HOLIDAY — Gliding over oyster beds and through thickets of sea grass in the sunrise, about 20 people in kayaks and canoes had the water to themselves.
Except for the sponges, crabs and other bottom-dwelling life that were visible in low tide, and the multitude of bird species hunting in fish holes and heavy sea grass.
"I've never seen the tide this low and this much of the sea bottom exposed," said first-time kayaker Yvonne Pribyl, 49. "It's really amazing."
She and the others on Sunday were part of the county's first Paddling Pasco Blueways event, a series of outings to explore and enjoy the many winding waterways.
Ed Caum, a communications specialist with the county's tourism office, hopes the "blueways" events will help develop the area as a tourist destination that can rival the beaches of Pinellas County.
"It's tough competing with bikinis and sun tanning all day," Caum said. "We don't have the beaches here in Pasco, but we do have 20 miles of direct coastline and about 220 miles of mangroves and estuaries that are abundant with wildlife, so that's what we need to focus on. We find that a lot of people that don't do beaches often bike and kayak a lot. We want to develop what we're calling Pedal Paddle Pasco because we have great biking terrain in the eastern part of the county and great waterways on the west side."
Rick Buckman, the county's director of parks and recreation, helped develop the idea and believes that it can be part of the redevelopment effort along the U.S. 19 and State Road 54 corridors. The goal is to develop blueway trails that go up the entire coast and into the Cotee and Anclote Rivers.
"We've been fooling around with this blueways trail idea for years, but it took Ed (Caum) getting on board and getting the go ahead from the county to do it," Buckman said. "We've been working on mapping out the trails and I think that this is a big part of the redevelopment of the county. The paddling trail is an easy development, all we have to do is mark it and market it. That's why we're doing this event, because we want this series to bring the idea to life that we can have water trails."
Sunday's journey began at Eagle Point Park, the 15-acre coastal park off Strauber Memorial Highway. Paddlers made their way through a narrow bayou and out onto the shallow coastline heading south toward Anclote Gulf Park. The journey took about two and a half hours and challenged paddlers with a low tide that forced them out of their watercrafts at times to drag their kayaks and canoes across exposed areas of mucky terrain that are normally submerged.
Pribyl, who went on this kayaking trip with her sister, Michelle Scott, 57, enjoyed the outing despite the challenges.
"I'm glad we didn't do this on our own. I don't think we would have made it halfway before we got scared and gave up," Pribyl said. "That would have been too bad because how often do you see it like this?"