Along the coast of the Florida panhandle there are slivers of barrier island that protect the shoreline that create small bays. We spend our winters hanging out at the bays of St. Joseph and Apalachicola. Paddling in the bays is fun, but not the only attraction. There are many interesting places to paddle just up the road from the bays.
North of St. Joseph Bay is the town of Wewahitchka. Thankfully the natives have shortened this mouthful to Wewa. The area surrounding Wewa is famous for two things; Tupelo honey and the Dead Lakes. The Tupelo honey Van Morrison sang about comes from the flowers of the Tupelo tree which has grown prolifically in the area. Wewa has one of Florida’s largest beekeeping operations. For over 100 years beekeepers have harvested Tupelo Honey from the Apalachicola River Basin. True Tupelo honey is very rare indeed, and even more rare now that both the tree and the bees that gather it’s pollen are threatened by loss of habitat and pollution. A small jar of the stuff can cost more than $30.00, it is that precious. The Dead Lakes aren’t really lakes nor are they dead. Legend has it that the area was called Dead Lakes because of the many cypress stumps that dot the water. The couple in the neighboring campsite told us they’d spent a couple hours wandering lost in the Dead Lakes until they were rescued by some fishermen. They said it was a great paddle, and after checking out the area which is actually a series of rivers, coves and inlets we decided it would be best to have a guided tour as we didn’t want to add getting lost in a massive bayou to our list of adventures.
We signed up with Matthew Godwin, owner of Off the Map Expeditions. Matt is a Wewa native who has spent his life hunting and fishing the area. His extensive knowledge of the plants and animals on the water was impressive. We paddled with a German couple, who swaddled themselves head to toe in sun and bug repellent. The man in particular wore a full face mask with sunglasses which gave him a spooky appearance. He matched the surroundings of the Dead Lakes. It was early spring and most of the trees had not yet leafed out, which made the area look like a ghost forest. The Dead Lakes once were heavily logged for valuable cypress trees. Remnants of girdled stumps dot the edges of the lake. The area is very popular with fishers of both the homo sapiens and avian type. Ospreys were busy building their nests and eagles flew overhead. As it was mid-February when we were there most other critters were still hanging out in warmer places.
We were glad to have Matt with us. There are enough twists, turns and current changes that make it challenging to keep your bearings. The area is such that there is no obvious river bank; the deep water slowly transitions into an endless looking swamp. We never would have recognized a girdled stump as an old logging technique. Matt also pointed out the dormant Tupelo trees hanging over the bank, waiting for warmer days to bloom. He even explained how to hunt alligators, so I guess I could add that to my skill bank if I was ever inclined to hunt one down–which I doubt! It was a lovely day for a paddle, but if you’re interested in seeing the trees in bloom, you might wait until April to visit the Dead Lakes. I liked being able to see into the swamps as it gave me a sense of the vastness of the area. All in all, a nice flatware paddle. Check out the photos below.
If you’re interested in learning the history of the area, here is a link to an excellent blog about the Dead Lakes: The Florida Memory Blog