Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Florida: Crystal River - Kings Bay

 Kings Bay is hardly a pristine wilderness.  The shoreline has been reshaped and extended to create access canals.  About half the shoreline is cement wall.  And if every available lot doesn't have a house or hotel on it, it probably will soon.
A more developed shore
   Kings Bay is rarely empty: motor boats, kayaks, paddle boards and boat-loads of snorkelers fill the bay.   Their quest:  the  West Indian Manatee.  In cold weather Manatees need warm water, such as is provided by springs in King's Bay.  Thirty springs, pump almost 1000 cubic feet per second of 72 degree water into the bay.
   Not just manatees are found in the area.  There are fish, birds and much more.  On an evening visit in 2010,  we watched a dolphin corralling mullet into a dead end canal by Hunter Springs Park.  In 2009, while paddling Buzzard Island we happened on a raccoon digging for shellfish.  But mostly people come for the manatees.

   Despite all the love people have for manatees, they need privacy and protection.  Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge owns most of the islands in the bay, and significant land along Crystal River (connecting King's Bay to the Gulf.)  Crystal River State Park also owns large amounts of land in the area.    The Refuge marks several springs and stretches of water for manatee access only. 
An anhinga uses a sailboat as a resting perch
I like Kings Bay because of its size and scale.  It's about ten miles around the bay, but broken up with islands and inlets.  It's a great area for puttering.  There are at least two parks you can stop at and at least one ice cream stand.

We started out our paddle at Kayaks and Beyond's rental location and store.  They have a variety of kayaks - our favorites are the Delta 14s.  These are ruddered boats, but have firm foot pegs. They're a nice solid boat for the area.
Mark creating another GP convert at the Kayaks and Beyond launch
 Kayak and Beyond is the closest launch to  Three Sister's Spring.  Last time we visited King's Bay  many people were working to preserve Three Sisters Spring.  Good news - it's now owned by the National Wildlife Refuge.  The rules for visiting the Springs are different now: no disposable items can be brought in and kayaks may enter, but you can not get out of your kayak while visiting the springs (although you may swim in from the outside.)
Heading into Three Sisters
I love visiting the Springs because it is a rare undeveloped area,  The water coming from the springs is so clear, it's hard to believe the springs are deep enough to hold a tree trunk.  But they do, without the trunk breaking the surface  We paddled in and looked about and decided against swimming.  These springs are supposed to be a big manatee area, but we didn't see any.  What we did see was snorkelers already exploring the area.

From there is was about the bay.  None of the islands may be landed on EVER, and between November and March certain areas near the islands are marked as off limits.  In lieu of an island there is a manatee observation boat to visit.    Because of recent warm weather, fewer manatees were in the bay than had been there a few weeks earlier.  But we still spotted several.
Gracefully climbing on to the viewing platform
Lots of birds:  eagles, egrets, wood storks, brown pelicans, anhingas, buzzards, coots, ibis and pelicans.
Wood Storks
 This osprey is bathing itself.  We also saw an osprey do this in Placida.  It must be osprey bathing month

For lunch we stopped at Hunter's Spring Park; where there are picnic tables and restrooms.  That's where we spotted this:

At first I took it to just be a buoy showing the current.  Kings Bay has about an 18 inch tidal range, but certain areas get more current from nearby springs.    But no, it was a tagged manatee.  We were able to capture these  shots above and below water while standing on the stairs in Hunter Springs Park. 

Kings Bay has its struggles.  As you might suspect, heavy population and usage is damaging water quality.  But it is still amazing and a wonderful place to explore by kayak.
Boats lined up at Three Sisters entrance

Hunter Springs Park is on NE 1st Avenue, Crystal Springs.
Ibis at Hunter Springs Park
This last photo, is of two manatees swimming away from Three Sisters Spring.  It was taken one evening from the bridge on  SE Kings Bay Road.  Just after the bridge is a pullout for two or three cars. 

Resources and References:
Kayak Rentals:  Kayaks and BeyondAardvark's Florida Kayak Tours (spoiler alert - we will use them for a custom tour in a post or two)  
This pamphlet has a chart of Kings Bay and shows off limits areas http://library.fws.gov/refuges/crystalriver02.pdf
Boat Launches King's Bay, Crystal River http://www.crystalriverfl.org/index.asp?Type=B_LIST&SEC={F3937449-7ED3-4687-8F25-E692B2D9309E}
Area Parks: http://www.crystalriverfl.org/index.asp?Type=B_LIST&SEC={607CC37E-4964-4967-8E36-1FC827923F13}
Kings River Fact Sheet http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/documents/plans/crystalriver_kingsbay-factsheet.pdf
  Save the Three Sisters Spring http://www.savethemanatee.org/three_sisters/savethreesisters.html
  Struggles to keep King's Bay clear  http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/water/drive-to-keep-kings-bay-from-being-smothered-by-toxic-algae-treats-symptom/1266444
We also enjoy the Eco Walk at the Crystal River State Park Preserve.  We've spotted deer, feral pigs, armadillo and more while on their trails.  http://www.crystalriverstateparks.org/Trails/Ecowalk.pdf
This picture is from last time, this time we paddled further, but much the same route

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