The Wacissa River Prehistoric Trail for Canoes & Kayaks

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All winter I have been cooped up unable to go kayaking. As an avid river rat I am so glad that it is starting to warm up a bit and the sun is poking out from behind all the rain clouds! You may recall an earlier post when I went out

The front of the trail guide brochure.

with a group of boy scouts to a site only accessible by boat. It was a wonderful project, but perhaps a little on the chilly side for paddling. Well, just in time for the warmer weather the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources has has created at Prehistoric Paddling Trail along the Wacissa River, which is located in Jefferson County, Florida. I don’t know about you, but I am very excited about this! I love it when two of my favorite things – kayaking and archaeology – can be combined into a day long outing!

You can pick up your very own copy of the trail guide brochure at the Bureau of Archaeological Research or at the FPAN North Central Office. They are also available at the TCC Wakulla Center, located in Crawfordville. The brochure was funded in part, through a grant agreement from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Coastal Management Program, and by a grant provided by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.  This brochure is awesome, it is even printed on water resistant paper, so you can taking it along with you on your paddling trip!  It is a 15 mile trail, beginning at the springhead of the Wacissa River. There is also the possibility of making it a 10 mile trip and exiting the river at a place called Goose Pasture. Otherwise, you can take the whole trail to the end at Nutall Rise Landing. To get all the details you will need to pick up a copy of the trail guide.

Barbara Hines, FPAN Outreach Coordinator and Shovel Bytes author, on the Wacissa.

The Wacissa is a beautiful meandering river that will take you through some of the most significant arcdhaeological zones in North Florida.  Beginning in about 500 BC, the Wacissa and the Aucilla Rivers mark the boundary between the Northwest Florida and North Peninsular Gulf Coast archaeological culture areas.  People have been inhabiting this area for over 12,00 years! That is amazing when you think about it! This area provided them with an abundance of resources that can be found around the river and along the shallow coastal waters and shoreline. Need I say more? Really, if you like to  paddle and want to learn more about the archaeology and history of this area, well, you need to pick up your Wacissa River Prehistoric Trail for Canoes and Kayaks brochure today! Then load up your kayak or canoe, grab some friends and get paddling!

My Brief Encounter with the Slave Canal and the Wacissa River

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This past weekend, like I mentioned in my previous post, I had the opportunity to paddle the Wacissa River and the Slave Canal. It was something I had heard about and  have wanted to do for awhile now, but something always came up that took priority to a day of kayaking (very unfortunate, I know!). Well, my brief encounter with the beautiful waters of the Wacissa and the historic setting of the Slave Canal has  left me wanting more!
Slave Canal Entrance from the Wacissa River
Now, you are probably wandering what the Slave Canal is and why it is named such. The Slave Canal was constructed in the 1850s using slave labor. John Gamble, a nearby plantation owner decided it would be a benificial project for local cotton merchants. The purpose of the canal was to connect the Wacissa River to the nearby Aucilla River so that cotton barges could be floated to the Gulf. You see, the Wacissa River diffuses into an almost impenetrable swamp, impossible for cotton barges to pass through to get to the Gulf of Mexico so that the cotton could be loaded on to larger ships for export. Unfortunately for the cotton merchants, the canal scheme did not work very well-it was too shallow. In some places the canal never reached more than a foot deep, and the canal was never able to be used by large boats. Shortly after the Civil War the canal was abandoned.
Signage for Slave Canal
Luckily for us adventurous types, the canal remains open  today as a premier three mile paddling trail connecting the Aucilla and Wacissa Rivers-that is, if you can find it. The entrance to the canal can be a bit tricky to find (there are signs though, so keep an eye out). Once  you do find it though, you are in for a treat. The deadfalls and swift current at high water create a somewhat challenging, but delightful paddling trip. The Slave Canal is part of the Wacissa River Paddling Trail. According to the trail guide it is an intermediate paddle. I only had a chance to kayak a small portion of the canal, but I already have plans in the works to kayak the whole thing. Paddling is a wonderful way to experience, not only nature, but history as well.  There is no documentation of who the slaves were that constructed the canal, but kayaking the canal somehow brings to light the challenges that they must have faced.

 

In addition to the history of the Slave Canal, don’t forget about the people that made their homes on these waterways long before the canal’s construction. The wonderful thing about the Wacissa and Slave Canal is that there are no houses or buildings visible from the river starting from Goose Pasture (where I launched ) to the Slave Canal. It is almost as if you are kayaking into a time long, long ago. You can almost imagine people paddling in dugout canoes along this stretch of remote wilderness. And remember, you may encounter archaeological sites along these waterways, you can look, but don’t touch. Leave any artifacts you might encounter where they are so that the next visitor can enjoy looking at them (and not picking them up) and so that archaeologists in the future can have the opportunity to study them and learn about the people that lived along these rivers in Florida’s past. Hopefully my future plans for kayaking the whole canal will come to fruition soon, and of course, I will tell you all about it!