The mangroves that we saw at power-boat speed in the Ten Thousand Islands looked like identical, homogeneous, round, dark green clumps – not very interesting to look at and not much to explore. Paddling among the mangroves yielded a different picture! It turns out that the mangroves themselves are fascinating plants, and our time on the water certainly felt like an adventure into the wilderness – glad we had guides to help us along!
The first morning of our trip, we got up early and met our Shurr Adventures guide in a crossroads parking lot. The East River was just a few miles down the road, and the kayaks were soon unloaded! Our guide was a bit apprehensive to find out he’d be leading a couple of naturalist-types, but he seemed pleasantly surprised to learn that we already felt comfortable in the boats. He got us out on the slow-moving river (in the dry season, the current wasn’t very apparent) and immediately set out to find us some alligators! It was definitely a new experience to be that close, nearly at water level, with those powerful creatures, and we got some tips on how to avoid irritating them, along with a few facts about their biology. On our half-day trip we were able to see a few different ecosystems in that general area, from the shallow mangroves to a marl flat, to the pine savannas in the distance. This was a great introduction to the systems that we would be exploring for the next week!
We got out in boats again towards the end of our trip, joining a seasonal ranger from Everglades National Park in a group paddle at Nine Mile Pond. If you are able to, I strongly recommend getting in on one of these trips, as they provide all of the necessary gear and it is entirely free of charge (advance sign-up is required). By this point in our trip, we did not learn much that was new to us, nor did we see anything we hadn’t seen before, but it was certainly a pleasant way to spend the morning. Nine Mile Pond is also a different ecosystem from the East River – it is not an estuary but entirely fresh water, and mangroves don’t naturally occur there; instead they were blown inland in a strong hurricane a couple of decades ago and have thrived since then. The trail therefore also passes through sawgrass prairies, one of the main freshwater ecosystems of the park. The five-mile Canoe Trail (we did half of it) is well-marked with PVC posts, and is therefore definitely very do-able on your own, even if you are not an experienced paddler (but again, the free Park Service program is a great deal if you don’t already have a boat!).