November 24, 2014

Paddling Pinellas: Kayaks Provide Affordable Entertainment, Fitness

If rising gas prices and the still-tired economy have you feeling stir crazy with no cash, consider the affordable, nature-based eco excursions a simple kayak can give you right here in Pinellas County.

Blueways – the boat-based equivalent to hiking trails – are a great way to spot wildlife, enjoy the county parks, and get a bit of exercise while youíre at it. This is the nature coast, after all. However, there are a few things to consider before you get started.

Parks and preserves:

One place to try out your skills is the Weedon Island Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg. They have a four-mile, self-guided course suitable for beginners. It has numbered signs, and meanders through a variety of natural habitat settings, including islands and mangrove tunnels. Typical wildlife spottings include great blue herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills, manatees, stingrays and dolphins. Other popular paddling spots include Caladesi Island State Park, Honeymoon Island and Fort De Soto.

Paddling maps:

Pinellas County has paddling trail maps available to download for free. More than 60 separate paddling locations are listed, including Clam Bayou Nature Park, downtown Gulfport and the Blackthorn Memorial. Visit www.pinellascounty.org/plan/blueways to print the maps you need. Place them inside translucent page protectors, and use clear tape across the top slot for the water resistance.

Gear:

In addition to a kayak and paddle, Florida law requires a personal flotation device and marine emergency whistle to be within reach at all times, as well as a 360 degree white light for use after dusk. Other items youíll want to bring include an extra gallon of drinking water per person, sunscreen, insect repellant, first aid kit, brimmed hat, a dry bag and cell phone. An extra paddle is also an excellent idea.

Planning:

Check tide tables and weather reports for small craft advisories before you head out, particularly if you plan on crossing open expanses of water. If youíre going with a group, make sure you have a set meeting location in case you get separated. Take hand-held radios as an affordable source of communication. Remember to let someone know where youíll be and what time you are likely to return. This safety strategy guarantees someone will be looking for you, even if you lose that cell phone and canít call for help yourself.

Activities:

If paddling alone isnít your idea of the perfect afternoon agenda, consider bringing picnic supplies, reading material or even a high-resolution camera to start that professional photography portfolio with some otherwise hard-to-score wildlife money shots. Birders will likely want to bring an identification book and a quality pair of binoculars to make the most of the areaís feathered friend population. Other items of interest to check out, depending on your choice of kayaking route, include the St. Pete Pier, Anclote Key Lighthouse, and Johnís Pass Village.

Weekend fun doesnít have to cost big money. Paddling your way around Pinellas Countyís kayaking trails is a great way to make entertainment affordable.

Tip: Another affordable source of family-friendly entertainment is the annual pass program at the Lowry Park Zoo. You get unlimited access to the zoo and its rides, as well as discounts to special events.