Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Paddling the Ocklawaha River

Thursday March 23, 2017                                                        Most Recent Posts:
Rodman Campground                                                                 Rodman Campgroud, When to Visit and Why
Palatka, Florida                                                                        Spring Equinox on the Florida National Trail


The pictures in this post were all taken on our kayaking trip down a section of the Ocklawaha River.



As I’ve said in recent previous posts, my reasons for coming to Rodman were to experience the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway in which the campground is situated and to kayak her beloved Ocklawaha River.

The river damaging canal she worked so hard to stop was begun in 1935 during the great depression as an economic recovery program for the area.  It was to cross Florida and allow shipping from the Atlantic to the Gulf and vice versa.  Even then local opponents protested that the canal would impact the Florida aquifer and work was stopped a year later.  It was reauthorized in 1942 as a national defense project but funding support in Washington wasn’t there.  It was restarted in 1961.  Opponents managed to get it halted in 1971 but not officially cancelled.



For nearly 40 years, from 1960 until her death in 1997,  Marjorie Carr devoted her life to opposing the Cross Florida Barge Canal and saving the Ocklawaha River.  In that time she managed to create a large enough coalition of opposition to the Canal project that by 1971 only one of the three dams requested by the Army Corps of Engineers had been built built, the Rodman Dam.  Seventy four MILLION dollars was spent on the project before it was finally deauthorized in 1990 nearly 60 years after it began. I’m not sure whether this figure covers the outsized very tall bridges built all along the river in what became the Cross Florida Greenway.


DGB1 (1)




The project was ultimately stopped but not before the Ocklawaha was dramatically changed by the dam, two sections of the canal, two locks (one abandonded when the canal was not funded that far) and the artificial reservoir referred to by its defenders as “Lake Ocklawaha” and by others as Rodman Reservoir. 

The reservoir is filled with dead trees making boating quite difficult.  No water skiing happening here.  Dead trees are all around the shores as well. 




Marjorie Carr’s fondest wish was the total restoration of the river.  The Florida Defenders of the Environment, begun by Carr in 1969, continues to push for restoration of a free-flowing Ocklawaha and breaching the dam which the National Audubon Society described as  “the only dam in the nation without even an alleged purpose”.  

The same 2012 article quoted 19th Century poet Sidney Lanier who described the Ocklawaha as “the sweetest water-lane in the world”.   FDE has an excellent article by its president on why the river should be restored.  A Gainesville Sun newspaper article from December of 2015 gives the arguments from both sides.   I hope to read some day soon that the river has been freed but I’m not optimistic after reading in a Florida Times Union of Jacksonville newspaper article article from October 14, 2000 stated that “this past July state officials announced a plan to tear down the dam and restore the Ocklawaha River. No time table has yet been set for its removal”. That was fifteen years ago.  Nothing has yet been done.

Though restoration of the river is still an issue, over 25 years after the project was haulted, money and politics continue to make progress impossible.  What else is new?



One of the saddest things I read was from a 1997 report on manatee injury and death due to the remaining Buckman Lock..  Fifteen deaths were reported from 1974 to 1996 as manatee attempted to come up the Ocklawaha from the St. Johns river looking for submerged acquatic vegetations, quiet backwaters and warm water refuge sites.  The Ocklawaha has 20 springs submerged due to the dam and reservoir.  The manatee were crushed or injured in the lock..  I don’t think I want to know how many have died in the past 20 years but surely as many or more.



Leslie Poole, a professor of Environmental Studies at Rollins College wrote “It is a grim and disheartening sight — a dam in north Florida that blocks the flow of the Ocklawaha River, once a jungle-like, twisting stream that inspired artists and poets. Today the Kirkpatrick (Rodman) Dam is not only an ugly hulk of concrete that hinders natural river flow and the passage of endangered species, but it is also a reminder (and remainder) of a boondoggle project that inflamed grass-roots opposition and galvanized Florida’s environmental movement.”  (Kirkpatrick is the Rodman dam renamed after its strongest proponent. Both names continue to be used.)


Poole further argues that the “dam — intact along with its abutting reservoir that has been aptly described as an “aging, festering impoundment” — remains. It prevents the migration of 20 fish species, including striped bass and American shad that once left the Atlantic Ocean to spawn in the river’s upper reaches. Today that lock and dam system costs an estimated $1 million a year to maintain, and another $2 million may be needed for repairs. Damage to wildlife and a once-abundant riverine ecosystem is incalculable. Restoration might cost $20 million — less than the last 48 years’ worth of maintenance costs.”


After kayaking this river and doing this research I just can’t believe that having a bass tournament in this particular lake (reservoir) and its economic benefits to the community can possibly be worth the environmental and economic costs.  This area is covered with lakes and a beautiful natural river with 20 springs and tributaries like Silver Spring would surely bring plenty of eco-tourism dollars to Putnam County.



I found it very interesting as I was doing research on this whole question that most of the things on line if you google Rodman Dam, Ocklawaha River or Cross Florida Barge canal, do not even mention Marjorie Carr nor does the informational brochure we were given at the park on the Cross Florida Greenway which was named for Marjorie Carr in 1991 when the impounded 110 miles long, one mile wide and 93, 228 acres acquired for the canal was turned over to the state for “conservation and recreation”. There is nothing mentioned about her in this brochure.  Amazing!  There is also nothing about her role in the Wikipedia articles either unless you directly google her name.



We have found there continue to be hard feelings on this issue in this area. One couple I talked to after our kayak referred angrily to “that Carr woman and her people who want to get rid of the reservoir where we catch a lot of fish. The area won’t never recover in my lifetime”.  Marjorie Harris Carr died in 1997 but she’s still “that Carr woman”. 




It’s time to honor her work and restore the Ocklawaha.  There will be even more fish in the restored, free running natural river.  Time to undo a big mistake.






I really hope at some future stay at Silver Springs State Park we can paddle the Silver River down to where it flows into the Ocklawaha and on to Gores Landing or beyond.   I’d love to spend more time just watching the Great Egrets and others as they go about their lives.

I did spend quite a bit of time watching these four or five egrets as the river pushed me north toward the St. Johns.  Each time I got near them they of course flew off in front of me rather than behind until about the fifth time when they went down a little tributary where I could see them hanging out together as I floated past.


One of the highlights of this day was watching a Swallow-tailed kite circling above.


At one point, he disappeared and then returned with something.  I can’t quite make out what it is in this picture but it is either dinner or nesting materials but I’m not sure they nest here.



One real joy on the Ocklawaha is its slow speed which allows me to spend time watching the birds rather than zipping by them or having to paddle constantly to keep from heading backwards.
It isn’t often that I can watch a kingfisher.





At this point it was time for a stop at a nice turn around.   The bottom of the river here is covered with what I assume are Fresh Water Mussel shells.




Fresher ones seem to have a mother of pearl lining.



There were numerous osprey along the river.  At this spot at least 3 or 4 of them were calling over head but the only one I could see was above this nest.



I saw many many little birds flitting back and forth along the banks, in the trees and crossing the river.  The only one I could get a decent shot of was this Phoebe.  Thanks Eric & Laurel.  




The only structure we saw on the river was this abandonded dock.  SO nice to kayak a totally natural river, to see and hear almost only the sounds of nature.





The Great Blue Heron is all dressed up in his fancy outfit with his blue breeding lore (bare skin between his eyes and bill). 



David missed seeing this Anhinga drying her wings even though he was right in front of her.  He said he was looking at a kingfisher on the end of the same tree.  Not sure how you can miss a bird this big but he scared her off as he paddled by.




In order to get to the original Ocklawaha River in this area you have to cross a piece of the canal so one the way back I take this picture of the infamous dam and the straight as an arrow canal.  The dam is on my left, the canal on my right as I paddle across.  The reservoir is behind the dam.  None of these is nearly as interesting as the beautiful river.  Hope to hear some day soon that the dam, canal and reservoir are history and the river is running free.






Our next stop will be Wekiwa Springs as we approach the end  this year’s Florida tour.  I think we may have over stayed this year as the weather people are predicting temperatures in the  90’s for next week.  WHEW – that’s not going to bring a smile to my face.  Guess there will be  a lot of swimming in the spring.  Things could be worse.

Rodman Campground, When to Visit and Why

Wednesday March 22, 2017                                                           Most Recent Posts:
Rodman Campground                                                                       Spring Equinox on the Florida Trail
Palatka, Florida                                                                              The Santa Fe River and Two Tries at River Rise


Let me say straight up that in all the years we’ve been wintering in Florida in Winnona I have never chosen Rodman as a campground because of the dam.  Those who know me realize that I am opposed to daming rivers period.  That rivers shuld have the right to run free is my strong feeling.  I realize that daming rivers provides water to allow people to live in many places but it is also my feeling that they clearly have no business living there if the land, unaltered, can’t support them. 

That said, we have come to Rodman becasue of Marjorie Harris Carr.  I wanted to see the Greenway named in her honor and to kayak the river she tried to save.  After reading her biography, Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida’s Environment by Peggy Macdonald, I am a fierce admirer of hers.  More about MHC in another post.



Now about the campground.   It is located 15 miles South of Palatka Florida on US 19.  There are a total of 68 campsites split between what they call “Phase one” and “phase two”.
In Phase I, Sites 1-13 have electricity only and 6 pull through sites and several sites up to 40’.  Sites 14-39 are “primitive” and listed as tents only.  At the far end of the campground is the picnic area and a boat ramp into the “Lake Oklawaha” more rightly known as the Rodman Dam Reservoir.  We are staying in the Phase II campground which has sites 40-68 in a loop around a long mound made from the fill taken out to dig the canal.  We call it the fill hill.  It is fairly steep and treed.  Sites 41-58 are on both sides of the campground road.  One side backs up to the fill hill and the other to woods. Sites 59-68  back up to the fill hill and face the canal, across the road,  for a water view.   One other note is that the only restroom is on the sites 41-58 side of the fill hill so if you want to use it you must hike up and over the hill, or go around it.



David surveys a piece of the Cross Florida Canal with its perfectly straight edges.  Mother Nature seldom if ever makes straight lines.  Wonder why?



The sites are varying distances apart.  Our neighbors to the left are a nice distance away, our neighbors to the right are pretty close.  Too bad the ones to the right are the stay up at night and party types with many noisy children and late night guests.  There does not appear to be any enforcement of the 10pm to 6am quiet hours.   That is probably due to the fact that mainly people come here to fish in the reservoir.  Reservations can be made on Reserve America though this does not seem to actually be a Florida State Park..    It’s listed there as Florida “Department of Recreation and Parks”.  It is not listed in the Florida Parks Passport book.  My guess is that this was an Army Corps of Engineers site since they are the villains in this pork barrel project.  When the project was finally decommisioned I guess they withdrew from it all.  This was not confirmed by the person at the entrance booth who so far has not known the answers to any question we have asked.  There do not appear to be any rangers and she works from 7am to 3pm taking money from mostly fishermen I think.  It is called Rodman Campground, not Rodman State Park





If you are interested in Rodman for any reason like hiking the Florida Trail or kayaking the Oklawaha, I strongly suggest you book for mid February so you can catch what is billed as and looks like it must have been a spectacular Azalea Bloom at nearby Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka.   The information says the bloom is January-April but my experience with Azaleas tells me that by mid March they are usually history.  

David really wanted to see the Azaleas so he called the park to check on the status of the blooms and was told they were pretty much finished.  “Nevertheless, he persisted”.  We went.  It’s an easy 15 mile drive and we needed groceries anyway and there is a Publix there.  there are no services closer to Rodman than Palatka.



In an effort to spur the economic recovery of the city of Palatka, a ravine created by water flowing from the sandy ridges on the shore of the St. Johns River was turned into what they describe as “dramatic gardens” during the Great Depression from 1933-39 by the Federal Works Proggress Administration (WPA).  Of course that means the infastructure was done by the CCC from local stone.  They  put in the walls, walkways, fountains, and other infastructure as well as the trails and the drive.  By 1934 over 95,000 Azaleas had been planted by Federal Emergencfy Relief Administration Workers.   No wonder he wanted to see it.  These plantings are over 80 years old.




The surviving structures include the main entrance, two suspension bridges, an amphitheater, stone terraces and the Court of States with its obelisk dedicated to President FDR.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.




The 146 acre park is a combination of formal and “natural” gardens though the trails through it are 2.5 and .8 miles long so a lot of those acres are inaccessible.  There is also a 1.8 mile paved loop road which winds around the ravine, l offering walkers, motorists and bicyclists a view of the gardens if they do not or cannot hike in among the trees and plants.  The drive closes to motor vehicles one hour before sunset.

It must be spectacular to hike these trails and be literally surrounded by azalea blooms, large live oaks and huge magnolia trees.


One point to be noted, Ravine Gardens has very little signage so it can be difficult to find the trail heads if you don’t know to walk through the “formal gardens” down the brick path next to the very large Roy E Campbell Civic Center which you will think is the visitor center but isn’t.  There isn’t a visitor center but the map below can be obtained from the wall inside.

After hiking all the trails I am convinced that they spent all their money on this great big thing to the detriment of upkeep on the park, its many steps and on the deteriorating trails.
The CCC works really need some attention.  The condition of them is a shame in many cases.

Sorry about the spots on the infamous building, I was taking into the sun for the picture.



Here’s the map provided.  The very dark line is the drive which we do after we hike the Azalea Trail which is the longer hike with the smaller dashes.  The 8/10 mile spring hike is the one with the larger dashes.  After doing the 2.5 mile Azalea Trail with very few azaleas in bloom, we opted out of the spring trail although if it were Mid February with everything in bloom we surely would have done it as well.


Once you go down the formal walk and get to the bottom of the steps everything turns to sand and you go left for Spring or right for Azalea.



Fairly soon we come to the first of the two suspension bridges.  I wonder out loud if these cement columns are really what the CCC did originally or if they are a replacement idea.


The bridge itself is made of wood.



The paths are all sand and easily walkable when the ground is level but here in the Ravine, it is up and down.  On slopes the paths are falling away and that is perhaps why both trails are  labeled on the map as difficult with this one called the most difficult.  Maybe that’s true for Florida but I certainly wouldn’t call it difficult though you must be careful on the washouts which make the trail very narrow.  David wants me to point out that there are a lot of tree roots to watch out for which have been exposed by erosion, and often occur as loops that could prove very hazzrdous to anyone, young or old who happens to get a foot snagged by one




Lots of stairs both newer wooden ones and CCC era cement which have not been kept up and are tricky since they are covered with sand and no longer level.



David finds the first Azalea bloom.  He thinks it’s coming, I think it is going.



We come to the second suspension bridge which is identical to the first.  Both of these bridges could be used to cut the hike into smaller sections since the bridges run over the ravine.  




We finally find a few blooms that aren’t completely gone.  Even faded, their color is wonderful and this would definitely be a spectacular hike if all 95,000 were in bloom or even a fraction of that number.


Azaleas are on both sides of the trail and in most cases taller than we are.





No trail would be complete without some BIG trees.







There are a few wildflowers along the trail as well.






On the back side, we come again to the suspension bridges.



The trail and step edges are stone at this point and either still in good shape from the 30’s or nicely maintained.  These steps lead us down into the bottom where the picnic area and amphitheater are.



From here is a nice view of the bridge.



The amphitheater, grass terraces edged with large stones, is across the drive from the picnic area.  Although the Azalea trail goes along side the drive in several places, this is the only time it crosses the drive.






Some of the steep inclines and descents do not have steps.  Who says Florida doesn’t have “hills”.



We’re back at the formal gardens where you can see the Civic Center just beyond.





It is here next to the parking lot that we finally see two bushes, one purple and one white, with more than two or three flowers on them.




At this point it is 89 degrees out and I think more than ever that this was a crazy thing to do but we hop back in the car, turn on the air conditioning and drive around the drive where David, ever mindful of food, sees not azaleas out his window but wild tangerines and oranges.  Thankfully, they are too high up for him to stop the car, jump out and grab some.






Next stop is the Publix grocery store in Palatka after which we drive through the little town which ends as the bridge goes across the St. John’s River.  Palatka is making a bid to be a mural town documenting its history with murals on many of the sides of buildings on the main street.  There is a guide to the murals and they are definitely worth a visit. To close this post, here are some of our favorites. 



. HarlemNights-2014-


by gone days mural