water so that there were lots of log-created shoals and every so often sufficient drops to create class I rapids. We're used to rock-created white water and shoals in Canada and were not prepared for the tree trunk "shoals" where a drop led to another submerged trunks at a different angle and length which required fast turns. We had a similar experience last summer on the Brule River in Wisconsin where long sections of fast running water over shoals with occasional drops created great sections of bouncing and maneuvering between exposed rocks. The runs on the Econfina were not as long nor as fast running, but it amazed us that we were doing this in Florida, an almost sea-level state! And one cannot discount the beautiful area, surrounded by high limestone banks -- euphoric fun!!

The upper Econfina is now our most favorite paddle in Florida!

This section requires skill in paddling maneuverability & occasional strong stroke work. It requires some ability to read the river.

We were expecting a tame paddle the next day from Walsingham Bridge to SR 20. We have done this stretch many times and we never had to portage or pull over and usually only downed shrubs or small trees & brush to skirt. Usually the only obstacles to continous run were scoot-overs.

Every river is different every time one paddles it. The day before we had a very technical, fun 11.5 miles of paddling. The next day we had a river full of obstacles. We think everyone had to get wet -- in thigh-high water or having to pull their boats under tight limbos and having to submerge in doing so. We saw no Cleopatra's on this trip.

Expect now, on this stretch, depending on water levels, many pullovers. There are many large trees which have fallen across the river. Some can be scooted over; many require getting out and pulling under (if there is sufficient space between trunk and water to pull a boat) or pull overs. Some trees have fallen very close to each other such that even if the first tree has sufficient space for a very tight limbo (and we all did our own version of the turtle scrunch), the second one, right next, may not be quite doable. With a relatively strong current pushing one toward the section of the limbo with less space, capsizes were inevitable, when the current caught the stern making a straight limbo approach not possible.

One of us overestimated the space and with spare inches between tree and kayak, tried to pull through the limbo. But eager helping hands, one pushing and one pulling nearly took off a nose, saved only by the ability to caterwail loudly. The next tight limbo, the boat was pulled under; better totally wet than a diminished nose.

There were close to 30 paddlers on this trip and everyone we spoke with agreed that we have never seen this section with so many obstacles. Only 8 miles, but we spent as much time out of the boats dealing with obstacles as we did paddling the boats.

Because these are huge trees, unless the water is considerably higher, and until some openings are created, this section will continue to be a challenging obstacle course.

This section is of moderate difficulty.

The final day's paddle was a not quite 7 mile paddle from SR 20 the HIghway 388. We were confident that because of the liveries on the river, any major obstacles would be removed and we were not disappointed. And our numbers had decreased by half.

But it was a very hot, humid Sunday and everyone living nearby with floats must have headed for the springs on that section -- who wouldn't have? The spring water, clear and cold, was perfect for swimming, standing and partying in this heat. The day before the take-out at SR 20 was filled to overflowing, but both the put-in at SR 20 and the take-out at CR 388 was also overflowing on the last day of paddling. We needed to break camp before heading home, so we made the 7 mile run in less than 2 hours, and got to the take-out before our group, but still had to wait 1/2 hour for the chance to get our kayaks on our trailer.

This section of the Econfina can be done by a beginner.

This landing is easier to take-out because it has a boat launch. The SR 20 and the Walsingham are classic examples of paddlers not being consulted by the Water Management District. Painters (ropes) are required for the Walsingham -- put-in/take-out being a concrete wall about 3 feet higher than the water level. At the SR 20 take-out/put-in a floating dock makes it difficult for kayakers to exit and enter. Many a sit-inside kayaker has fallen out at the dock. The SR 20 and CR 388 take-outs are congested on warm weekends. Expect to wait to take-out.

Econfina is one of the of the best paddling creeks in North Florida -- spring-fed, clear water with a personality which changes from its upper reaches to the lower sections. It never disappoints, and it cannot be taken for granted. It has surprises and treats as it did for us this weekend.

Again, a very successful FPCKC camping at Falling Waters State park and paddling on the Econfina Creek! Join the FPCKC next year and see what the Econfina has in store for you.

The group camped at Falling Waters State Park, a long shuttle to each of the put-ins. This state park has two very large full serviced tent sites, better situated than the other sites and much larger, sites 18 and 20. One of the few state park camp sites without gravel (punctures footprints). For groups, try getting a free, primitive site, group camp ground at Blue Springs, maximum of 25 campers. Vault toilet at site. See NW Florida Water Management district site for application. You don't have to be an organization to apply for this site -- good for large family/friends camping.

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Location Data:

Location Type: River
Boat Type: Kayak
Distance (miles): 26.5
Fees/Costs $: 0

Photos from Econfina Creek:    (Click image to view full size)

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Econfina Creek

At the Start -- upper Econfina

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Econfina Creek

One of several waterfalls

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Econfina Creek

Lunch break

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Footbridge over upper creek

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Econfina Creek

Limestone walls

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Econfina Creek

Mountain Laurel Still in Bloom

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Walsingham Bridge put-in to SR 20

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Econfina Creek

Coral Bean

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Econfina Creek

Oakleaf Hydrangea SR 20 to CR 388


Special Interests and Comments:

Special InterestsSee NWWater Management site for group and individual camping along river. Blue Spring, where we stopped for lunch, is a group area (max 25) with no fee. Portable toilet. Applications start on January 1; there are probably vacancies for the year, check.

Post Date: 5/21/2013

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