Monday, December 17, 2007 I had the pleasure of paddling the Commodore Creek Trail at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge with one of my sisters, a brother, three nephews and a friend. My companions rented their kayaks at Tarpon Bay Explorers, located at the end of Tarpon Bay Road, on Tarpon Bay. It is within the Refuge, east of the Wildlife Drive area I paddled Saturday the 15th. It costs seven dollars to launch your own craft, the highest I have ever paid. I inquired about getting a discount for bringing in 6 renters, and was rebuffed. Some of the fee does go to the Refuge. Here's a link to the Tarpon Bay Exporers website
It was chilly by Florida standards, 52 degrees when we launched about 11:30. Tarpon Bay is a substantial body of water. We paddled west, a short distance to Commodore Creek. An island sits just off the launch area. The first of the group paddled between the mainland and the island, and found the way to shallow. So we all passed on the outside of the island on the way to the marked trail entrance. The trail itself is marked by 17 numbered posts, arrows pointing the way to go through the mangroves on the 2.5 mile trail. Schools of fish flashed under our kayaks in the shallow water. Wading birds like tri and yellow crowned night herons eyed those same fish. We came to a bend and brother Pete, said, "rosette spoonbills" and there were a couple, along with ibises and wood storks. I have personal list of wildlife, that if I see one, its a successful paddle. Spoonbills are on that list. We encountered a few shallow spots, but were able to push through, taking the paddles apart and poleing like cross country skiers. Nephew Evan did get out of his two person yak at one point and walked a bit. We did not check the tides before our trip, this would have been better at high tide. Still, our group of seven almost had the trail to ourselves. We encountered two kayaks as we returned through the shallows. Later, two kayakers, shirt sleeves rolled up, passed us. I heard, "Yeah, we're from Milwaukee", as they admired nephew Arlo's classic ball in glove logo cap. Small world.
We exited the trail, and headed back to the launch area. Nephew Derek was in the lead, well into Tarpon Bay. "DEREK !" I yelled, seeing he was headed past the landing. Pete pointed out Derek was doing the right thing, headed outside the island, while the rest of the group was headed for the shallow area between the island and the mainland-Sanibel Island "mainland" that is. I followed Derek's lead into the deeper water and rounded the island. I saw the others, paddling away from the shallow area, even shallower than it had been earlier, sharp oyster shells rising from the bottom. I paddled out to view the white pelicans in the distance, and wait for the gang to make it in. They all did. Kudos to Derek, who read the water better than his cousins- who being Conchs, know their way around mangrove covered islands. I had a good time on our two our paddle. If any of my companions have anything to add, make a comment. I would be remiss if I did not mention my sister, Monica, and Ismay, Evan's friend. (Let me know if I got the spelling right)