Gainesville, Fla. – Ring in the New Year with an unforgettable paddling adventure. From January 15-22, Paddle Florida will host the fifth annual Florida Keys Challenge, a 79-mile saltwater journey from Long Key to Key West. The trip explores the Florida Keys, with its shimmering turquoise waters revealing the richly diverse sea life below. Paddlers will enjoy close encounters with starfish, corals, sea turtle, and an abundant array of reef fish.
The Florida Keys Challenge features nightly camping at state parks and private campgrounds overlooking sparkling ocean waters, musical entertainment, educational speakers, campfires and camaraderie. Nightly entertainment is a big attraction on these trips. Back by popular demand, Rod MacDonald will perform at Knights Key on the evening of January 17. Regarded as a prolific songwriter and a gifted folk singer whose music strays into rock, pop, country, light jazz and blues, MacDonald showcases his obvious passion and personal commitment to communicating political and social events that effect and shape society.
Musician Bing Futch will perform at Bahia Honda State Park on January 18. With a big smile and a toss of his dreadlocks, Futch kicks off every performance with a buoyant energy that is inviting and energizing. Using Appalachian mountain dulcimer, Native American flute, ukulele, drums and electronic effects, he deftly navigates the varied waters of folk and pop with passion, wit and a genuinely huge heart for sharing music with a crowd.
Educational speakers will include local historian and paddling guide Monica Woll, who will deliver the colorful history of the Keys and Henry Flagler’s overseas railroad, once nicknamed “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” Paddlers will get a view of the railroad few tourists see as they paddle under and beside it. Trip participants will also hear from Matt Keene about his epic thru-paddle of the 1,515-mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, the first paddler to complete this feat.
The 2015 Florida Keys Challenge offers adventures and memories for paddlers of all ages and skill levels, though previous open water experience is recommended as well as kayaks with a rudder or skeg and a spray skirt. Florida Bay Outfitters, located at MM104 in Key Largo, rents boat – single and tandem molded and composite sea kayaks, equipment and accessories, and provides delivery and pick-ups of boats.
Paddle Florida staff takes care of everything but the actual paddling on these trips. The trip fee is $850 per person, which includes all meals, shuttle from Key West to the trip’s start, nightly camping, t-shirt, boat decal, maps and water descriptions, evening entertainment, and vehicle support for all camping gear and safety boaters on water. A Paddle Florida Lite option is available for paddlers who can’t get away for the entire trip. The Lite fee is $120/day (includes meals) + $50 for end-of-trip shuttle for paddler and boat.
The Florida Keys Challenge has been one of Paddle Florida’s most popular trips, so early sign-up is advised. The registration deadline is January 2. For more trip details and registration, visit: http://www.paddleflorida.org
Remaining Paddle Florida trips this season include:
February 15-20, 2015: The Wild, Wonderful Withlacoochee
Beginning at Lake Panasofkee, paddlers will thread their way through one lock, hardwood swamps and clear spring-fed streams on a 60-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. The trip fee is $275 per adult, $250 for seniors and college students, $225 for youth 8 to 17, and children 7 and under are free. The meal package is $150 and the shuttle is $25 per boat and $25 per person. Local outfitters, Rainbow River Canoe & Kayak and Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company, can be contacted for boat rentals and needed gear. Registration deadline: February 2.
March 14-20, 2015: Dam to the Bay on the Panhandle’s Ochlockonee River explores part of Florida’s most remote statewide river trail system. In a region known for wild Tupelo honey and fresh Gulf oysters, this six-day paddling adventure winds through state and national forest lands on 76 miles of north Florida’s Ochlockonee River and concludes at Bald Point State Park in the Gulf of Mexico. The trip fee is $300 per adult, $275 for seniors and college students, $250 for youth 8 to 17, and children 7 and under are free. The meal package is $175 and the shuttle is $25 per boat and $25 per person. The local outfitter, The Wilderness Way, can be contacted for boat rentals and needed gear. Registration deadline: February 28.
April 3-5, 2015: Suwannee River Paddling Festival
Paddle Florida’s third annual Suwannee River Paddling Festival will take place at Suwannee River State Park which sits at the confluence of two beautiful north Florida rivers—the Suwannee and northern Withlacoochee. Paddling options will be available on both rivers throughout the weekend with boat and paddler shuttles provided. The festival will feature Paddle Florida’s favorite musicians with concert proceeds benefitting regional waterway and springs protection efforts. The festival registration fee is $150 per person and includes camping, meals, concert and shuttles to paddling sites. Paddlers needing to rent a canoe or kayak may contact our partnering outfitter, Suwannee Canoe Outpost. Registration deadline: March 20.
Florida Keys Challenge at a glance:
Dates: January 15-22, 2015
Capacity: 100 paddlers
Distance: 79 miles
Registration fee: $850/person includes meals and shuttle from Key West to trip start
Registration deadline: January 2
Official Outfitter: Florida Bay Outfitters
Contact: Bill Richards,Executive Director