Conservation eco-trip volunteers lead the way

By Georgia Ackerman

Apalachicola Riverkeeper volunteers who lead river and hiking trips know that connecting people to their natural habitat is crucial in achieving long-term conservation goals. They also know leading nature-based trips is terrific fun!  Our staff and volunteers agree that the best way to learn about a place is firsthand experience.

Volunteers lead our monthly Fourth Saturday Paddle trip, our annual RiverTrek excursion, and other episodic trips around the Apalachicola basin throughout the year.  In the past year, we’ve partnered with Apalachee Audubon, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, Big Bend Sierra Club and Florida State University in effort expand conservation learning specific to the Apalachicola River basin.  We’re working especially hard to engage young people in conservation learning along the Apalachicola River.

On this month’s Fourth Saturday Paddle, Danny Goddard’s students, Florida State environmental science undergrads, paddled the upper stretch of the Apalachicola River with our volunteer trip leaders, Mike Mendez, Patrick Madden and me.  We are all three RiverTrek “alum,” having paddled the full river a few times each.  Mike Shepherd, a “johnny-on the spot” volunteer, assisted with shuttling vehicles and drivers. Mike has helped with numerous boat, trailer and vehicle tasks over the years.   Harry Smith Outdoors loaned a few tandem kayaks for the group’s use, too.

What an amazing day all around!  Mike, Pat and I were energized by the enthusiasm and inquisitiveness of the students.  Traveling from Hopkins landing to Aspalaga, about 5 miles, we watched eagles, herons, belted-kingfishers, a variety of turtles, and a couple of gators.  We saw zero motor boats in 5 miles, perhaps due to the forecasted afternoon storms.  (This stretch of river is popular with local anglers, though I’ve never seen it jammed with motorboats).

We also passed the Scholz Power plant and discussed Apalachicola Riverkeeper’s role in convincing the closed power plant to agree to clean up its coal ash ponds.

Danny jokingly encouraged the students to slow down a bit so he didn’t have to get home for less-fun housework.  After floating under the Interstate 10 bridge, nearing the end of the trip, we were not surprised to see Mike Shepherd hanging out at the boat ramp fishing.

You can find our paddling route here.

Join us some time for an eco-educational field trip!  It’s always a new experience and you’re guaranteed to have some fun.

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