FL - St. Mary's River - 2003/01/11 to 2003/01/12 - 54 miles

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From out of the Southeast corner of the Okefenokee swamp, the St. Mary's River drains the clear tannin stained water to the Atlantic ocean, once coveted as a water source for long ocean voyages.

I had arranged by phone with Roger at Canoe Outpost to have our car and kayak trailer driven back from the access point near MacClenny to their location on the St. Mary's south of Folkston for $60.00. The morning of the eleventh, the weather had turned cold and the temperatures were in the low 40's that morning. I left the Days Inn at the intersection of GA 40 and Interstate 95 at 7:00 AM and arrived at Canoe Outpost just after 8:00 AM. There I was met by Clyde, who would be doing the shuttle for us that day. I started to arrange my gear for the trip while Clyde told me about how he had just become a reluctant hog farmer. Clyde was a genuine good Ol' boy character. His story about the hogs was very amusing. Roger was doing something else that day and had arranged to have Clyde do the shuttle. Clyde told us that Roger had lost interest in canoeing and kayaking and was planning on selling the business.

I filled my water containers from the kitchen at Canoe Outpost. Unfortunately, the water there smelled and tasted strongly of sulphor. Without an opportunity to let the water breathe, it was very difficult to drink. I should have filled my water containers back at the motel. Mary and Steve Rohrs and Julio Perez arrived at 8:45 after having driven overnight from Bel Air just north of Baltimore, Maryland. We all got into Steve's car with the four kayaks on the trailer and headed toward MacClenny under Clyde's direction.

The access point at the 23 bridge over the St. Mary's is under the bridge itself. It is accessed by driving down a dirt lane on the northwest side of the bridge. There is a small area under the bridge and a chute of sand down to the river. There is also a narrow opening where you can back around a trailer and get back to the paved road. There is no parking or facilities of any kind, so it would not be possible to leave a vehicle at this access point. We were glad that we had made the decision to do a shuttle.

We packed most of the gear into the kayaks and when we were sure we had all the gear we would need from the car, we said good-bye to Clyde who drove our car and trailer back to Canoe Outpost. We would paddle down river for two days and planned to exit the river at a point about 1 mile past Canoe Outpost, which is not right on the river itself. Clyde told us he would be at Canoe Outpost until 6:30 PM the next day.

The current on the St. Mary's river is listed at 2-3 knots on the Florida Canoe Trails website. There was a good current flowing down the river. Just a week ago the river had been at flood stage. Since then the water had gone down about 2 feet, which was good because at flood there are not any sand bars on which to camp.

The receding flood waters had left much debris washed away from homes along the banks and now caught in the tree trunks along the rivers edge. The water was still high and the currents strong. We weaved in and out among the trunks, twisting and turning, using rudders and back paddling to navigate through many of the swift running channels. Because of all the maneuvering, we did not receive the full benefit of the strong current underneath of us and consequently our mileage was not what we had expected it to be.

The water in the St. Mary's is clear, but stained by the leached tannin of the peat and tree bark in the Okefenokee and along the banks of the river itself. When this water overlies the sugar white sand of the still partly inundated sand bars, the water takes on a reddish, almost magenta, color in the sunshine. The picture at the left does not do justice to the lovely color.
Fed by rain falling on the peat in the remote and uninhabited Okefenokee swamp, the St. Mary's River is an international standards river for clean and pure water. In an earlier age, sailing ships would come upstream to fill their barrels and casks with the highly acidic water that "kept" so well on their long voyages.

St Mary's sand bar
Paddling past a sand bar
Photo by Steve Rohrs

Shortly after our 11:00 AM launch at the bridge, we saw several sand bars that would have made good campsites. Then the sand bars disappeared. Many were still underwater. We finally found another where we stopped for lunch.
We continued our paddle the rest of the afternoon, without seeing any sand bars. As evening began to fall, we finally pulled over to a small sandy area just before the railroad bridge at St. George. It was 5:40. It was not a great campsite, as there was a dirt road right next to the site. This not only allowed automobile access to the river but there was a large amount of trash strewn among the palmettos. During the evening several cars came down the area, shining their lights into our tents and causing some anxiety as to their intent. None stayed long and we had no problems. But it was not an easy night. However, since we were running out of daylight and had not seen any places where camping was possible, it was the best option we had. We had made 24.3 miles in a little less than 7 hours. If we had been able to add the full 2 knot current onto our usual average of 3 knots, we should have made 35 miles. Clearly, the turns and discontinuous paddling had not resulted in the additional speed we had anticipated.

Julio sets up tent
Julio sets up camp
Photo by Steve Rohrs

Cypress along the river
Photo by Steve Rohrs

The next morning dawned cold once again. We rose early as we had over 34 miles to go this day to make our final destination at Canoe Outpost. But the cold slowed our preparations and it was 9:00 AM before we were paddling down the river once again. The day was grey compared to the previous day and seemed colder. We paddled resolutely northward down the St. Mary's. However, it became clear that we were not making the distance required to make the final meeting point safely within the 6:30 PM limit that Clyde had guaranteed. We used our cell phone to contact Clyde and change the pickup point to Trader's Hill some 5 miles closer.

We arrived at the new pickup location at 4:50 PM where Clyde was waiting for us with our trailer. After 29 miles we were tired and cold. We loaded the kayaks and headed back to Folkston, regaled by more of Clyde's stories. Clyde told us about a good barbecue restaurant in Hilliard, but we were too tired to drive the 20 miles there. He also recommended the local barbecue restaurant, but it wasn't open except on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Clyde said with a twinkle in his eye and a big grin, "You can dress any way you want if you go to McDonald's, but if you want to go to Burger King, you have to dress in coat and tie!"

MacClenny - Bridge 23


USGS Water Gauge MacClenny

St. George - Bridge 2


Stanley Landing


Feedy Landing


Boulogne - Bridge US 1


1. CR 121 Bridge – 5.5 miles north of Macclenny.
2. Stokes Bridge – Take US 90 5.8 miles east of Macclenny to CR 121. Turn north and follow CR 121 to Stokes Road (graded road north of Brandy Brook). Turn left (west) .5 mile to bridge. (9 miles)
3. SR 2 Bridge – 2 miles west of SR 2 / CR 121 intersection. (12 miles)
4. Thompkin’s Landing – From intersection of CR 115 and CR 121, 5 miles west of Hilliard, take CR 121 2.5 miles north to first graded road on the west, north of Dunn Creek (Thompkin’s Landing Road). Proceed west to landing. (17 miles)
5. Traders Hill – From Folkston at junction of US 301 Georgia State Route 121, take Georgia State Route 121 south for 3.1 miles. Turn east to Traders Hill Recreation Area . Accessible only from Georgia. (7 miles)
6. Scots Landing – Take US 301 / US 1 north from Hilliard about 8 miles. Turn right (east) on Lake Hampton Road (also Colas Ferry Road) just before bridge. Landing is on Florida side, after about .75 mile. (6 miles)

There may be access points (both public and private) in addition to those listed here. Please remember that some sites require a fee for launching and/or parking

Okefenokee Swamp

Suwannee River




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