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 Campground, 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, 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 oversized very tall bridges built all along the river in what became the Cross Florida Greenway.  They look silly so high up in the air.


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 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 paddle 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 on 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.


  1. Thank you for sharing the information about this area and about "that Carr woman", whom I also had never heard of. We've seen numerous dams throughout our travels. The most encouraging sight though, was the removal of two dams in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. It isn't always a possibility, but knowing that some have been removed is very encouraging.Your birds are amazing, especially the very handsome heron in his fancy apparel.

  2. That was a very interesting post Sherry. As long as I have lived in Florida I did not know all that. I doubt the river will ever run free again, but we can hope. Those were excellent Kingfisher shots.

  3. Such a sad story about the dam, but at least there is only one instead of the three originally planned.
    Great pictures of the heron and kingfisher!

  4. Quite a lot of bird life there. Unfortunately given the state government currently in Florida, and the nightmare currently in the White House, environmental protection is way down low on the list of priorities.

  5. These pictures!!! Exquisite. Not so much that damn dam. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Typical governmental waste and foot dragging. Sad that the river has been so impacted by man's idiocy.

    On a happier note, loved the Kingfisher pictures!

  7. I would dream of a day when the Ocklawaha can run free. Useless dams are being removed, as Jodee pointed out, so let's not give up hope. All except those last few shots by the dam it looks like a wild river providing for some marvelous bird life.

  8. Hurray for Marjorie Carr and Marjory Stoneman Douglas and all of the other tenacious, intelligent women (and men) who have spoken up for the preservation of all that is wild and beautiful in Florida! Let's hope that one day the Ocklawaha can run free again. Makes me so sad about the manatee deaths caused by the dam and locks. Your bird photos are wonderful—I was especially happy to see the Swallow-tailed Kite—it sure looks like it's carrying nesting material!

  9. What we saw of the river is beautiful. Kingfisher and Swallowtail photos are great!! Thanks for a history lesson and hope the river gets set free soon:o))

  10. Great job researching even more about Marjorie Harris Carr that happened after her death. Thanks to Carrie for such a thoughtful gift to her mom (the biography)! We all know they won't take this dam down & let the river run free until someone can make a credible case for it being in their financial interest to do so. There is hope that the economic boost they could get from ecotourism might might well pay for it in the long run to add to what they would get from all the jobs created to remove the dam. Love that kingfisher and your osprey & kite too!

  11. What an interesting post and history about a tenacious nature defender "that Carr Woman." I wonder if someone in her family or any local there have continued her fight against the removal dam. I hope that the demolition will happen no matter how late it would be and there will be a happy ending just like the Elwa Dam we visited in Washington. It is a success story and the salmon fish is back after the demolition of the the dam.

  12. Really hoping in the future that Carr's side will win out...sometimes positive change that should happen right away takes years and years. Such a shame! Fighting the good fight can take a long time. Beautiful river and bird pictures, other than the dam. Love the swallow tail and Kingfisher!


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