WACISSA, Fla. -- You’re a lawmaker, lobbyist or ordinary citizen stuck in the state capitol trying to get something accomplished before the Florida legislative session ends. Stalking up and down hallways, attending cocktail parties and spending hours in meetings certainly can take their toll on your mental (and physical) health.
What you need is a little nature therapy — solitude, wildlife, gorgeous scenery — and you can have all this in a short, 25-mile drive east of Tallahassee to the tiny town of Wacissa.
Follow State Road 59 south until it dead-ends at Wacissa Springs County Park, and bring your canoe, kayak or standup paddleboard. Launching is free.
Now you’re paddling easily south along the cool, wide, spring-fed river called the Wacissa, which is a Timucuan Indian name whose meaning has been “lost,” according to guidebooks. Designated an Outstanding Florida Waterway by the Department of Environmental Protection, the Wacissa has been plied for thousands of years by everyone from the earliest Native Americans to modern moms, dads and kids.
You will marvel at the abundance of wildlife: gators, otters, owls, cormorants, hawks, eagles, limpkins, herons, or as Georgia Ackerman — former paddling outfitter now with the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy — says, “What can’t you see? It’s scenic and there aren’t human inhabitants all along the river.”
In a six-mile round-trip paddle recently, Ackerman and five friends and colleagues spotted many of the river’s wild inhabitants, including three brown water snakes — non-venomous but ill-tempered — sunning on tree stumps. Then they watched as a red-shouldered hawk swooped down and grabbed one of the snakes for lunch. Other than their own conversation, the soundscape was bubbling water and bird calls.
The downstream trip was more of a float — quicker than usual without the necessity of much paddling — because heavy rainfall had swollen the 20 or so springs that feed the waterway.
Big Blue, a first-magnitude spring that gushes as much as 65 million gallons per day from deep underground, pushed the group’s kayaks swiftly along over tangles of hydrilla, hyacinth and vibrant green eel grass. Overhead, the river was framed by cypress, oak, some pine, magnolia and willow.
The group paddled as far as Cedar Island, named for the vibrant hardwoods that once prevailed before the onset of logging, and disembarked to stretch their legs. The return trip against the combined forces of those spewing springs would prove to be quite a workout.
Had they had time to continue downstream, the paddlers eventually would have joined the Aucilla River — a tannic, black watercourse that begins in a southwest Georgia cotton field, disappears underground here and there as it meanders south and finally empties into Apalachee Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.
But that trip would have to wait for another excuse to take a break from work and politics.