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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

2 kayak trips offer different adventures

Published April 22, 2008
Juniper Creek is a place that makes you forget the plague of development that has swept away the wild places of Florida. It's a wilderness jewel I discovered by accident. Within the Ocala National Forest, the 7 1/2-mile Juniper run can be a crowded hotspot for canoeists and kayakers on the weekends.

The creek that feeds off the spring is considered a moderate run by most paddlers. But don't let the concessionaire stand deceive you, said Heather Callahan, a spokeswoman for the USDA Forest Service. Just because there are canoe rentals at the spring head doesn't mean this is going to be easy for everyone.

Unless you have some experience, it's pretty easy to capsize a canoe going down this narrow winding channel. A kayak, in this instance, is easier to maneuver and more stable. Alice Alexander, vice president of the Recreation Resource Management company that runs concessions at the park, encourages beginners to try the Alexander Springs run, a wider, slower stream, located about 18 miles from Juniper on County Road 445. It's an easier paddle with short-term rental options for canoes. If you want a peaceful ride on Juniper, she also recommends making the trip on a weekday. "Its much more relaxed," she said.

If you're looking for a more secluded adventure with less human traffic, the Oklawaha River is a beautiful waterway to find yourself alone with a variety of wildlife -- especially alligators. I lost count at about 30 gators during a February trip. With so much fauna to see, don't let these reptiles make you wary of the northern-flowing blackwater river. I saw lots of white ibis, limpkins and a red-shouldered hawk and kept a watchful eye out for rhesus monkeys.

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