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Ecotourism Brings Paddlers to the Treasure Coast this Winter as Part of Paddle Florida

Don Yackel

It's probably been the longest spring and summer most of us can ever remember. And now, suddenly it’s September!

JH: You know, we’re in a different place than when we started, with COVID, right? I think at this point people have been careful. They’re trying. They’ve changed all their travel plans and now they’re like “get me out of this house.”

This is Janice Hindson. She’s talking to us from her house in St Augustine.

JH: I’m an avid paddler. I started paddling, oh, I don’t know, in 2000? So about 20 years now.

Hindson is assistant director with Paddle Florida, which is a nonprofit canoe and kayak organization that promotes water conservation, wildlife preservation, springs restoration, and waterways protection.

JH: We do that by hosting multi-day paddling trips in each of the five waterway management districts in Florida.

They’re about to start their 13th season this October, and in December, they’ll be here on the Treasure Coast for a 7-day, 50-mile kayak and camping trip.

JH: It’s a great way to hang out together outside.

The meals are catered, you don’t have to transport any camping gear and there’s built-in social distancing. Hindson also says they follow stringent health and safety measures to deal with COVID-19.

The Treasure Coast trip is December 2nd through the 8th. It starts at Fort Pierce Inlet State Park and ends in Sebastian, with stops along Round Island, the Environmental Learning Center, and Sebastian Inlet State Park.  The trip was inspired by Sebastian resident Don Yackel. We met up with him along the water a few miles from his house.

(walking, insects, water lapping against shore)

DY: My name is Don Yackel. I’ve been in Sebastian for 10 years and I’m an avid sea kayaker.

Yackel has been on numerous kayak trips with Paddle Florida.

Credit Don Yackel
Here is Don Yackel on one of the spoil islands in the Indian River Lagoon. Behind him in the background is a living, upright Australian Pine as well as a dead one that has blown over to reveal its flat, shallow root structure.

DY: Many, many, many, many trips, all over the state.

This will be their first on the Treasure Coast.  We ask Yackel what changes he has seen along this part of the Indian River Lagoon in his travels. He is suffering the loss of some of the small spoil islands.

DY: Well, they’re washing away. They’re disappearing. I mean what’s happened in ten years, is like (clicks tongue). If you look at the islands, they got the Australian pines.

TOC: There’s one right there.

DY: And what happens is… They don’t like to put their feet in the water. Their roots spread out flat.

And so, they don’t hold the soil, and it’s even worse when storms blow them over, because the sand just washes away.

DY:  Between the Australian pines and the Brazilian peppers, it’s a real fight.

He points east to some small islands in the distance.

DY: Used to be in here, when I was making my moves down through here, I’d see dolphins. I’d see manatees. I almost never see them anymore. Well, and you   know the sea grass is not what it was, and that’s what they feed on, so...

TOC: …and all the little fish and things that live in the sea grass…

DY: They’re not there…. Now if you go down to Round Island, the first place that we stop, lots of manatees down there.

Hindson says each day of the trip always ends with a talk by local waterway experts.

JH:  We have a speaker come in and talk about the local waterway. And it’s just great to be around like-minded people. People who care about the environment, people that like to paddle and camp, and sit under the stars. And you know really people are making lifelong friends.

Learn more about the trip here: http://www.paddleflorida.org/me/paddle-florida/treasure-coast-paddling-adventure-new-15560.html

Credit Don Yackel
One of two books by Don Yackel about his paddling adventures

Credit Don Yackel
One of two books by Don Yackel about his paddling adventures