This year’s Frolic offered a number of recreational and educational opportunities. We kicked-off with a guided kayak tour following the shoreline of the St. Johns along route of John and William Bartram’s hike from Johnson’s Spring to Welaka Spring on January 27, 1765.
We began at the Acosta Creek Marina just south of Welaka. After unloading our gear, I gave a historical overview of the Bartram’s mission to find the headwaters of the St. Johns River.
Following the introduction, we hit the water and paddled upstream towards Welaka Spring. Though the weather was breezy, the temperature was perfect and we were sheltered from the wind by paddling close to the east shoreline below the bluffs along the route. We were delighted when we arrived at Welaka Spring where we discovered that the typically dark water was especially clear. Although the boil is always visible, the dark waters of the River usually obscure the Spring vent and surrounding bottom. However, on this day, we found the water over and around the spring clear and transparent, offering a nice view of the bottom and down into the Spring vent.
After sharing a little more about the Bartram’s visit to the site, we headed back north to the second of the three springs we were scheduled to visit during the tour. Nashua Spring is not visible from the River and is on private property so the group was only able to see the Bartram Trail Marker displayed near the confluence of the spring run with the River.
From Nashua Spring, it’s is only a short paddle downstream to Satsuma Spring. The River stage was a little high so the small beach typically visible at the Spring run was flooded so we had to exit our kayaks in the shallows, wade ashore and climb the bank up to the grassy landing.
We were greeted by Peri Taylor, the owner of the property surrounding the Spring, who led the group along the path towards the Spring. Peri has strategically placed a variety of sculptures along the path which makes for delightful and somewhat whimsical hike and makes one search left and right so as not to miss any along the way. After crossing a small foot bridge across the flow of seepage springs above the main boil, the group collected around the clear little spring and enjoyed a “Bartram Moment”.
There are few places along the Bartram Trail where visitors can sit peacefully and read John Bartram’s Journal and journey back in time to a wild and natural Florida. This unique site appears very much as it did in 1765 when John Bartram so vividly described the location and characteristics of the Spring.
Following the historical discussion, some of the more adventurous paddlers waded out into the spring for a refreshing dip and to take selfies to memorialize their visit to this magical place. We then hiked back to the landing and returned to our kayaks and after a short paddle were back at Acosta Creek Marina.
During the three-hour tour, we visited three Bartram Trail Sites and covered a little over three and a half miles, mostly on the water.
Paddling tours are one of the most popular events at the Bartram Frolic on the Palatka Riverfront each Spring.