Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Flooded Trails

Today I read a report from the National Forests in Florida that the Florida Trail is "experiencing flooding" along the Suwannee and Aucilla Rivers. As wet as the winter has been, this isn't exactly unexpected. It's also not that unusual. M. J. Eberhart had to roadwalk around this portion of the Florida Trail during his 1998 hike from Key West to Quebec (see Ten Million Steps: Nimblewill Nomad's Epic 10-Month Trek from the Florida Keys to Quebec (Eberhart, 2000)). Hiking the Ellaville Loop takes you on a stretch of the Florida Trail along the Suwannee; the forest around you almost screams that it has been subject to flooding. Even when the river is low in its banks, channels through the woods remind you that the land you are walking on has been drowned before and will drown again.

So for a few weeks it would be a good idea to postpone any hikes on the Ellaville Loop, the Big Oak Trail, or the Aucilla Sinks Trail. Flooding isn't a problem I've seen mentioned in any Appalachian Trail guidebook for Georgia. It doesn't seem a likely problem, either. In Georgia, the Appalachian Trail goes from a peak to a gap, and then on to the next peak, and then to another gap. The peaks aren't going to be underwater, and if the gaps are flooded, then the world has a lot more to worry about than poor hiking conditions. Flooding may be a problem in the valleys, but the trail doesn't go there.

In Florida the situation is different. Instead of the wild lands being on inhospitable mountain peaks and slopes, the wild lands are in swamps, bays, and river flood plains. Down here in the flatlands, many of our trails spend some time underwater. Last year, I canceled a trip to explore the Flint River Greenway in Albany, Georgia when I learned that the Flint River was at flood stage. Instead we drove over to the Four Freedoms Trail in Madison, Florida. We had to turn around half a mile short of the north end, though, because the Withlacoochee River was also at flood stage and flowing across the trail. Our plan had been to bicycle to the river, but the river had been obliging and met us part way. Florida's champion of wet trails, though, has to be the section of Florida Trail through the Bradwell Bay Wilderness in the Apalachicola National Forest. The question there is never whether or not the trail is under water, but how deep.

Having been disappointed by finding trails unexpectedly drowned, I appreciate the notice being sent out by the Forest Service and the Florida Trail Association. It would also be nice to know what river gauge reading mean for nearby trails. You know, something like, "When the gauge at River Bend reads 29.0 feet the river will completely cover the Coon Bottom Trail." I'm going to have to learn a lot more about what river gauge reading mean though before I can put that information in my own trail reports.


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