Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kayakers Get to Know the River - All 310 Miles

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kayakers Get to Know the River - All 310 Miles

Article excerpt

Byline: Tiffanie Reynolds

Gus Bianchi, a Middleburg resident and volunteer of the St. Johns River Alliance, has kayaked Florida waters for 20 years.

He's paddled 1,500 miles around Florida's coast, and up the St. Johns River to Astor, among other trips.

But to know Florida, he said, is to paddle the entire St. Johns River.

Bianchi and St. Johns River Alliance program manager Andrea Conover did just that early 2015.

Starting south at Blue Cypress Lake and following the river north to the Atlantic, they broke up the 310-mile river into three trips, paddling the first 100 miles in February, the second 100 in April and the last 100 in smaller day trips in June and July.

"It's like a person," said Bianchi. "You get to know that person. You just can't go out with them once or twice. You really get to know that person. It's just like the river. I can really say that I know the river now. It has a personality. And it's different***You want other people to know it and value it."

The river is designated an official state paddling trail - St. Johns River Blueway - and paddling the entire river has been a dream of Conover's for many years.

In 2013 she met Bianchi, and, with a few others, they planned and undertook the trip.

One aspect of the river that really struck Conover and Bianchi is how different each section is from south to north. They paddled through marshland, across lakes, over canals and levees.

Weather was the biggest challenge. They paddled the first 100 miles in the coldest week in February, many days exploring in 30- to 40-degree weather. In the summer, Conover and Bianchi had to launch at 4 a.m. to beat paddling in close to 100-degree weather.

They also saw the changes along the riverbanks, like some fishing camps making way for new condos and long-time overnight camp sites along the river demolished. These demolished sites were another challenge, forcing them to paddle farther than they planned to find a place to rest overnight.

It reminded Conover of how much of a precious resource the St. Johns River is to Florida, not only environmentally but economically. She said that protecting the river as a resource is important, and keeping it as a public recreation waterway will help many others see the large role it plays in the state. …

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