Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Canoeing with the Manatee of Salt Springs

Adventure Journal - Entry Date: December 2010

Santa brought the Richardson Tribe canoes this year, so we decided a Southbound trip was in order. The goal was to seek warmer weather, but a sudden cold front moved in and threatened to dampen our spirits. Sorry Mother Nature, it takes a lot more than snow and frigid weather to deter the Richardson Tribe. We came prepared to make the most of the Ocala National Forest, and we feel like we succeeded.

Our first impression of the Salt Springs Recreation area was the "Run", a marina located on the small lake formed by the spring. We used the salt Springs Run marina for two days because of convenient parking, easy water access, a nice picnic area, and convenient restrooms.

The first day was our maiden voyage for the canoes, and Rebecca and the kids were a little nervous. On one hand, we were comforted by the fact that the water was a balmy 72 degrees, on the other hand, we were also aware that alligators love the warmth of the springs too. It didn't take long for everyone to become a little more at ease, and we started spotting the wildlife. The water is crystal clear, so we could see the fish swimming beneath us. We could occasionally see the manatee surfacing across the still water.

It wasn't long before we spotted some manatee very nearby. A young pup, probably 800+ lbs, was curious about a pontoon boat very near to us. I used my new waterproof Pentax camera to snap a shot or two. He then swam over to me, slowly raised his massive head out of the water, and just sat there looking at me. I confess*, I reached down and touched his head, and he slowly slipped back under. He seemed curious about a rope dangling from the rear of Rebecca's canoe. He surfaced and began nudging it with his nose causing the rear of the canoe to slowly rise up. Rebecca excitedly said "Row! Row Lee Thomas"! We saw the manatee several more times that day, but I was never able to get a better picture above or below the water.

After a full day of paddling, we moved our camp from the RV Park across the street to the campground at the Recreation Area. The sites are much larger, much more like camping in a state park. Sure, there's no cable, but who needs cable when there's a fire ring. For a change of pace, we visited St .Augustine the next day.

The second full day at the spring was our last day in the area, so we packed-up the camper, checked out of he campground and moved everything to the Marina. There were a lot more people there on this day (New Years Eve), but there is plenty of parking, so we had room for the RV, Jeep, and trailer.Once we had the canoes launched, we enjoyed another beautiful warm day searching for (and seeing) the manatee, fish, and innumerable birds that grace the lagoon. We paddled up into a little cove where large turtles were sunning themselves on logs. We were told that an alligator sometimes likes to sun himself on the shore there, but we never saw a single reptile the entire time we were there. There is a hawk that hangs-out at the marina, and we were able to watch it closely. Only the knowledge that I had to load and drive kept this from being a perfectly relaxing afternoon.

Around 3:30pm, we reluctantly loaded the canoes on the Jeep, then loaded the Jeep on the trailer for our journey North to Crooked River State Park near Saint Marys, Georgia. It was there that we would bring in the new year, just us, a family of six curious people in an RV we call Homer.

*Note- There are laws against "harassment" of manatees. These include swimming after (chasing), riding, poking, and feeding. The term "harass" is very subjective, and I'm sure some people would consider touching a manatee "harassment", even if the animal swims up to you and begs for attention. The rules posted at the marina say touching with one hand is acceptable, but not two. That would constitute "riding". Therefore, I think it must be ok to touch the head of a manatee that surfaces by your canoe. Between you and me, it was a very neat experience.


  1. We really enjoyed your post concerning Salt Springs! Your description of your manatee encounter was excellent.


  2. Thank you John and Ellen. You are kind.

  3. OHHHhhhh I so hope we can experience something like this when we are Florida in June! Amazing! Thanks for sharing

  4. Brooke, if you go to Salt Springs, you are almost sure to see the manatee. Have fun.