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A Shell Creek Paddle

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On: Mon, Jan 17, 2011 at 11:47AM | By: Mel The Guide

Hi, all! Hope everyone had a great holiday, and you are getting ready for some really good paddling. You don’t have to go far. There are so many awesome places right here in Lee and Charlotte counties.

A few months ago I was getting ready for the kayak season to kick in and get ready for our clients from overseas. We have a lot of English, German, and Irish clientel. The travel guides over there have been very kind to us in Matlacha. We have had some of their writers go out with us on tours and they have all had a wonderful time, seeing manatee, dolphin, and a lot of birds they don’t usually see at home. Not to forget the mangroves and the tunnels. Therefore, it looks like the start of another good year.

As you know by now, I own Gulf Coast Kayak in Matlacha, and am a kayak & canoe tour guide. However, I also am for hire for a few other kayak shops and tour outfitters in Lee and Charlotte County. Therefore, it is always a treat to be invited to, or to find, a new place to go get my yak wet. {Not that that is a bad thing.} One such paddle happened a few weeks ago. I was reading one of the local newspapers and I saw a name that looked like I had seen it before. It was Rick Fried, who was a classmate in the Florida State University Master Naturalist classes that we had taken a few years ago. The story stated that Rick was leading a paddle for the Sierra Club of Port Charlotte on Shell Creek. I had not seen Rick for quite some time and I wondered how he was doing. Moreover, what he did with all that knowledge he had picked up at the classes. Rick is one of those lucky folks who live right on Shell Creek, and knows it like the back of his hand.

By the way, if you want to really find out what makes the eco systems tick and find out what you are looking at {short of hiring a professional guide} try to get in to a Master Naturalist Class at FSU, or one of their extension classes. The teachers are top notch. In addition, when you complete the three modules you can say 'so that's what that is.' In addition, you'll have a greater respect for our environment

I sent out an e-mail to Rick and asked if there was still room on the paddle. He responded and said that there was and he sent directions to the launch site.

The take-off point was Hathaway Park off Route 17 on the way to Arcadia in Shell Creek. Hathaway Park has a nice boat ramp and dock on Shell Creek. There is a pay-and-park and rest rooms on site. They have a few picnic tables, but are mostly a boat ramp. If you are putting in a kayak or canoe, don't go there. Go to the next driveway heading east to the kayak launch site. There you will find a nice sandy place to put in and a pavilion under cover, and picnic tables, rest room {chem. Out house}, and free parking.

I got there early by sunrise and unloaded my yak and gear, then drove across the field to the free parking. I met Rick and a few of his friends from the Sierra Club. The paddle was free, but we made a small donation anyway to the club. With in an hour’s time we were on the water and ready to go. Rick said go out on the right and follow up to the bridge were he will meet up with us shortly. And then, to my surprise, sly old Rick shows up in a large canoe with two of his friends and an ELC trolling motor. Rick took the lead and we followed. Rick has a passion for the river and it shows as he guided us upstream, in and out around the twist and turns of the river. He pointed out some beautiful large white flowers on a huge bunch of vines and told us they were moon flowers, and that they would close as the sun rose in the sky. There were many cedar trees with their knees sticking up like some great church roof top. I would have said stalactites or stalagmites, but I can't remember which one comes up from the bottom, been so long out of school. There were epiphytes {air plants; that one I remembered} and mosses, lichen, cacti, orchids, and algae all over the palm and pine trees in the river. In addition, what put the artist final touch on was the long hanging Spanish moss. We saw a few gators, but most were less than 4 feet.

We paddled around and over the sunken tree stumps and rocky ledges under the water. The banks were steep in places and you could see why it is called Shell Creek. The soil had layers of shells and different kinds of soil from hundreds of years past.

As it warmed up and the sun came up we saw so many butterflies. I never claimed to know much about butterflies and moths, so all I can say is they were beautiful with all the different colors and painted wings. Some were black with yellow dots and lines across their 6-inch wingspan, and others were only about an inch across, orange and black. We also were blessed with seeing many shapes and sizes of turtles sunning themselves on the downed trees lying in the clean clear river. Just basking in the hot sun, then as we paddled by they dropped in to the water one by one.

The trip took about five hours. Now, you don’t have to paddle that far to get a feel and be in awe of the river; you can turn around at any time. It is a trip well worth taking. One other thing that is nice about this paddle is you don’t have to wait for a good day. I mean that this is an excellent trip to think about when the open water has too much of a chop, or the wind is a blowing too hard. With the river being all inland and having protection on both sides from the shell banks, it makes for a calm ride, no mater what the weather is.

I liked this trip so much that when my friend Martha {princes mondango} from up north came down to visit her mom, I suggested she come for a paddle with me to Shell Creek and bring her camera. You may remember Martha from our trip to Cabbage Key. Martha has a photo gallery in Massachusetts and is a wonderful photographer. She has some of the best pictures I have seen showing wildlife, flowers, and shore birds.
We went in the early morning and she got some really great photos, which I know will be some of her best sellers in the gallery.

I would like to thank Rick and his friends of the Serra Club for a fantastic paddle on the creek, and my friend Martha for some unforgettable pictures of Shell Creek.

Well, we are back at Gulf Coast Kayak base camp in Matlacha {Pine Island} and we had another unbelievable day on the water. Manatees and dolphins with there young all over the place and the weather is great. There are so many eco places to paddle and I will do my best to paddle them and share them with you, my fellow paddlers. If you have a special place or trail you like to paddle, please e-mail me and share it with us:

Hope to see you on the water soon. get out there; we all need a good paddling sometimes. Thanks for paddling with Mel, the Guide


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