The Beautiful Fenholloway River
by James A. Bowden
(Perry, Florida USA)
A Typical Scene on the Fenholloway River
Some kayakers prefer dark waters, canopy growth, palm trees, marsh grass, mud banks, rocks, variety of trees, an occasional gator, birds, spring feeds, high banks, no dwellings, and picturesque environment, while others favor the open waters.
My family and I like the dark waters. We have paddled almost every river and creek from the Wakulla River to the Suwannee River. We paddle for the excitement, to get away from our daily routines, and appreciation of the beauty of nature at its best. Almost every trip offers some type of challenge. These challenges help make our adventures even more gratifying.
Few kayakers have discovered the untouched beauty of the "polluted" Fenholloway (high footlog) River in Taylor County, Florida. Rumors of mutated fish, horrible odors, and polluted water all contribute to the virgin status of the Fenholloway.
Many springs feed into the Fenholloway along with the paper mill, which has discharged into the river for nearly 60 years. The mill has implemented numerous filtering measures to help make the river fishable near the mouth. However, I still would not eat the fish from the river. I did swim there once without any noticeable harm.
Our first trip on the river was a unique experience, because we had not anticipated any forms of life on the banks. Before we loaded our kayaks, we counted 47 gators. They ranged from 12 inches to 8 feet.
We launched from Peterson's Landing and paddled up stream for one mile to Clubhouse Landing. From launch, the river was 60 feet wide and 15 feet deep, while at Clubhouse Landing it was 20 feet wide and 8 feet deep. The last stretch was under a canopy of beautiful trees. Since this was such a scenic trip, we made immediate plans to return.
For our next trip we launched from Clubhouse Landing and briefly paddled upstream, until we arrived at a double run in the river. We chose the Thomas Mill Island Run instead of the Fenholloway Run because some trees had fallen in the river and blocked our passage.
Paddling up the Thomas Mill Run turned out to be a spectacular beauty of nature. Unbelievable natural scenery, canopy trees, old cypress and pines made this a photographer's paradise, which made this our best trip ever. The complete run is two miles, but we reached a point nearly one mile up
the run that we named "Utopia." One could moor here all day and never become bored. At this point we were running out of daylight, so we paddled back to the Landing.
Two weeks later we returned for another Thomas Mill Run. This trip resembled the Creature from the Black Lagoon's domain. When reaching "Utopia," many rocks and small rapids were exposed, so we decided to head back to the Landing. While paddling back, our first challenge appeared. We had not even considered the tidal effect on the river because our first run was so smooth. The low tide had exposed five giant fallen trees in the river bed. To continue meant we had to get out of our kayaks, lift and push them over the logs, with hardly any bottom to stand on, and then get back in our kayaks. This process was repeated five times. Now we were beginning to worry. The sun had set, and we were still a half mile from the Landing. One does not need to be stranded in the Fenholloway River, especially in kayaks, at night time. You get the picture!
We did make it back safely, but learned a valuable lesson. When paddling the Fenholloway, plan your launch on the early side of the incoming tide.
The Fenholloway River was legally designated as an industrial use river in 1947 to help attract industry to the region. In 1954 the Foley Lumber Mill sold its possessions to Procter and Gamble which built a mill called Buckeye Cellulose Corp. This mill produced cellulose which was made from slash pine trees. At one time the river was a fisherman's paradise. A published song was even written by Norman Hendry about the river. After the plant began dumping its discharge in the river, its banks quickly became a "ghost town." Therefore, the river basin remained basically untouched by human habitat since 1954. This was even before scuba divers started excavating river bottoms for ancient artifacts.
As an adventurer, one can only imagine a place untouched and unexplored for nearly 60 years. As with most Florida coastal lands in the pan handle, logging companies, at the turn of the century, cut out most of their massive cypress trees. Even considering this, the Fenholloway River still remains one of the few, if not the only "virgin" river left in the country.