The Ocklawaha River Area
Folks, I've been swimming these waters my whole life. In that time, I've met lots o' people (and more than a few furry and feathered friends) who get around the area. I don't spend much time away from the water (as you can imagine) so when the fine folks at Nelson's Outdoor Resort asked me to put together a page about life in and around the Ocklawaha (or Oklawaha, either is correct) River, I got in contact with my buddies to help me out (I don't spend much time away from the water).
The Ocklawaha River
Ocklawaha River Location
The Ocklawaha River, the largest tributary of the St. Johns River is one the primary rivers in the state of Florida. Originating from the waters of the Green Swamp, Lake Griffin, Lake Eustis, Lake Harris, Lake Dora and Lake Apopka, the Ocklawaha River is one of the few of the continent's major rivers to flow northward. It travels for about 80 miles along the western and northern boundary of the Ocala National Forest before merging with the St. Johns River. The river itself is contained within Marion County while its drainage basin strays into Alachua County, Putnam County and Orange County
Ocklawaha River Features
The Ocklawaha is a "mature river" - marked by its mile-wide floodplain, winding turns formed by faults and joints in the underlying rock. With 54 inches of annual rainfall, the permeable limestone bottom and little topographic change contributes to the high degree of swamplands, lakes, ponds and springs that feed from and to the river.
Ocklawaha River Floodplain Forest
The forested land around the Ocklawaha River is among the most complex and diverse in all of Florida. Drier grounds not regularly flooded are marked by swamp redbay (.pdf), water oak, loblolly bay, Florida elm, sweetgum and cabbage palm (.pdf) (the state tree). In flood-prone regions, this hammock gives way to a mixture of tupelo, ash, red maple, water hickory and baldcypress. Enormous giant cypress, spared due to their unsuitability as timber, tower over the otherwise low hardwood canopy.
Ocklawaha River PlantsThe Ocklawaha River floodplain has a high-density of otherwise rare, threatened or endangered plants. This is attributed to the old age of the river and the valley's ability to overlap temperate and subtropical plant species.
Ocklawaha River Wildlife
In addition to the many species of fish swimming in the river, the Oklawaha River area abounds with a wide variety of wildlife.
The Oklawaha River area is famous for prime bird watching. Migratory birds pass through and winter in the region, where otherwise uncommon species such as swallow-tailed kites, prothonotary warblers, Cooper's Hawks, and wild turkey are found inland, while anhingas, wood ducks, herons, egrets, ibises, and limpkins are common along the river's edge.
Mammals of the Oklawaha River area include an abundance of herbivores: from the exotic Rhesus and Squirrel Monkeys to the commonplace gray squirrels, Florida mouse, to white-tailed deer. Common carnivores of the area include the river otters, grey fox and bobcats. Black Bears are less common due to diminishing habitat.
Ocklawaha River History
Artifacts have shown that Native Americans lived near the Ak-lowahe (Okli-Waha or Great) River more than 3,000 years ago. The name Ocklawaha, meaning “Dark Water,” was recommended by the State Regent because the river of that name was near the towns of Eustis, Tavares, and Mt. Dora. Ocklawaha is believed to have been an Indian Brave of the Kanipah Tribe. His village was traditionally located near where Silver Springs joins the Ocklawaha River, which winds 275 miles before joining the St. John’s River.
Early European settlers hunted the river's dense swamp forests, fished its pristine waters and used the waterway as a major thoroughfare into central Florida. The 1860s brought the tourism trade to the Ocklawaha River and steamboat "jungle cruises" to Silver Springs were a common sight from 1868 until the 1920s. Former President Ulysses S. Grant joined other prominent travelers in the popular practice of sharing his cruise experience in the February 14, 1889 edition of Harper's Weekly.
In the later 1800s the lumber industry began harvesting mature cypress trees throughout the floodplain, leading to a destabilized river bank and a more difficult navigational route. In 1890, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a four-foot channel waterway that ran from the mouth of the Ocklawaha to Leesburg that was expanded to six feet and extended to Silver Springs in 1907. The Ocklawaha River was spared from the effects of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal of 1942 and today, being unadorned by the waterfront homes, gas stations, marinas and restaurants of other local waters, it mostly retains the pristine natural beauty of its history.
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