Today’s activities started as a trip to the dog park with the furry family members. If you’re in Central Florida with a dog, Fleet Peeple’s Park in Winter Park is where to go. This is a huge off-leash park with lake access — absolute heaven for the puppies.

So we loaded up the car with a Border Collie, a German Shepherd and a Huskie/wolf-mix.

Yes, we have the dog to herd the sheep, the dog to guard the sheep and the dog to eat the sheep — we’re only missing the sheep … but we do have seven cats in the house, so I suppose that makes up for it.

Unfortunately, the posted off-leash hours don’t include from 10AM to 4PM on weekends and holidays — it’s technically an on-leash park at those times. This normally isn’t enforced, but today someone was having a cook-out / party there and complained, so the ranger had to enforce the rule. The dogs were disappointed.

After a short stop at another dog park (no lake), we headed home and I decided to take the boat out for a few hours.

Econlockhatchee River (middle segment)

Florida Greenways and Trails Guide

The Econlockhatchee (Econ) can be divided into three segments for paddling, this middle segment runs from S.R. 419 in Oviedo to Snow Hill Road in Chuluota:

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The Econ’s a tributary of the St. John’s River, so it runs mostly north. This segment runs north from 419, then turns east to Snow Hill Road, flowing through the Little Big Econ State Forest (not a typo). Most of the route being state forest, there’s only one point, other than the put-ins where human construction impinges on the natural beauty.

Access at 419 is just east of the bridge:

It’s a few hundred feet from the parking to the water, but down a gentle, grass slope. From here, you can paddle upstream (South) towards Highway 50 or downstream (North and then East) to the Snow Hill Road access (about 8 miles), which is the direction I took. The upstream route is more overgrown and less-travelled, though.

Once out of site of the bridge, the human world disappears and you enter the real Florida, not the plastic of the theme parks:

This is a blackwater river, which means that the tannins make the water a deep brown or black when it’s deep; and it’s fed mostly by run-off, not springs, so the water level is very dependent on the rains. This being May, the end of the dry season, the water level was quite low, making the bottom visible for most of the trip — since the water’s so murky seeing bottom means a depth of only a foot or two.
With the water so low, there were plenty of white sand beaches and sandbars that would make excellent camping spots. In Florida, it’s legal to camp below the high-water mark. Speaking of the high-water mark:

Most of the route has the high, steep banks cut by river running deep when the rains come and a lot of the trees you go under in May you’ll be pulling over come August or September:

Midway through the trip, the river turns from a northerly to easterly course and fully enters the State Forest. This is the area where there’s the most wildlife and where I’ve seen most of the alligators on this route. On today’s trip we only saw one gator, but he was big enough to satisfy me.

I place alligators into three categories. First, there’s “cute” — these are the ones that are interesting to look at and small enough that they don’t even give me pause. Next there’s “hurt-me” — these guys are big enough where I keep some distance, because I know if I scare them they might attack out of fear or cause some damage trying to get away. Finally, there’s the “eat-me”-category — these are the ones that could be considering how I’d taste after I marinated under a sunken log for a couple weeks.

Now, in general, alligators are shy and want nothing to do with people — and attacks on people are usually the result of the people doing something incredibly stupid. Take the guy in South Florida who was attacked after going swimming naked in a pond in the middle of the night — then the other guy was attacked after going swimming naked in a pond in the middle of the night … wait, that was the same guy. He did it twice. Like I said: stupid people doing stupid things.

Just the same, when they reach a certain size, it’s best to leave them be.

The gator we saw today definitely fell into the “eat-me” category. We came around a bend and he was near shore with his head and a couple feet of back out of the water sunning. As we glided past, he slowly sank lower and lower into the water until he disappeared.

Midway through the easterly stretch, you’ll come across the only sign of human construction between the two access points. Several trails through the State Forest converge at a pedestrian bridge across the river:

This is a good spot to get out and stretch your legs for a bit or hike along the trails.

About a dozen or so bends in the river past the pedestrian bridge you’ll sight the Snow Hill Road bridge and the access point there:

The banks here are steeper than at the 419 bridge, so the county’s added erosion-control measures under the bridge:

The concrete and wire on the slope will tear up the bottom of a boat, so I was happy to see that they’d covered part of it with soil and grass to make a path to the water. The last time I was here, the slope on the right was all rock and wire, so I had to pull up through the trees far to the side — the six-inch banana spider whose web I stumbled through wasn’t happy about that. This time it was much easier.

Today’s trip took a bit over two hours — if you paddle easy or stop frequently it could last three or four.

The river bends a lot and there are frequent obstructions so intermediate paddling skills are called for, especially at high-water when you won’t be able to get out and stand in the water to get past obstacles.

If you’re looking for a taste of wild Florida, this is a good choice.