Report -- By Roger K. Thomas, of Athens GA.
Canoeing the St. Marys River.
St. Mary's Trip Report, March 2001
Roger K. Thomas
This report will supplement Bill Logan's account of his trip on the St. Mary's River
by providing some information about water level and paddling time.
I won't try to add to Bill's descriptions of the beauties encountered all
along the way, as he did that so well in his report.
Mark Schmidt (Columbus, GA), Michael Shain (Crawford, GA), and I (Athens, GA) launched at 11:40 a.m. March 6, 2001, from the
boat ramp at the bridge one mile east of St. George, GA (HWY GA 94 or FL 2, as one prefers). According to the USGS gauge for the St. Mary's at McClenny, FL, the river level was approximately 1.95 feet and 65 CFS at the time we launched. That 65 CFS may be compared to 500 CFS which is the 70-year median for March 6. Our destination was Thompkins Landing, 17 miles down river (according to Carter & Pearce's book, "A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Florida: Volume 1, North Central Peninsula and Panhandle"). We planned a leisurely 3-day canoe-camping trip. With an estimated paddling rate of approximately 2.5 - 3 mph when we were trying to make distance, we should have been able to traverse the 17 miles in about 6 hours. Thus, we paced ourselves accordingly and planned for a morning and afternoon paddle of 60 -
75 minutes each. As it turned out, we averaged about 2.2 mph and took about 7.5 hours total. While we anticipated some loss of time due to the
maneuvering required to get through tight places created by dead falls, logjams, etc., and we hadn't expected to face wind all three days. Also,
there are several stretches where the water is "lake-like" due to back up from shallows. The "lakes," where there is little current and with loaded canoes and a facing wind, make for some hard paddling.
Despite having 16-foot canoes loaded to the gunwales, we never once had to drag or exit a canoe to get through a low or tight place. I doubt that
1.95 feet is the minimum level that this section can be paddled comfortably. The level was dropping throughout our three days on the river and we always had plenty of water, but, of course, we were farther down river each day. Perhaps, one great advantage of this low level is the availability of sandbars. I don't think one would have to paddle more than 10-15 minutes on average to find a beautiful sandbar for camping.
For those paddling this stretch, a couple of landmarks are: (1) About 3.5 miles down river from the St. George put-in are two places, separated by a hundred yards or so, where concrete blocks, chunks of concrete, etc. have been dumped on the FL side; some bricks have been mixed in at the second of these sites. Apparently, these were attempts to resist riverbank erosion. (2) About 14 miles from St. George are some creosoted wood pilings across most of the river; these are most numerous on the FL side.
Finally, we rented one of our canoes and arranged shuttle with Roger Giddens of Canoe County Outpost (904-845-7224) on the FL side where US 1 crosses the St. Mary's. You mentioned Roger favorably in your report, and we can attest also that he provides friendly, knowledgeable, and reasonable service. We recommend him highly.
Roger K. Thomas
UG -- Athens GA.