Paddlers, get your sea kayaks ready! Wakulla County has put together the Apalachee Bay Maritime Heritage Paddling Trail System, a set of ten saltwater paddling trails for both beginning and experienced paddlers. Trail lengths range from three to eight miles through a variety of coastal habitats.
The easiest and shortest trail begins at the town of St. Marks and extends down the St. Marks River to Port Leon Creek. Paddlers can then venture up the creek to the site of Port Leon, destroyed by an 1843 hurricane. As with most of the trails, paddlers are greeted with wilderness vistas of marsh and tree islands since most wind through the 68,000-acre St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
To develop the trails, the county received a small grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Coastal Zone Management Program, and a team of volunteer experts is assisting.
Intermediate and expert paddlers can enjoy the eight mile circumnavigation of Piney Island near Panacea. Most of the vast island is marsh, so the two main beaches with trees are welcome rest and lunch stops. I recently paddled around the island with a group of friends. Even though I wore a spray skirt, I should have raised it higher and cinched it tighter because a sudden-and cold-wave came over me and drenched my upper body. Water then trickled down my back. Fun!
Other trails include Tide Creek, Mashes Sands to Ochlockonee Bay, Chaires Creek/Tucker Lake, St. Marks River to the lighthouse, and trails that weave through tidal creeks and inside passages paralleling the Gulf. Most require some saltwater paddling/open water experience, or one can accompany an experienced guide.