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  1. Outdoors

Take it Outside Planner: Canoe Juniper Run (w/video), cruise the bay and search for scallops

YOU CANOE IT: JUNIPER RUN

Ocala National Forest's Juniper Run has been named one of the top 25 canoe runs in America. The 7-mile paddle through riverine swamp, hardwood forests and Florida scrub takes about three hours to complete, and when you are done, you will wish it were longer. The paddle starts at Juniper Springs, one of the oldest and better-known recreation areas in the forest, about 25 miles east of Ocala. During the Great Depression, men from the Civilian Conservation Corps built the surrounding roads, campgrounds, picnic areas and a water-powered millhouse that still stands today.

Juniper Run is a tough paddle thanks to countless twists and turns, but your efforts will be rewarded with one of the few whitewater runs in the state. You will start your journey just below the springs and follow the run through Juniper Prairie Wilderness to a take-out at State Road 19. The canoe launch at Juniper Springs Recreation Area opens at 8 a.m. and the latest you can launch is 11:45 a.m. You can rent a canoe for $35 or bring your own, but no inflatables. There was a fatal alligator attack on this waterway in 2006. (352) 625-2808.

FLOAT YOUR BOAT: SPOTS TO CRUISE

Summer is winding down, so why not get out on the water one more time this weekend before school starts? Tampa Bay, the state's largest estuary, has more great places to boat than any other place in Florida.

Downtown Tampa has fine restaurants and hotels, as does St. Petersburg, a short cruise across the bay. But it is the hidden bays and rivers that are the true treasure of this metropolitan boater's paradise. Anchor up near Beer Can Island or Shell Key or cruise out to Egmont Key and explore the ruins of a 19th century Army fort. It is just a short run up Pinellas County's sugar-sand beaches to Caladesi Island, one of a few state parks with docking facilities, and nearby Three Rooker Bar and Anclote Key, two wild barrier islands that are havens for boaters. Head south out of the mouth of the bay and it is just a short run to Anna Maria Island and Sarasota, another gulf coast city that caters to cruisers.

HELP OUT: GREAT SCALLOP SEARCH

Hundreds of snorkelers will hit the water Saturday, but unlike those diving up on the North Suncoast, these scallopers must return their catch. Tampa Bay Watch's Great Scallop Search is catch and release only. That's because researchers want to get an idea on how healthy the local scallop population really is.

Tampa Bay once had a thriving bay scallop fishery. That was before decades of habitat destruction and unregulated pollution nearly wiped out the population. But thanks to strict water quality regulations and the efforts of nonprofit groups such as Tampa Bay Watch, scallops have made a dramatic comeback. In 1994, with scallop stocks declining, state officials shut down the commercial season everywhere and shut down the recreational season south of the Suwannee River. That included Crystal River and Homosassa, once among the state's best scallop spots.

But in 2001, state officials reopened the area between the Suwannee and the Pasco-Hernando county line because stocks had recovered. Scalloping, however, was still prohibited south of the Pasco-Hernando county line, which included Tampa Bay. Researchers from USF and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's research institute in St. Petersburg have had aggressive restocking, or "seeding," programs in place for more than a decade. But the only way to find out if they are working is to send volunteer snorkelers into the bay to count scallops.

While the harvest of scallops is still prohibited in Tampa Bay, the waters off Homosassa, Crystal River and Steinhatchee are still open. The season runs through Sept. 24. Learn more about Saturday's event at tampabaywatch.org.

TUNE IN: BUY A WEATHER RADIO

Do yourself a favor and tap into the nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information from the National Weather Service. You can get warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day. National Weather Radio is an "all hazards" radio network, making it a single source for comprehensive weather and emergency information. Weather radios come in various forms (powered by the sun, batteries or by winding them up). Many people have more than one — one for the house or tackle box, another for the boat. The cost can be as low as $10. Whenever you're out on the water, check it periodically.

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