These creek banks have been settled for thousands of years, but you can’t really tell from your kayak. The serenity and absence of humans and their accoutrements make you feel like you are the first one here. The only signs of life were swallow-tailed kites, herons and ibis flying by, a few small gators and a herd of wild piglets.
After a couple hours of paddling against the current in 90-plus-degree heat, I had only gone about three miles. So I pointed my kayak downstream and mostly floated back down to Bonnet Lake.
I set up my tent at the campsite, which held a fire ring and a rickety wooden table. I longed for a cooling dip in the creek, but — one after another — about a half-dozen gators up to 10 feet long swam by and paused to gaze at me. So I had to settle for a Baby Wipes bath.
If you expect quiet in the deep woods at night, forget it. From dusk on, the bass croaking of frogs and the calls of night birds filled the air. But after a while, I got used to the noises and fell asleep with my ThermaCell posted just outside the tent to ward off mosquitoes and no-see-ums. It worked, sort of.
The next morning, it seemed weird to hear the roar of a motorboat on the creek: probably an FWC officer because they usually launch from Burnt Bridge.
But I never saw him or her because the boat headed north away from Bonnet Lake.
I broke camp, loaded the kayak, and continued downstream, planning to disembark at the Outpost but wishing I had time to explore as far down as Cowbone Marsh, which is about eight miles north of Lake Okeechobee.
Decades ago, paddlers were able to travel the entire creek from Highlands County to the Big O, but at some point the vegetation clogging Cowbone Marsh blocked their path. After the state purchased the creek corridor from Lykes Bros. in 1999 and created the Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area, FWC employees worked to open up the stream to navigation. The FWC’s efforts were challenged by Lykes and state and federal agencies, so the FWC proposed building a temporary road through the marsh and filling in a portion of the creek with sand.
In response, the Sierra Club’s legal arm, Earthjustice, filed suit, and an administrative law judge ruled last week in favor of the Sierra Club. That means Cowbone Marsh might someday be navigable, allowing paddlers to explore it unimpeded.
I made it from Bonnet Lake eight miles to the Outpost without much effort, owing to the rapid current.
Along the way, I spied more soaring swallowtails and a huge gray paper hornet’s nest.
Here’s hoping for cool weather and continued high water this fall to make for a much more comfortable journey.