Last month I had the privilege of attending a conference in Ocala, Florida, with plenty of free time to enjoy the great outdoors. First was a canoeing trip up then down the Silver River of Silver River State Park. Although this was a conference activity and I knew some of the attendees, I was raising my hand saying I needed a paddling partner and was matched up accordingly.
It was a lovely paddle alongside lazy alligators lounging and turtles warming in the sun on cypress logs. Bird life was plentiful and some vibrant flowers were in bloom. We kept our eyes open for monkeys, yes, you read right, monkeys. Rhesus monkeys were introduced to the park in 1938 by a tour boat operator to enhance his jungle cruise and the troop of monkeys has survived generation after generation. Alas, there were no monkeys but the crystal clear blue water was ideal for searching for fish and the springs underneath.
While I found the scenery and water incredible, I was told multiple times, “This was much more beautiful 20 years ago,” due to the recent invasion of non-native hydrilla. Native of Asia, hydrilla was used in home aquariums and when people cleaned or discarded the plant and lack of predator, it invaded many of Florida’s waters (and other waters, too) and cluttering the river bottom with arm bands of the plant.
The paddle included a 1.2 mile roundtrip hike along the River Trail to the bottom, some of which was extremely muddy. My skort (another story another time) ended up splattered with mud and my trusty Sketchers flip-flops were thick with mud. The paddle was about 2 miles upstream making the nearly 2 miles back a breeze. Light rain refreshed us from the sultry August Florida day.
Writers are a friendly bunch and the next day I met Ocala resident and outdoor writer Lucy Beebe Tobias, whose book 50 Great Walks in Florida is a must-have Florida travel guidebook. Travel writer Alan Macher, also an Ocala resident, and Lucy’s two well-behaved dogs joined us for a wonderful amble as Lucy discussed history, fauna and geology of the trail and park. Despite the feisty mosquitoes, the morning hike was perfect and a positively memorable trip to end my experience to the Ocala area.
Check out some of my Silver River State Park photographs here on Flickr.