Unprecedented rain from an El Nino weather pattern has left Florida with too much water in places where it doesn’t belong.
So if you’re planning to camp, hike, kayak or explore the wilds and wonders of Florida during the best season to be outdoors, you need to double-check that conditions will permit you to enjoy that activity.
As I hiked and biked around the northern rim of Lake Okeechobee last week, I was stunned by how much standing water was in fields, forests, ditches and rivers.
In many places, hiking trails are muddy or underwater. Many rivers are at flood levels. Several springs are “browned out” with river water backed up into what is normally gin-clear water.
What can you do? Call ahead to the park or outfitter to check on conditions.
Shark Valley in Everglades National Park
As a result of historic winter rain storms, the South Florida Water Management District is sending water from Lake Okeechobee through the Shark Valley Slough.
Whereas the waterways along the paved path in Shark Valley normally teem with wildlife in winter, this year the conditions are more like summer. In summer, water is plentiful and wildlife disperses through the Everglades. In a typical winter, water remains only in deeper canals and ponds and thus wildlife is concentrated there.
At Shark Valley, expect to see some wildlife, but not an abundance. Also, the paved bike path through the park is under 2 inches of water in spots, mostly nearly the observation tower mid-way through the 15-mile loop. More about Shark Valley 2016 season.
Florida State Parks
The Florida State Park system has an information line (850) 245-2157 where you can speak with a representative who can answer questions about all Florida State Parks, trails and related topics Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The park system also has a single page that lists park alerts.
Here are some conditions to consider as you plan your weekend outings:
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in Naples warns that you’ll see muddy brown water near the pass. “During heavy rainfall, outflow from the Cocohatchee River Estuary and strong outgoing tides it is not unusual to see the water near the beach stained this brown color and filled with leaves, especially near Wiggins Pass. The father south you move along the beach the clearer the water becomes. At times there will be a distinct line of clear and murky water. As the tide changes, this brown water is usually pushed back into Wiggins Pass and the tidal swamp.”
Lafayette Blue Spring in Mayo, Fanning Springs State Park in Chiefland and Madison Blue Spring in Lee, Troy Springs in Banford and Peacock Springs in Live Oak, all have closed the swimming areas in their springs because brown tannic water from the Suwannee has backed up into the springs.
Myakka River State Park in Myakka is wet and muddy with many trails and some campsites affected. All primitive backcountry campsites are closed due to flooded trails. Call the ranger station at (941) 361-6511 for any questions and up to date conditions.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Gainesville has closed part of the popular LaChua Trail, including the observation tower. Call the ranger station for updates 352-466-3397.
St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park in Fellsmere is flooded with hiking trails and primitive campsites under water.
Fisheating Creek in Palmdale is three or four feet higher than is typical for February. Whereas the river, a natural and wild tributary into Lake Okeechobee, is often too shallow to kayak in winter, this year there is so much water it may be hard to stay on the creek and not get lost in the expanded cypress swamp. Here’s a page that measures the daily water level of Fisheating Creek.
St. John’s River Water Management District
Water managers say water levels are high in the headwaters of the St. Johns River Basin. However, no public lands have been closed due to flooding.
In fact, air-boaters are loving it!
“The airboating community is enjoying the unseasonably high water because it provides greater access to the marshes of the Upper St. Johns River Basin,” said Ed Garland, public communications coordinator for the SJRWMD.
Elsewhere in the state
We have reached out to other agencies for information on flooding and will update this report throughout the day and weekend.
If you know of trails, rivers, creeks and campgrounds that have been impacted by flooding, let us know in comments below.
Do you have photos of flooding in recreation areas or campgrounds? Please send them to [email protected]