|The Florida Keys Challenge at a Glance:
Ø Dates: January 18-21, 2013 (MLK holiday weekend)
Ø Capacity: 100 paddlers
Ø Distance: 35 miles
Ø Registration fee: $275/person, meals: $125/person
Ø Registration deadline: January 4
Ø Official Outfitter: Florida Bay Outfitters
Ø More information: www.paddleflorida.org
Join Paddle Florida on a trip to winter’s paradise over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Participants will paddle beside sea turtles and railroad visionary Henry Flagler’s “Eighth Wonder of the World” in the azure waters of the Florida Keys. The journey is 35 miles, from Long Key to Bahia Honda State Park. The registration deadline is January 4, 2013.
The Florida Keys Challenge features nightly camping at state parks and private campgrounds, musical entertainment, educational speakers, campfires, and camaraderie. Tents will overlook sparkling ocean waters at Long Key State Park, Curry Hammock State Park, and Knight’s Key Campground. Paddlers will get to explore small islands dotted in the open water paddle, stopping for lunch at Sombrero Beach in Marathon and Molasses Key, a private island half way down the Seven Mile Bridge. The trip takes in the treasures of Bahia Honda State Park, which features an award-winning beach, an impressive span of the Flagler railroad bridge (the only trestle bridge along the route), and one of the largest stands of silver palms in the United States.
Paddlers will trace Henry Flagler’s vision of a railroad across the sea that would promote a cultural and economic connection with Cuba, the Panama Canal and South America. Construction began in 1904. On January 22, 1912, Henry Flagler rode the railroad to Key West, where the project was heralded by the press as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It was Flagler’s vision that makes the Florida Keys an economically viable destination. Today the Keys are a paddler’s paradise, with shallow water in five shades of blue and green.
Author Doug Alderson came on last year’s Keys trip, which marked the 100-year anniversary of the railroad’s completion. Alderson reported, “I was the sweep boat for the Seven Mile Bridge crossing, and most of it was a glass calm. Waters were clear and the once choppy ocean became a giant aquarium. Large orange Bahama starfish, stingrays, corals, sponges, sea grasses and fish could all be seen. Some of us explored the historic Pigeon Key, once used as a base for railroad workers. Eight century-old buildings on Pigeon Key are being well maintained for educational and historic purposes, and one houses the Railroad Museum. Several thousand men were involved in building the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad.”
The 2012 Florida Keys Challenge achieved significant milestones and made history, noted in Alderson’s trip report. “This was the largest group to have ever paddled together from Key Largo to Key West in contemporary history and the largest group to have paddled a complete segment of the 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. The feat will likely remain a benchmark for years to come.”
This year, paddlers may stop at Pigeon and other keys, beaches, and Florida State Parks included on the journey. Each evening, paddlers gather for open-air dining, entertainment from Florida artists or musicians, and educational presentations such as a talk about the Flagler Railroad and the historic bridges by Monica Woll from the Office of Greenways and Trails in Key Largo. Prolific songwriter and a gifted singer, Rod MacDonald, will share his share his folk music and obvious passion for communicating political and social events that shape our world’s societies.
This third Paddle Florida trip to the Keys is designed for paddling pleasure, nature observation, and exploration of tropical waters and environments. The 2013 Florida Keys Challenge offers adventures and memories for paddlers of all ages and skill levels. Paddle Florida staff takes care of everything but the actual paddling. The trip fee is $275 per person and includes camping, a t-shirt, a boat decal, maps, evening entertainment, water descriptions, full vehicle support for all gear, and all meals (if meal plan is purchased at $125 per person). Lead and sweep boats guide paddlers on each day’s journey. Local outfitter Florida Bay Outfitters will provide any needed gear or equipment.
The registration deadline is January 4. For more details, trip itinerary and registration, visit: http://www.paddleflorida.org/keys13/keys.htm.
Paddle Florida leads three- to six-day trips across the state to promote Florida as an international destination for nature-based tourism in general, and paddling in particular. Awarded non-profit status in 2011, the group fosters water conservation, wildlife preservation, springs restoration, and waterways protection. True to this mission, Paddle Florida coordinates voluntary cleanups on each waterway they visit. Previous trip volunteers have collected and removed over 1,500 pounds of trash from rivers across the state.
Paddle Florida’s 2012-2013 remaining schedule features these trips:
February 13-18, 2013: Wild, Wonderful Withlacoochee
Beginning at Lake Panasofkee, paddlers will thread their way through hardwood swamps and clear, spring-fed streams on a 60-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Registration deadline: January 30.
March 16-22, 2013: Dam to the Bay, on the Panhandle’s Ochlockonee River
From wild Tupelo honey to fresh Gulf oysters, experience the Panhandle’s Ochlockonee River which winds through state and national forest lands on 76 miles of Florida’s most remote wilderness river trail.
Registration deadline: March 2.