Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
September 22, 2012
There's an old joke about why the St. Johns River flows north, but out of respect for our good friends from Georgia, I won't repeat it here.
Instead, how about a good source for facts about the longest river in Florida?
That would be the St. Johns Riverkeeper, a Jacksonville nonprofit organization devoted to the 310-mile waterway, its watershed and ecological future.
Even better, the group mixes some fun with its activism by sponsoring river excursions that double as an interesting mixture of nature-watching and history that's unique to Florida. One of Riverkeeper's signature events, its two-day Eco Heritage Boat Tour between Palatka and Sanford, is set for Oct. 11 and 13.
It might be your last chance to experience it.
The Jacksonville company that charters the pontoon boats used for the two-day cruises is closing and Riverkeeper doesn't have a replacement yet, said Shannon Blankinship, the organization's outreach director.
"Our captain, Greg Samuels, has always chartered our boat for an affordable rate," Blankinship said. "I don't know if someone else would do that."
There are two Eco Heritage tours, one departing on the morning of Oct. 11 from the Crystal Cove Marina in Palatka and concluding the next afternoon at the marina on Lake Monroe in Sanford.
On Oct. 13, the second tour embarks from the Monroe Harbour Marina for a trip to Palatka. On both trips, passengers complete the round-trip by chartered bus.
What happens on the water?
In addition to spotting wildlife on the river and Lake George, guests will be entertained by author Bill Belleville ("River of Lakes"), Volusia County folk historian Bill Dreggors and others. There will be stops at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City and Hontoon Island State Park in DeLand. Guests will stay overnight at rustic Blair's Jungle Den in Astor.
Originally a three-day trip, the Eco Tours have been streamlined to focus on the most interesting sites, Blankinship says.
"It's just the right amount of stops and right amount of time in the boat," she said. "You can really get a feel for how the river changes as it goes along."
The $325 cost includes accommodations, transportation and catered lunches. Visit stjohnsriverkeeper.org for details.
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