The Wakulla River has been a refreshing destination this summer. Sometimes in the morning a cool mist hovers above the water, and when the day starts to warm, it's wonderful to take a dip into the clear, springfed water.
Osprey and red-shouldered hawks often call from the cypress canopy, and summer is a good time to spot the unmistakable silhouettes of swallow-tail kites and Mississippi kites in the skies overhead. Numerous wading birds, anhinga and cormorants can be seen along the shore along with sunning turtles and small to medium-sized alligators. Occasionally, I spot otters, always welcome sights, and seeing manatees is almost guaranteed.
One highlight of the summer was taking off from my day job a couple of days and helping the Wilderness Way with a kayak camp for young people. Co-owner Georgia Ackerman organized three weeks of kayak camps this past summer for different age groups. I helped with the middle schoolers on a Wakulla paddling trip and it was inspiring to see about a dozen young people take such an interest in the river's wildlife and beauty. Of course, we had our share of water fights, too!
One of the frontiers of paddlesports and wilderness pursuits in general is to get more young people outside, to pry them away from computers and other electronic gadgets, and the kayak camps and similar summer programs are a good start. Another frontier is to encourage more minority participation in outdoor pursuits, and I often see families of color paddling on the Wakulla. One reason is that the river is very accessible, it is generally safe because FWC officers are often patrolling, and it's easy to rent a kayak or canoe. TNT Hideaway outfitters is right on the water at Highway 98 ("lower bridge"), and the Wilderness Way is only a mile or so away from what is known as "the upper bridge"-Highway 365 just below Wakulla Springs State Park. Also, St. Marks Outfitters will guide small groups and provide shuttles. Paddling from upper bridge to lower bridge is only about four miles and it's a good trip for beginners, or you can paddle upstream from Highway 98 and back down.
For a coastal feel, paddle about 3 miles from Highway 98 to the launch at Fort San Marcos de Apalachee in St. Marks. There are a couple of seafood restaurants in St. Marks that make for good end-of-trip destinations. You can bike down to St. Marks, too, on the 16-mile Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail.
Weekday evenings are also good times to paddle the Wakulla to beat the crowds, taking advantage of the long summer days, and full moons on the river can be magical. Check with local outfitters for full-moon guided trips, or plan your own! The Wakulla beckons, especially in summer.