Econ River           (Near Orlando, Florida)  
                                    with links to other great paddling rivers. 

                                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                        Audio "Chinese"

 Econ River
 
by Chuck Littleton

                                                                   Click photos to enlarge -- back -- for normal. 


  After not paddling for quite a while we decided we needed to get our paddles wet, the only problem was where to go. We have paddled most of the major rivers in Florida, where we live. I suggested the Econ because I have played and paddled it since I was a kid, and it was also one of my patrol areas when I was a Deputy Sheriff so I know it like the back of my hand,  but my  buddies, Bill and Mac had not been on it.
 Also, it's very close to my home.  The Econ is a very nice little river that begins south east of Orlando and meanders slowly east, flowing into the St. Johns River. It's a very pristine river easy to paddle, lots of wildlife, good camping, and great photos of wild Florida.

  In March, we decided to meet at Porkies BBQ  in Mims Florida. After a good meal and lots of conversation, we decided to paddle the Econ and set a date.  One of our other paddling buddies Randy Pieper decided he would like to come along also so we said sure.

  Bill Logan is a retired professional photographer and web master, Mac retired from Florida Power and Light and now is a semi-professional fisherman, (or so he says,)  and I retired after 28 years as a Deputy Sheriff of Seminole County.  I now  build wood kayaks and pirogues so I have time to enjoy the outdoors and lots of paddling.
 Randy is still working as a professional painter and in his 40s.,  So he became our "Spring Chicken"

  We met at my place and then drove the long 2 miles to the Econ, put our canoes in, leisurely loaded our gear for a two night camp and took off down river. The weather was perfect, it was early spring,  The air was cool during the day but at night a sleeping bag sure felt good. The bugs and  mosquitoes were almost zero, the sky was clear with just a few clouds and no rain in the forecast for several days. The river was at a good paddling depth. You could see bottom in many places but there was enough water to easily float the canoes. Everything was just right for the trip.

                                                                             Look for this sign at Hwy 419 bridge.
 
 We set out from the HWY 419 bridge around 9:00 AM,  heading for the St Johns River and planning on spending two nights on the river. As I said this was intended to be a slow, easy trip and it was. The distance from 419 to Snow Hill Bridge is about 8 miles and we planned to camp before getting to the Snow Hill bridge.

  After about 30 minutes on the water you enter the Little Big Econ State Forest and here you can camp anywhere you want. I need to explain that the Little Big Econ State Forest takes in the area between the 419 bridge and Snow Hill bridge.  The rest of the trip is posted land  but I had previously gotten permission from the owner of Big Oaks Ranch to spend the 2nd night on her property which is on the right between Snow Hill Bridge and the St Johns River.  (Recognizable by a large bluff with a flat area and a road)

  After leaving the 419 bridge you will be paddling in cypress trees and then you enter into the hard wood area of the river. This whole section of the river is full of wildlife, alligators (lots) deer, hogs, bob cats, turkeys, eagles, wild birds of all descriptions and in the past, I have seen a panther and black bear in this area. Some friends of mine that spend a lot of time in the wood's told me that they have seen a black panther  but I have not been that lucky. It is a good area to paddle and make sure you have a camera with you and ready to use.

                                                                    

  About 1 1/2 miles before you get to the Snow Hill Bridge or about 1 hour paddling time you will see a suspension bridge.  This is part of the Florida Trail which runs 1,300 miles thru Florida. This is where we camped the 1st night. Just below the bridge there is a very nice flat and  wide grassy area to pitch your tent and good place to pull your canoes. It is part of an old railway built back in the early 1900's

  We set up our tents and gathered some fire wood for later while exploring.  New for Bill, Randy and Mac but old for me. I often walk down here from my house for some peace and quiet or to camp overnight. After a supper of steaks and baked potatoes we sat around enjoying the quiet and night sounds. Lots of owls!  It started to cool down so we started a fire and then we really kicked back to enjoy the evening.  The smell of the campfire, the call of the owls, and a sky filled with stars,  no bugs, good company and a couple "cool beverages" before and after supper, what more could a guy ask for?  As the evening wore on, the temperature dropped and our stomachs were full,  the tents and sleeping bags sure felt good.

  After being sung to sleep by the owls, in the morning they acted as the early morning rooster trying to get us up along with the song birds. So I woke up about daylight, lit a fire and made coffee.  It sure smelled good.  At the smell of coffee the other guys also rolled out one at a time. I got out my "treat" for the guys and whipped up a humongous breakfast of bacon and eggs to go with the hot coffee. ( We normally don't have a large breakfast when we are on the longer river runs -- but since this was a short run I thought I would surprise them)    After breakfast, we packed up our gear and took our time loading our canoes. We were not in a  hurry, in fact we were going in slow motion for the simple fact we only had to paddle about 3 hours to get to our next stop at Big Oaks Ranch,  the area of the river she calls Fish an Fun.

  Since we were in no hurry, we did more drifting than paddling and arrived early in the afternoon,. As we came around the bend about 50 yards from where we were supposed to camp,  we saw a huge gator (maybe 10 feet) sunning himself on the big sandbank on the opposite side from where we were going set up camp.  As soon as he spotted us he hit the water like a pickup truck falling in.  (Later that night Bill shined his spotlight around the river and there he was -- on the other side of the river,  his beady little red eyes watching us.)

  Bill and Mac tried their luck fishing with lures but were stumped.  Bill decided to try for cat fish since I had told him I had seen some thirty pounders caught here -- but he had brought no regular bait so he cut a piece of his Pepperoni and set the line out while we kicked back and had a "cool beverage." It wasn't long before his line took off. Thinking he had a large cat fish he worked it slowly.  It  fought a hard battle.  When we got it close enough to see what it was we were all surprised.  He had caught a humongous soft shell turtle. Almost 12 inches across and probably 6 or 7 lbs.  Randy piped up and said "he wanted to cook it."  We all laughed and voted him down, and let the big guy go.  So Randy asked for a piece of Pepperoni so he could try his luck. Twenty minutes later, he got his wish.  He had a large fish that was also a fighter. He played it well and in a few minutes -- he had landed one of the biggest mud fish either of us had seen.  When he announced he was going to cook it -- we all laughed and explained to him that mud fish are not fit to eat but he insisted 'he caught it and he was going to cook it.'  So --  we wished him well and let him go about his business.  Sure enough, at supper he did cook it and started eating it, saying it was not too bad.  He coaxed all of us but Bill to taste a tiny bit of it -- and though I wouldn't want to eat it as a meal, it was not as bad as I had expected.

 For supper I cooked up some hamburgers (my wife calls them mini meat loafs) they are about 4 inches across and  3/4 inches thick. We had all the trimmings with them and then relaxed even more with another "cool beverage." As it got dark the owls were everywhere.   Bill decided to answer them and before long there were several that came to check us out.  There was just enough light we could saw one light in the tree just across the river from us and another was somewhere behind us on our side.  After awhile of "hoo'ing and haw'ing  they got disgusted at being fooled and took off.

  By then it was campfire time and the ability to tell the truth about past camping trips got harder as the night wore on.
There is nothing like sitting around a campfire on the edge of a river somewhere.  Bill says "it's just good medicine for the soul."  I agree.

  Soon, we doused the fire and lantern and had been in our tents about 20 minutes when one of the larger owls decided to come back and look for that sassy little thing that had answered his calls. He lit in a tree right above our tents and must have been an old grandpa for he was one of the loudest darn owls in this world. Could be he wanted to tell the world that he didn't like us there disrupting his search for a little female, or whatever reason.  I'm sure he could have been heard for miles.  Have you ever had the idea of owl soup for breakfast, anyway it was going thru my mind that night as I tried to get some sleep.  To make matters worse, Bill decided to again have conversation with the darn thing from inside his tent.  Mac and I could have throttled him.  He seemed to know that as he started laughing  and soon we were all wide awake again. Mac offered to shoot "Both   the darn owls" so he could get some sleep -- and Bill laughed even more. Soon we all were laughing and throwing joking barbs at each other.  In the morning I made my  big breakfast of bacon and eggs and hot coffee again -- but no owl soup, though it was a good idea. Mac suggested maybe next time I should put Bill in the pot with the owl.  Randy agreed. (grin)

                                                                  

  We casually loaded our canoes and began the final leg of our trip.  I should mention -- From Snow Hill Bridge to the St Johns is about 10 miles so we had about 7 miles to paddle. This area the river gets wider and goes from oak trees  to cabbage palms and then the grassy prairie of the St Johns River. Paddle is the wrong word because it is down stream and you put the paddle in just enough to keep the canoe straight. When the water is down you actually have to paddle but we were luck on this trip and as I said everything was just right for a trip. We had planned our trip to pull out at the fish camp at the St. Johns river and Hwy 46, and had left one of our cars there for a shuttle. We pulled in about 3 PM and after getting something cold from the restaurant, we were commenting on what a great little river it was and how much we had enjoyed it.  As we were loading our canoes, we got a pleasant surprise.

  Fire trucks and rescue vehicles arrived and pulled up at the river near us. We wondered what was going on when the fireman got out of the truck and were pointing at us. We were between them and the river. We thought we had done something wrong until we turned around and looked to the east,  and there in the sky  we saw a Space Shuttle going up,  leaving a huge plume of pure white vapor trail in a perfect Florida blue sky. What a way to end a trip -- and only in Florida.

 We paddled and camped on a river that the Indians used as a major road before the Spanish arrived. We briefly explored the mounds left behind by them and walked where they walked. We could have been them except for the year.

The proper name of the Econ (which we call it ) is Econlockhatchee and in the Indian language means "River of many mounds."

My web http://www.neilbank.com/oldsparkey/DAD/big.htm   is about the econ.  Or on AOL -- hometown --then search ...type in ....paddler and then -- 'answers to questions about the Econlockhatcheer River,'

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    (Not yet posted)