Peace River, Fla
‘A Peaceful Splash’
Water Clarity – 7
Natural Quality – 9+ (in its own way)
Perception – Weekday
The thought that one must encounter when paddling this river has to be the one that whomever, or however the name ‘Peace’ was ever attached – it was indeed the correct choice.
Peace river is a 106-mile watershed of sorts which runs from Bartow, Fl to Charlotte harbor on the Gulf – a good portion is a designated paddle trail. The waters of the river hold significant ecological value to shellfish life within the brackish harbors below.
I’ll start by saying that it is not my intent to insult the river by calling it a ‘ditch,’ but – as a native to this area my approach was to begin my paddle trip on the Peace with this fundamental mindset. In retrospect, this section of the Peace river was indeed as fundamental as all waters flow, yet the natural corridor of the river area strongly conveys certain characteristics of wilderness past – ‘wild’ characteristics in which other Florida rivers have lost with civilization. Even with the cattle, my perspective of the ‘Natural Quality’ was a 9+. There are few homes along this section of river.
- thus was my state of mind easing onto the water from Pioneer Park in Zolfo Springs, towards Arcadia – @33 miles (as the crow flies). With no idea of time or actual river distance – I put-in 930am – told the outfitters in Arcadia that I’d be out two nights – they’d come look for me after the third.
I wanted to put in at Bartow, but a lack of rain had the section questionable – this paddle of Zolfo to Arcadia would provide an abbreviated idea of what to expect for that spring Bartow to Arcadia paddle (when the gators are ‘frisky’).
Contact the Canoe Outpost (Beth, Allison, Trent) for water conditions. At 11″ above normal the current is a mellow one, not a ‘free-ride‘ by any means – but a very casual opportunity to enjoy the geology and ecology surrounding this river.
The lack of noise pollution was surprising, the entire setting continued to surround with a strong sense of Peace and quiet (even with the gators). This is where I was lead to believe that the river’s name was so fitting – along with the perception that the river’s shoreline reflected many of the wilder characteristics (like the Georgia section of the Suwannee river) the feel is primitive…. There are some areas that are ‘as wild as it gets.’
Plenty of time to ponder the amount of time that it takes to erode shore line enough to drop a hundred and fifty year old oaks into the Current. But that wasn’t anything – within the terrain you can see the erosion patterns (much like the Mississippi’s river lakes) of the waters actions eons ago as waters receded and worked a niche through this land. Food for thought, basic muses.
Then a contrasting beauty of shores carved from ancient limestone – similar values within the Holden Creek area of the Suwannee river – same basic geology, millions of years of wear. There rock formations within the land create slower ‘pool’ (paddle) sections of the river.
Those ‘pool-like’ areas of slow water are areas that alligators thrive on turtles/birds and weak or wounded animals. Throughout the two day paddle there was an abundance of small gators (3 to 5 ft range) along with fewer larger ones. I noticed the largest softshell turtle (@20″ across) ever, sunning – along with deer, turkey, Osprey, a larger species of Blue heron, and more – all leading me to presume they are living in a pretty satisfying environment.
If you need mile-markers or landmarks, there are few (just follow the current) on this river. This river flows through a mass of privately owned land – older Florida land. ‘Low-impact’ camping is only allowed along the right bank, you’ll sleep with the critters for sure. I was prepared for this type of primitive camp, yet with a very relaxed paddle rate made the half-way point of Gardner easily on the first day.
It changes through a prairie-like setting where ‘range cattle‘ roam and live among the wild - first thing you’ might notice is that the cattle have lived with the deer so long they think they are deer – exceptionally skiddish and wary.
‘Crackers’ (Limestone Cowboys ) of the area remind me of those that work ‘range’ cattle every where, my Dad (above) worked rounding up and transporting range cattle in the 40′s and 50′s – he was a regular with the Lee County Sheriff’s posse rodeo’s in Ft. Myers. – Alva Fruit Company
Side note: the largest cattle ranch in America is not in Texas – it’s in Florida.
Several flocks of wild turkey
Simple beauty amidst no noise, only the occasional plastic water bottle to bring me back to reality – doggone people…….
On water’s everywhere, a rope swing
The Gardner ramp 330 pm, surprisingly relaxed paddle and early arrival at the halfway point. What I had seen throughout the day really didn’t lead me to desire hunting a campsite in the dark – With an established camp available by the Outfitters several hundred yards downstream (plus lingering weariness from the long super-bowl night before this paddle) – well…
The Outpost’s campsite was neat with cold-water showers and a bathroom available – easy call, the tent came out early. I’ve paddled a few distances and am lead to believe that ‘a good paddler goes down, – and rises with the sun’ (doesn’t always work – but I try). The Outpost folks also have an additional campsite available to it’s customers further downriver – for day-paddlers and youth groups, its their way of doing all they can to expose this river’s quality to others (nice camps CO).
The next morning tracks around my kayak near the shore indicated that a range cow had wandered through sometime during the night – all’s I heard was the owls. Even at a slow pace I was back on the water at 830a once again, feeling blessed while drifting and contemplating the setting with a standard cup of river-jolt. .
Cypress stumps, actually exposed roots – new foundations, natural seawalls.
Easing along the placid waters and just around one bend there was something swimming across in the water ahead (gator-bait), only seeing its head I thought it to be a wild pig. Quietly easing closer a coyote climbed the far bank (above) and stood a moment – then with a single glance towards me he was a distant memory!
Some sand banks along the way
While on the river I paddled alone, stealth-like, and with the current – in the distance I noticed a fisherman with lines out, the only one I had seen thus far. When paddling like this it is possible to slip up on wildlife – and at times, folks. This guy was really into his fishing and as I reached this point I said hello and snapped the picture – startled, he was all teeth – nice guy. Drifting past we made short conversation – the incident reminded me of paddling up on some fishermen at Lake Powell once, even entered into their conversation before they even noticed this stranger, funny.
With all the ancient history of the terrain, fossils (like along the Suwannee) are there if you seek. This is Sam and Perry (she is Sam, not short for Samantha). From Indiana they were eager to discuss and show me their booty of ancient finds – an assortment of animal (mostly shark) teeth and some fossilized bone. It was a good stop and conversation with some interesting folks. More Peace river fossil hunting information.
aged Cypress trees
a long life passing naturally
The railroad trestle indicates the end of a short paddle ahead
The Outpost. Folks were great, I know that its their business – but to this point the folks Canoe Outpost seem more than eager to help. I liked the trash and recycle containers available, a good direction for all.
Canoe Outpost – Arcadia Fla – they’re way of saying – “bacshortly”
Notes; Zolfo to Gardner ez 6.5 hours (direct line 20 mi). Gardner to Outpost Arcadia ez 5 hours (direct line 15 mi). $50 buck shuttle to Zolfo (worth it), Airboats heard down river from Arcadia – my trip was during the week and I encountered neither airboats nor other paddlers – but it is possible (just part of it).
Paddle not to ‘make-time’ but as to ‘take-time.’