Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Seize this opportunity to enjoy a flush Withlacoochee River

The startled alligator thrashed in the water, went under and surfaced about 15 feet in front of our canoe, swimming as though, for some reason, it was afraid of us.

We never got a clear view of its entire body. But judging from the wake it created (like a johnboat's) and from the size of its head (like the most massive oak log ever wrestled into a fireplace), it was the biggest wild alligator I'd ever seen — big enough, though we knew the chances of this happening were very slim, to kill us.

And on the stretch of the Withlacoochee River my son and I paddled on Saturday, it fit right in.

You may remember my long-ago announcement that I planned to canoe the entire length of the river with my oldest son, that we started with a wild trip near the source in the Green Swamp and a month later took a much more civilized journey north through Hernando County to the Trail's End campground, just north of State Road 48 in Citrus County.

Then came a two-year hiatus caused by my teenage son's reluctance to be stranded for hours with his dad in a 15-foot canoe and by long periods when parts of the river all but disappeared due to the drought.

Well, it's back now, as you can see from this graph — tinyurl.com/9mxucjd — of the river's flow at the Croom gauge in eastern Hernando. It popped up to above-normal levels after Tropical Storm Debby in June, and, with the steady rains that have fallen since, has stayed there. So, I was able to convince my son that this was our chance to see the river in full flow.

The next stretch on our list, 12 miles from Trail's End to State Road 44 in central Citrus, turned out to be ideal for this purpose. Skirting the eastern edge of the Tsala Apopka chain of lakes, it can sometimes feel like a stagnant, elongated lake itself. But it didn't feel that way Saturday, with a flow of more than 800 cubic feet of water per second. It felt like a major subtropical artery.

The surging current carried big rafts of vegetation — water lettuce, tangles of what looked like aquatic crab grass, environmentally disastrous but spectacular purple water hyacinths.

Usually, people say the Withlacoochee is the color of tea. On Saturday, it was brown, even muddy, the way rivers are when they are big and powerful enough to carry away chunks of landscape.

Doubt its awesome fertility? At every stop beneath the shade of cypresses, we saw bright green tree frogs clinging to branches. At just about every bend, we startled a heron — tricolored, little blue or great blue.

The constant screech of limpkins on the banks would have made a perfect soundtrack for a nature documentary or a Tarzan movie. And it was easy to forget, during the first half of the trip, that the river cuts through a state of more than 18 million people. In all this space, on all this open water, we saw three of them.

That changed when we got close to Wysong Dam, a few miles south of SR 44, where the limpkins' status as the loudest thing on the river was easily eclipsed by airboats swarming around our canoe and darn near swamping it.

I understand the appeal of going fast, being out on the water and feeling the spray and the wind.

I don't understand the fun of a deafening buzz that guarantees no close-up views of wildlife, ever. I don't understand the pleasure in not just consuming but guzzling fossil fuels.

So, along with the hot sun and humidity that were starting to wear on us, the noise and the exhaust fumes made us glad to see, just east of the SR 44 bridge, the boat ramp where I had stowed a bike three hours earlier.

While my son waited an hour or two with a book (and I wonder why he's never been crazy about these trips), I rode back to Trail's End.

In the rain, by the way. It was a continuation of the wettest summer in years, a resounding end to the drought I reported on this spring with another trip — to formerly wet caves that had gone bone dry.

I've gotten a lot of ribbing for this, from online commenters and even co-workers. After storms, they say, why don't you go back to the caves now?

My answer is that, unfortunately, they'll be dry again soon enough. If recent weather patterns hold, the drought will return sooner than we like.

That's why I think this, and say it to my son, when the river is flush: Enjoy it while you can.

Follow Dan DeWitt on Twitter @ddewitttimes.

Comments
MLB ump Dale Scott retires rather than risk more concussions

MLB ump Dale Scott retires rather than risk more concussions

LAKE BUENA VISTA — As a big league umpire, Dale Scott saw maybe 1 million pitches from the field. His final call, it turned out, was the easiest of all. Rather than risk yet another concussion, Scott has decided to retire at 58. "I’m done," he told T...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Man accused in Seminole Heights killings pleads not guilty

Man accused in Seminole Heights killings pleads not guilty

TAMPA — The man accused of killing four people in Seminole Heights within a 51-day period has pleaded not guilty.Attorneys for Howell Emanuel Donaldson III filed the written plea Tuesday morning at the Hillsborough County Courthouse Annex in Tampa.Hi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Space heater likely cause of early-morning home fire in Valrico

Space heater likely cause of early-morning home fire in Valrico

VALRICO — A space heater is believed to be the cause of a home fire in Valrico on Tuesday morning.It took firefighters about 20 minutes to control the fire in a mobile home on Pierce Christie Drive, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.The ca...
Updated: 2 hours ago
French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

PARIS — French real estate company Unibail-Rodamco has agreed to buy Australia-based shopping mall operator Westfield Corporation for $15.7 billion in cash and shares.The companies would together have 104 shopping centers in 13 countries that bring i...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The Daystarter: Find out Politifact’s 2017 Lie of the Year; Alabama voters go to the polls; arraignment for accused Seminole Heights killer; Yankees may hasten Rays’ dismantling

The Daystarter: Find out Politifact’s 2017 Lie of the Year; Alabama voters go to the polls; arraignment for accused Seminole Heights killer; Yankees may hasten Rays’ dismantling

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.10News WTSPThe latest 7-day forecast• Low temperatures continue this morning but it’ll be pretty nice by the afternoon. It’ll be in the high 40s overnight and then start to rea...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — National political leaders, a Hollywood actress and a retired basketball star made last-ditch efforts to woo voters in the Alabama Senate race Monday, as the candidates gave their final arguments in a pivotal special election that ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Romano: Come to Madeira Beach for the sand, sun and scorn

Romano: Come to Madeira Beach for the sand, sun and scorn

Forgive the folks in Madeira Beach for not yet updating the FAQs portion of their website. They’ve been quite busy lately, which might explain why three of the five commissioners listed are no longer in office. Or maybe it’s just a nod t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Forecast: Warm breezes across Tampa Bay ahead of fluctuating conditions

Forecast: Warm breezes across Tampa Bay ahead of fluctuating conditions

Chilly, windy, colder, sunny, warmer, rainy. 10News WTSP Feels-like temperatures around the Tampa Bay area This week’s inconsistent weather conditions will at least keep things interesting across the Tampa Bay area, even if it makes it d...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Tampa forum focuses on reforming Florida’s juvenile justice system

TAMPA — Changing the way Florida treats juvenile offenders was the focus of Monday night’s public forum on criminal justice reform."We send more children to adult prison than any other state," said Raymer Maguire IV, manager of the ACLU’s Florida Cam...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Tyre McCants, USF’s brawny bruiser of a receiver

Tyre McCants, USF’s brawny bruiser of a receiver

TAMPA — Having spent 11 games watching Tyre McCants in the flesh — all 236 pounds of it — USF coach Charlie Strong seems convinced his team’s leading receiver down the stretch could be someone’s leading rusher down the road."I think he can do a whole...
Published: 12/12/17