By Doug Alderson, Outreach & Advocacy Director
Native Americans, followed by European traders, have long known that the Apalachicola River is an excellent waterway for paddling, as evidenced by the 50-foot trader’s dugout canoe found in the river, the longest ever found in Florida. But for the modern paddler, the current Apalachicola Blueway guide began in 2010. I was on my first RiverTrek at the invitation of RiverTrek’s founder, Earl Morrogh. Andy Smith, then Apalachicola Riverkeeper’s executive director, was also on the trip. On the fourth day, after three nights camping along the river and seeing the river’s beauty and diverse wildlife for myself, I suggested to Andy that we should develop an Apalachicola Blueway paddling guide for the Riverkeeper website so others could more easily enjoy the river. He heartily agreed. Designation of the blueway as an official Florida paddling trail was part of the plan.
At the time, I was coordinating paddling trails for the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails, but there was a travel ban due to tight budgets and the Great Recession. So, a few weeks after RiverTrek, I took a couple of days off so Andy and I could motor up and down the river to collect the necessary GPS coordinates for the guide and get a feel for when water levels were too high to access most sandbars. We also used information already collected for the annual RiverTreks and a large 2007 educational group paddling trip sponsored by Apalachicola Riverkeeper. I drew up the written guide and data book while a member of our greenways and trails staff developed the maps.
Apalachicola Riverkeeper was to sponsor designation of the blueway as a Florida paddling trail, meaning that it would gain greater visibility by also being included on the state website. Volunteer extraordinaire Katie Herzog garnered the support of local governments and communities along the river, a critical requirement for approval of the designation. In 2012, the Florida Greenways and Trails Council approved the application. Subsequently, the maps and data book were posted on the both the state greenways and trails website and the Apalachicola Riverkeeper website. But that wasn’t the end of it. When Liz Sparks joined the Office of Greenways and Trails staff in 2014, she and Katie Herzog put together a successful application for the blueway to be designated a national recreation trail for greater exposure. On the 2014 RiverTrek, gatherings to celebrate the new national recreation trail were held at Chattahoochee, Blountstown, Wewahitchka and Apalachicola. Tom McLaulin, then president of the Florida Paddling Trails Association, was also on hand to present each town with a Florida blueway community sign. The next year, then congresswoman Gwen Graham marked the official opening of the national recreation trail with representatives of the U.S. Forest Service and Apalachicola Riverkeeper at the Hickory Landing Campground along Owl Creek.
Thanks to the team effort between the state and Apalachicola Riverkeeper, the Apalachicola Blueway is enjoyed today by paddlers from throughout the country.
Click here to access the Apalachicola Blueway guide and maps.