published Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Mangrove trail


by Dan Cook
  • photo
    Contributed Photo Herman Welch in front of a canoe in Florida

Chattanoogan Herman Welch enjoys visiting a particular part of “the natural Florida” in pursuit of his varied outdoor interests.

He sometimes plays golf while staying at Marco Island. He is on the tennis court six days a week.

And he’s canoed in Collier Seminole State Park about 17 times in the 25 years of an annual family retreat to Marco.

Interesting plants, birds and other wildlife help provide relaxing scenery while he’s paddling Collier Seminole, said Welch, a former University of Chattanooga basketball player and Chattanooga Quarterback Club president.

The 7,271-acre park has a 13.6-mile canoe trail along the winding Black Water River. Welch travels about seven miles to Mud Flat Bay and then paddles back.

“It takes about five hours,” the telephone company retiree said.

Usually a family member or friend flies down to go canoeing with him.

“We’ve seen some alligators but lots of herons and egrets — just about any type of bird you can imagine,” Welch said.

According to park information, it covers one of the original stands of royal palm trees in Florida. It overlaps the northern edge of the big mangrove swamp of southwest Florida and the southern portion of the Big Cypress Swamp.

The scenery is similar to that in the nearby Florida Everglades.

The state park was created to protect the palm trees and to serve as a memorial to the Seminole Indians and U.S. Army who battled there.

Mud Flat Bay especially intrigues Welch.

“Depending on the tide, sometimes the water is only about ankle deep,” Welch said, noting that water along the trail rarely gets deeper than five feet.

Although the tide on that Gulf of Mexico portion is not especially strong, it’s best to paddle out with the tide and return with it, he said.

Rental aluminum canoes are available at the ranger station for about $25 a day, with lifejackets included.

“They’re really nice canoes,” Welch said. “The rangers will give you a map and show you how to get to Mud Flat Bay. We always take a cooler in the canoe for lunch.”

Temperatures in the section he visits are generally mild during winter, Welch pointed out.

“Last winter was one of the coolest they’ve had,” he added. “Normally lows are in the 60s with the highs in the 80s.”

Welch enjoys not only the scenery but other boaters’ reaction to it.

“We always pass people coming and going,” he said. “They have an excursion boat. We’ll yell to them and say that we’ll dive for dollars. It’s just a neat trip.”

Individual boating is allowed in the area, but boaters are required to file float plans with the ranger station. There’s special caution about manatees that have gotten into the area.

Guided canoe trips also are available, including moonlight versions. Park personnel even will set up night hikes, fishing and a campfire circle.

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