Melissa Nelson Gabriel, Pensacola News Journal Published 6:00 a.m. CT March 13, 2019
More than 60 kayakers from around the country are making their way down the Perdido River this week from the Florida-Alabama line to the Gulf of Mexico.
Along the way, the group from Paddle Florida is highlighting work by various organizations and government agencies to protect the critical watershed for generations to come.
The Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit, is working with Florida and Alabama to develop a paddling trail on the river. The organization plans to use about $1 million in restitution money from the massive 2010 BP oil spill to place shelters and launches every six to 10 miles along the river.
“Our rivers are the life blood of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Darryl Boudreau, spokesman for The Nature Conservancy Florida and an organizer of the kayaking trip.
While so much of the region’s tourism-driven economy is focused on the Gulf and its beaches, people tend to overlook the natural beauty of the river systems in the northern part of the county, Boudreau said.
“There is so much uniqueness starting from the state line and going through all the different habitats to the Gulf. We live in such a unique and rare gem. You have as much beauty and opportunity on the north end with our watersheds as you do on the south end with the Gulf,” he said.
The Paddle Florida trip started at the Otto Hill recreation area near Cantonment on Sunday and will end Friday with a gathering at the iconic Flora-Bama Lounge on Perdido Key.
Kayakers spent their nights in tents in on the river’s edge and their days paddling down long stretches of the Perdido.
From left, Paul Gelderblom, of Charlevoix, Michigan, Doug Alderson, of Tallahassee, and Guerry Bradley, of St. Augustine, kayak on the Perdido River near the Wilson Robertson Boat Ramp in Pensacola on Monday. (Photo: Gregg Pachkowskiemail@example.com)
Paul Gelderblom, of Charlevoix, Michigan, and Guerry Bradley, of St. Augustine, were in good spirits late Monday afternoon after paddling about 17 miles from Otto Hill to the Wilson Robertson Boat ramp off Mobile Highway.
The two men said they encountered a few logjams but the trip was mostly trouble-free.
Fellow paddler Diane Rickman-Buckalew also had a good day on the water. Rickman-Buckalew is from Pensacola and is very familiar with the Perdido River, but didn’t want to miss out on Paddle Florida’s first venture down the local waterway.
“I travel different sections of the Perdido all the time but to start at the top and to travel all the way down to the pass is a unique experience,” she said.
Melissa Nelson Gabriel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-426-1431.
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