1. Opinion

Perspective: A river goes underground

The Aucilla flows along the east side of the Red Hills region between Thomasville and Tallahassee. Closer to the Gulf of Mexico, in Aucilla Wildlife Management Area, limestone bedrock rises close to the forest floor, providing substrate for these rapids. Sinkholes and caverns eroded by the tannic water envelop the river underground; it disappears and reappears several times flowing to the coast.
Published Feb. 13, 2015

Editor's note: The three members of the second Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition are filing weekly dispatches of their 1,000-mile, 10-week journey to highlight the value of keeping an open pathway through the state for wildlife. Here is the story of the fifth week.

The ribbon of damp earth is punctuated by limestone ledges, their bronze patinas textured by mosses a few shades darker than the palmettos skirting the footpath. In the flat, predawn light, sturdy tree trunks define the shifting horizon and measure forward progress. Weaving among oaks, sweetgums, maples and palms, we descend toward the sounds of swishes and ripples of water rushing over rocks.

Drawing closer, the Aucilla River reveals itself beneath a sheath of fog insulating it from the cold morning. Fighting with numb fingers, I set my tripod low among cypress knees and work to compose a frame that will hopefully capture even a bit of the awe I feel rediscovering this hidden corner of Florida's "Forgotten Coast." After a few long exposures, shafts of sunrise start to break up the scene. I pack my camera and head downstream seeking a different view. After a couple hundred steps, the forest closes in from both banks and the river swirls like a giant bathtub drain and disappears underground. This section of the Florida National Scenic Trail is named the Aucilla Sinks Trail for the series of circular sinkholes that provide portals to the river as it flows beneath and through the limestone bedrock.

Having biked several straight days from the northern Nature Coast around the Big Bend, it feels good to slow down and begin more than a week hiking the Florida Trail. It will carry us to the wild heart of the corridor and halfway point of the expedition. With five weeks and more than 500 miles behind us, my body has finally adapted to our pace. That's a good thing because our first day back under the weight of our backpacks included 18 miles through St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, 2 miles through shin-deep water and much of it in the rain. When fighting the wet wind to set camp on a berm looking over a vast salt marsh and the Gulf of Mexico, fellow expeditioner Mallory Lykes Dimmitt said we had reached the end of the Earth.

Four more days in the refuge, the trail entered the 632,000-acre Apalachicola National Forest, which combined with adjacent conservation lands, anchors nearly a million protected acres. On scale, it's the Everglades of North Florida. Still east of the Apalachicola River, we hiked along the wild and twisted Sopchoppy River and later waded through a 4-mile stretch of swamp that's part of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area. There were sections of the trail where Joe Guthrie, expedition member and bear expert, points out bear claw marks on what seems like every other pine tree.

Follow their progress here in Perspective, at, and on social media:; Instagram: @FL_WildCorridor; Twitter: @FL_WildCorridor. Follow Ward's photography at and


  1. editorial cartoon from times wires Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal
  2. Governor Ron DeSantis. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times] "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s paper.
  3. Chris Corr is the president of Raydient Places & Properties, Rayonier, and the chair of the Florida Council of 100, a nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders. Tim Nickens
    The Council of 100 focuses on new strategies to recruit and retain the best teachers. | Column
  4. Oil can be seen in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, as a large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in April 2010.  [Associated Press]
    The House has voted to permanently ban oil drilling off the Gulf Coast. Now the Senate should approve it.
  5. Oscar-winning pop star Sam Smith, who is non-binary, announced Friday that they now use "they/them" as their third-person pronouns. On social media, they said that "after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am ..." JOEL C RYAN  |  Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP
    The singer now uses they/them pronouns. It shouldn’t be hard for reporters to recognize — and explain — gender non-binary terms. | Ashley Dye
  6. After more than 18 years as a Times columnist, Ernest Hooper starts a new chapter as assistant sports editor. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    After more than 18 years as a Times columnist, Ernest Hooper starts a new chapter as assistant sports editor.
  7. Firemen and ambulance attendants remove a body from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where an explosion ripped the structure during services Sept.15,1963 . Associated Press
    Fifty-six years ago, a bomb blew apart the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four girls and injuring dozens more.
  8. In their political afterlife, former politicians and their staffers are hoarding unspent campaign donations for years and using them to finance their lifestyles, advance new careers and pay family members, an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times, 10News WTSP and TEGNA-owned TV stations found. CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL  |  Steve Madden
    Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Kathy Castor are still pushing the House to take up the reform legislation. It’s past time.
  9. Yesterday• Letters to the Editor
    High tide from offshore hurricane Michael creeps up into the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs Wednesday afternoon after the Anclote River backs up. Jim Damaske
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s paper.
  10. Activist Greta Thunberg, foreground, participates in a climate protest, in central Stockholm Sweden. PONTUS LUNDAHL  |  AP
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.