NEW RIVER - APALACHICOLA AREA

From John Depa of New Jersey--                                                                                                                              
 Trip Date: March, 2000 --  Posted 6/7/2000                                                                                                              Audio  Celes 
                          


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Location: Florida panhandle, about 40 miles southeast of Tallahassee.
Description: A dark, tea colored river, much like the Suwannee and St. Marys’. The upper reach of the river originates inside Apalachicola Forest. From there it takes a winding route through Tate’s Hell Wildlife Management Area, meets the Crooked River and then the Carrabelle River about two miles from the Gulf, just north of the city of Carrabelle. Total distance from the "put in" to the Gulf is about 20 miles.
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  Area Description: Apalachicola is a National Forest. It has a number of campsites with easy access to several rivers and lakes. Campsite fee is $4.00 per night, or you can purchase an annual permit, which is valid in all three Florida National Forests, for a fee of $40.00. The nearest campsite to the New River "put-in" is Hitchcock Lake, located on Route 67, about 20 miles north of Carrabelle. Hitchcock Lake is really not a" lake", it is a calm stretch of water off the Ochlockonee River (which is another nice river to paddle).

  Just to the south of the "put-in" you will enter the Tate’s Hell Wildlife Management Area. This is a recent State purchase of 119,467 acres. Most maps show the purchase as being only a small parcel of land on the boundary of the Apalachicola, but in fact, the State purchased almost the entire tract, which was formerly owned by a timber company. For this reason, the New River is little known or used. Since the purchase, the State has been installing road signs, and has developed 8 new campsites  along the river, all with brand new picnic tables and fire rings. As evidence of the fact that the river and its facilities are little known, I did not encounter one person camped in any of the sites.

  Camping at the developed sites requires a permit, and a fee of $4.00 per night. However, I doubt that anyone would bother you, the area is quite desolate. In addition, there are a number of beautiful "sugar-bar" sandbars that would provide enough camping space for a number of tents, and give you  the privacy of not being accessible by road. Should you elect to obtain a permit for one of the developed sites, the Ranger Station is located on Route # 98 about 2 miles east of Carrabelle (look for the fire tower on the left side). This is also the place to obtain a (free) detailed map of Tate’s Hell. The other map that would be helpful is of Apalachicola Forest. One can be obtained at the Ranger Station in Wakulla, on Route #319, on the east side of the Forest. There is a fee ($10 ??) for that map. I would recommend obtaining both maps. The roads are very poorly marked and there are hundreds of miles of dirt logging roads that lead to nowhere. Even with the maps, finding the various campsites in Tate’s Hell is difficult by land.

Try the following websites:
National Forest office in Wakulla       http://www.r8web.com  Phone 850-926-3561
State Forest   http://www.state.fl.us/gfc            

The "put-in":
I drove over 100 miles on dirt roads trying to find the furthermost northern entry point to the New River. (I didn’t have a Tate’s Hell map at the time, and just navigated by compass). Finally I found it, at the end of Forest Road (FR) # 125, in the Apalachicola Forest. FR 125 intersects Route # 67 about mile north of Hitchcock Lake campsite. Follow that (dirt) road about 14 miles (west). You will go over 3 small bridges and later the road widens to the left. Take the wide road (it looks large enough to be a small air strip) for the last 2 miles (?) It bears to the right, but a fork splits off (left) to a short dead-end. There is an access point there, but it is down a rather steep bank. Check it out anyway. Then get back on 125 and travel another 1/4 mile to the next (left) turn off. There you
will see the remains of an old bridge. As far as I know, this is as far north that the river is accessible by car. This is where I launched.

Take out point:
  Depending on your "trip plan" you can either paddle the river all the way to the Gulf (about 20 miles) as I did, or make arrangements to pull out at one of the established campsites. My "take out" was at the Tiki Bar in Carrabelle. It is located on a dead-end road by a boat ramp, where the shrimp boats dock. Heading west on Route 19, go through the town of Carrabelle and over the bridge (Carrabelle River). Make the first left, and follow it all the way to the end, about 1 mile. The Tiki Bar is on the left. They have a fenced-in area where you can leave your vehicle over night (for a nominal fee).

The trip:
  Launched at 9 AM with a plan to be picked up at the Tiki Bar at 6 PM. I was paddling alone in a Mohawk Solo 14' canoe. Since this was a one day trip, I was traveling very light - cooler of "beverage", fishing rods and a lunch. Had no idea what I might encounter. I had not talked to anyone who had paddle it, and was simply looking at a map.

  First mile, or so, was a dream! Nice 1-2 MPH current and beautiful reflections off the tea colored river. Lots of cypress trees both in the river and along the banks. No pollution (litter) and there were numerous white sand bars. I would liken it to the first 10 miles on the Suwannee River, just below the "sill", but with less of a current. Then the river began to narrow, and took a decidedly "winding " path. There were times that I thought it did a complete 360 degree turn." Dead falls" became more numerous. There was evidence that the river had been cleared of Dead falls, at one time, but that was long ago. Over the next 3 miles I had 4 "carry-outs" and just as many close calls (lying flat in the bottom of the canoe to slip under a fallen tree). I began to wonder if, in fact, the river was "passable".If not, what would I do?? But, that is part of the allure of paddling solo in unknown waters, a sense of exploration.

  At about mile 5, I heard voices down river. Turned out to be 2 men and a boy, in two canoes. They had put in the night before, just below where I did, and camped on a sand bar. Their "take out" was the first developed State campsite (which at this point I did not know existed). They were familiar with the river and gave me some valuable information: That there were 8 new campsites, and that I could expect a tidal influence about 3 miles further down river. They also said it was the first time they had ever encountered another paddler.

  The river widened again and the "winding" became less acute. No more problems with Dead falls, but I had lost the current. The cypress trees were far behind and the landscape was changing to scrub and pine. Not nearly as pretty as the upper river. Since I was paddling solo, I was well ahead of the other paddlers. Found their vehicle and checked out the campsite (as I did at the next 5 sites) All had brand new picnic tables and fire rings, but they looked little used. They are all accessible by road, so I would imagine that they are used more by "teenagers", on Friday night, then by paddlers.

At about mile 9, the tidal current was slightly against me, and I was also bucking a head wind. I began to have doubts about making my 6 PM pick up point. This seemed like a good time for a break, so I ate a sandwich, had a few beers, and fished for hour. Caught 2 bluegills and a catfish. I had calculated the trip with respect to the tide. Low tide on Carrabelle was at 7 PM, so it should be in my favor for the last 8 miles. It was, but the wind was not! As the landscape gradually changed to all scrub pine, and later to marsh grass, the wind became more of a factor. I also saw the first power boat about 7 miles north of Carrabelle. A short distance further down river, I came across the first house. I knew I was getting close, but not close enough.

  I picked up the paddling pace, but nightfall arrived before I reached the Route 98 bridge. Fortunately this section of the river is heavily populated, so I was able to navigate by the lights and buoy markers . Finally docked at the Tiki Bar at 8:30 PM. My "ride" had given up on me and returned to camp with my truck. He figured (rightfully so) that I had "laid up" for the night. So, I carried the canoe inside the fence, had a few beers at the bar, and started to walk back to camp - 20 miles!! Fortunately, a young couple in a pickup truck offered me a ride. Nice people in Florida. They drove me right to my campsite.

Conclusion:
The (upper) New River offers a unique paddling experience; a challenge, beauty and solitude. I would not attempt the entire 20 mile trip in one day. Stay overnight in one of the camp sites. Any further inquiries, feel free to E-mail me. I have also paddled many other Florida rivers, and the Everglades.
For more info contact   -- John Depa       caddepa@worldnet.att.net
John promised us some photos -- so check back later.