We wanted to paddle the path, which meant gliding through cages of red mangrove roots propped up on oyster bars. It meant staying out of the wind. It meant exploring oyster bars. Fortunately for us, we failed to check the tides, something only a green paddler, a total and complete novice, would do. In our defense, we hadn’t planned on paddling Weedon Island at all, or else certainly one of us would have consulted a tide chart. But when our other plans got scrapped last minute, we all thought, hey, let’s check out Weedon Island.
Had it been high tide, we would have missed the sandbars and the spoonbills feeding on oysters at the tide line. We would have missed coming this close to a blue crab the size of my head. We would gone inside the labyrinth of mangroves and oyster beds, and that would have been perfectly OK, but in the end, taking the paddling path less taken was more than OK, too.
WHAT: Aside from the cultural and natural history center, Weedon Island boasts two paddling trails that lead you through twists of mangroves. That’s at high tide. Weedon ’s low-tide lifestyle reveals itself to you in sandbars and grass flats.
WHY: Florida has roughly 10 months when the water’s warmer than it is right now. So why should you paddle Weedon Island in January or February? Because winter paddling is “aquarium paddling” in the Sunshine State. Yes, your toes will get chilly when you launch your kayak, and yes, the wind can be a bear, but your reward is gliding over water so clear it may as well not be there at all.
WHO: Pinellas County runs the preserve.
WHEN: The kayak launch operates every day from sunrise to sunset. If you want to curve through mangrove tunnels along the trails, go at high tide. If you seek a bevy of sea life, don’t care about sticking to the trails, and think maybe lunch on a sandbar sounds pretty good, low tide will make you a happy paddler indeed.
WHERE: The north end of St. Petersburg off Gandy at 1800 Weedon Drive Northeast. Call 453-6500 or visit WeedonIslandPreserve.org for more information.
BEST part: The way the water looks in winter. The way the sun illuminates the sand through the water and showcases the grass flats and the life they contain make you forgive what may be the…
WORST part: Well, Tampa Bay isn’t exactly known for its stellar water quality, and the closer you get to upper Tampa Bay, the worse it gets. You shouldn’t eat any of the shellfish you see. You can fish, of course, with a fishing license, but stay away from the oysters, shrimp, and crab.
FUN Fact: In the 1920s, a man named Eugene Elliot –who managed George Gandy’s financial enterprises (think Gandy Bridge)– acquired some land by the mounds on the Preserve’s future site. He started a land develoment company, because, hey, it’s Florida, why not? and then placed fake artifacts in hopes of drawing people who might buy nearby land. He invited the Smithsonian to excavate the artifacts, which, of course, they did. When exposed as a fraud, Elliot mourned the loss of his money, if not his integrity.
MAGIC Question: Free with your own kayak. Contact the livery at the Preserve for rental information.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@TheGabber.com.