A ride up the Weeki Wachee River
The weather is totally awesome on the Suncoast this time a year. And, let me tell you this, spending a day on Hernando County’s 12-mile long Weeki Wachee River is certainly worth bragging on. My friends and I went on a boating venture on a recent weekday while the river was un-congested.
We began our voyage at about 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and moved slowly upstream through a most awesome sub-tropical vegetation and perfectly clear waterway on Florida’s West Coast. We barely got going when we met a group of kayaks coming downstream. A girl about 6-years-old had the brightest lit face and her voice was totally joyous.
“A baby,” she says as our watercrafts meet. “A mother and a little bitty baby.” There was no mistaking her excitement. “Motorboats hurt manatees,” she said, knowingly. Running a motor is discouraged on the Weeki Wachee, however they can be rented at the Weeki Wachee Marina on Shoal Line Boulevard; marina management advises minimum speed, as the whole river, with a large portion being part of the Weeki Wachee Preserve, is “No Wake.”
“We’re barely moving and watching for manatee,” we assured the child. She kept smiling and chatting joy at seeing the manatees. As well as visitors, people living in this area take pride in the manatee. All along the residential shorelines, residents caution boaters to be aware that the river is a mother-baby manatee habitat.
In the clear Weeki Wachee—so named by the Seminole Indians meaning Little Spring, or Winding River—the manatee, which is a grayish-brown marine mammal that can grow to 13 feet and 2,000 pounds, can easily be seem through the water even when sleeping deep down. The Weeki Wachee, like Florida’s other inlets, serves as a home to these gentle mammals, as they spend winters in warm coastal waters, bays and rivers. According to statistic, some 2,500 manatees remain in the wild. However, this endangered specie is found in both salt and fresh water and feed on aquatic grasses.
Shortly after we maneuvered onto the meandering river and made a right turn, we almost lost our breaths as a large manatee showed itself above the water a couple times. My camera—where? Here. I grabbed it and snapped part of the glorious mammal before it ducked back into the current.
A relaxing trip up river and back allows people to see the manatee, as well as other wildlife: the abundance of plants, trees, turtles, birds and fish. I’m not kidding about seeing fish. Hugh fish. As we ventured slowly up the river toward Weeki Wachee Spring, we watched trout—surely a foot long—through the clear water as they meandered in schools around sand erosions. As well as manatee, this area is home to alligators, raccoons, otters and numerous birds. We easily spotted ibis, pelicans, herons, osprey, wood storks and cormorants.
The river took our breaths from the moment we moved slowly past small grand-fathered-in houses built decades ago in low-to-the-river fashion that would never pass state or county codes in coastal wetlands today. Now, areas so close to the Gulf of Mexico require storm protection that includes structures on stilts. Older structures here, house and few singlewide mobiles, are decorated in the river theme with mermaids, manatee, fish, and turtles statues; also palms, vines, plants and flowering gardens. Really can make a person want to relocate to this natured-filled habitat, curl up on a dock, and watch life go by. Of course, further down the river, a few new mansions and even some condos stand tall. Still, much of the area is nature preserve.
Moving on up river, I snapped photos of hanging orchids, palms in planters, various vines running up trees and out their branches and I even focused on sandbars covered by the clear river water. On the first two miles of our trip, we passed a developed area with housing on the north side of the river. As we approach the halfway mark, we saw two small beaches (about 1/2 mile apart) that made a great lunch stop. Here, a few people were bathing in the cool water.
On up river, several kayaks had stopped at the place the mother and baby manatees were spotted. Seeing them settled on the sandy river bottom in a sleeping fashion, we moved slowly on. Often people wading and swimming in the river actually get close enough to the manatees to touch them.
At 4.5 miles, the river enters Weeki Wachee Spring and Buccaneer Bay properties. During the 1990's, the company kept a few zoo animals and an injured bird recovery area along the river. Close to the spring, we met with a large sightseeing boat, and decided it was time to turn around a meander downstream. Had we continued on to the Weeki Wachee Spring attraction, we would not have been allowed to dock, anyway, as this area is private property now owned by the South West Water Management District.
People who know about Weeki Wachee Spring acquaint it with the Weeki Wachee Spring attraction, with the mermaid shows held 16 feet underwater. Surrounded by fish, turtles and— in the past—even manatee, the mermaids stay under the water with only air tubs while they put on 20-minute shows in the natural spring. People watch their performance from an underground theater. While mermaids perform, the spring current moves at 5-miles-per-hour as it discharges to the tune of more than 64 million gallons of 72-degree crystal-clear water a day.
The trip down river was faster than our journey up, as we were riding with the current. We passed Rogers Park, our starting point, and ventured further toward the Gulf of Mexico. We rode under Shoal Line Boulevard Bridge, by a residential area with grand-fathered-in houses close to the river and new mansion-like homes build up according to today’s code.
Here, seabirds are plentiful. Quicker than the mind can imagine, the vegetation changed from thick jungle-like greenery to tall sable palms, sawgrass marshland and gray barren trees colored black with cormorants and jeweled with silver tone osprey.
Finally, before finding ourselves in the gulf, we turned back and headed toward Rodgers Park and the Weeki Wachee Marina.
This wonderful river ride can be extended, as there are various waterways including a limb to Bayport, also to the Mud River confluence with the Weeki Wachee. Still, what we experience this day was awesome. We took in more nature in a few hours than many people see in a lifetime.
Copyright(c) Patricia Lieb 2006
The Weeki Wachee River and Weeki Wachee Spring Attraction & fun park Buccaneer Bay in Hernando County is some 55 miles north of St. Petersburg at US Hwy. 19 & SR 50. The 12-mile river begins at Weeki Wachee Spring and ends in the Gulf of Mexico. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the spring; boats can be rented at the Weeki Wachee Marina on Shoal Line Boulevard. The facilities offer plenty spaces for parking..
Patricia Shipp Lieb; published by Twilight Times Books, Solstice Publishing, Xlibris Press and Amazon Kindle.I like lots of space; photography, writing, reading, diddling around on the computer, playing Poker, spending time with family and friends, walking on the beach, and hiking through the woods. Author of: The Adventures of a Squirrel Named Peanut, Twilight Times Books; My Eighteenth Birthday, 1960 suspense-adventure; Solstice; Danger In The Cliffs, Solstice; Saying I Love You, poetry on Amazon's Kindle; The original version of Murders In The Swampland is available in hard-back books from Xlibris.com; Murders in the Swampland (third edition, updated) true crime now on Amazon Kindle.