Cape Coral, FL – February 21, 2013
Not many people know the Florida coast has a paddling trail around it. The Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, a set of maps, guides, campsites, hotels, grocery stores, launch points, and water spigots along the entire coast from Pensacola to Jacksonville.
The trail isn’t always perfect. On some stretches, there isn’t much of anything, no campsites to squeeze into, almost no access, mostly just million dollar mansions crowding off the public beaches as best they can.
But the skeleton is there and places are filling in.
The panhandle from St. Joseph Peninsula to St. Marks has some of the best campsites and barrier islands in the state. Along the Big Bend, the wild stretch between Tallahassee and Tampa, there are campsites and signs with reflective paint that you can see in the dark. Around Ft. Myers, the Calusa Blueway stretches from one end of Lee County to the other with paddling routes for almost 200 miles of rivers, bays, and ocean.
Bit by bit, piece by piece, the dream builds. A campsite here. Another put-in. A new rest stop.
Long distance trails don’t come easy. The Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails have taken decades to build and they are still fighting for land to protect the route. The Continental Divide Trail has long stretches where you are on your own with nothing but a map and compass. Trails are fits and bursts, pieces brought together by communities along the way. Sections maintained by paddling groups and volunteer projects.
The Florida Paddling Trail is a path through some of the most expensive real estate in the country. It’s beaches and sandbars. It’s wild marshes and the upcoming Everglades. It’s visionary and audacious to imagine. It’s not there yet, but the dream is beautiful even if you can still see the bones filling in.
The Florida Paddling Trails Association is a fantastic group dedicated to all of Florida’s paddling trails on rivers, lakes, and oceans across the state. A lot of effort from volunteers and paddling groups goes into making these trails such an amazing resource. I would definitely recommend checking out the group and learning how you can help make paddling a bigger part of your community.