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Ecotourism on Florida's Space Coast
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Paddling to Eden

Turnbull Creek

by Dean Richard Pettit

Dawn at Turnbull Creek. To the northwest, the dark waters flow southeast out of the vast swamplands. to the southeast these same dark waters make their way to the Northern End of the Indian River Lagoon, forming her headwaters. In the early morning light I remove the Redcanoe Titanic, my 15 foot canoe from her resting place on the car racks, then I pause to take in the glow of the predawn light and it's reflection on the water. I carefully climb in and begin my journey into another world. I decide to head to the Northwest, to experience the blackwater swamp and it's explosion of life. At first glance, there appears to be three choices of channels to paddle. The left is merely a cove, while the right side parallels US-1 northward. I choose the middle channel, deep into the swamp.

Turnbull Creek can be found just North of the Brevard County line in Volusia County on US-1 between Scottsmoore and the Town of Oak Hill. Heading south on US-1 you will pass the merge between SR-3 and US-1, then cross a bridge over a railroad track. Just south of the bridge the highway crosses Turnbull Creek on a level bridge. It is fairly easy to miss until you're right on top of it, so slow down real soon after the railroad bridge. Here is where you put in.
From the South, you will see the railroad bridge before you see the bridge over the creek soon after entering Volusia County. If you cross the raised bridge over the railroad tracks you have gone about half a mile to a mile too far.

As I paddle to the Northwest, the sides of the creek are covered with vegetation that grows to about shoulder height while sitting in a canoe. The term "shoreline" really doesn't apply here. The creek is actually just a deeper channel through a submerged floodplain. Below right, Looking here down a feeder creek to the east, you can see a portion of the vast floodplain that the creek flows through.

Continuing to the Northwest you notice that the line of trees on either side of you are closing in ever closer, until you come to what seems to be a wall across the creek. Upon closer inspection you see that there is indeed an opening in the trees. One barely big enough for a canoe or kayak and a paddler. You push your way through.....

and find yourself in another world. The marsh grasses are diminishing and a stand of cyprus trees appear to my left. In the shallows, several species of wildflowers are making their appearance, while the overall vegetation community is becoming much more diversified.
As I silently push onward against the current I'm seeing the characture of the waterscape change. Long gone are the plants that suggest a salt marsh type habitat and this is rapidly becoming a freshwater swamp, primevial and beautiful. No dry land anywhere, just water and vegetation. The sounds of the cars on the highway are becoming faint and unseen birds are voicing their presence. This is a true wilderness, wild and free.

As I paddle forward I find myself having to navigate between cyprus stumps and overhanging trees, as well as an occasional submerged log laying across the creek. Fortunately, the water level is fairly high as it had rained quite a bit the evening before. At lower water I can imagine that this creek would be somewhat more difficult to navigate. I'm amazed at how the plantlife here takes every opportunity grow. The trees here begin to form a dense canopy, airplants sprout from their sides and I can easily imagine how ancient wetlands are considered the cradle of terrestrial life. I feel as if I have gone back thousands of years into an ancient world.

Suddenly the creek opens up into a most amazing pond. the water is glassy smooth and an occasional fish breaks the surface. there are several little islands of vegetation here, and the "shoreline" here abounds with life. Off in the distance I hear the cry of a pileated woodpecker while songbirds are flying everywhere. I'm seeing trees of tremendous height and vegetation growing out of the water in all directions. I feel as if I have stumbled onto an aquatic "Garden of Eden".

Though the cyprus tree to the far left has long died, it continues to support life as two other trees, one of them a cabbage palm tree has taken root in the stump, a representation of the everchanging cycle of life in these wetlands. Nothing ever truely dies, as new life makes use of the decaying matter and in the case of this dead tree stump, becomes a new type of habitat. On my previous visit here I was fortunate enough to photograph this pileated woodpecker as he hunted for food as seen to the near right. Closer inspection revealed several nesting holes carved into the stump.

As the sun climbed into the sky I realized that reluctantly I would have to leave this aquatic Eden. At the mouth of the creek I saw this rotted stump alive with this colony of ferns. Upon closer inspection of my surroundings, I realized that almost all of the palm tree species I was seeing were growing out of these dead cyprus stumps. These stumps become "islands of habitat" for species that otherwise would not be able to exist here. This whole place is a dynamic, ever changing ecosystem, providing habitat for numerous plants, resident and migratory birds, and many other species. Being here I can easily understand the value of our wetlands and why their protection is crucial.
For now I'm just glad I had the opportunity to be here, and even though it's now time to head back to civilization, I find myself glad that there are places like this, where signs of humankind's encroachment are nonevident. A place where the only sights are those of the wilderness, and the only sounds are the hissing of a canoe through quiet waters, the birds living their daily lives, and the song of a gentle breeze through the trees.

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