A Drawdown Adventure
A number of Friends’ groups joined Captain Karen Chadwick on board her pontoon boat recently to see up close the results of the drawdown of the Ocklawaha. Every 3 to 4 years the water at the Rodman Dam is lowered by some 8 feet below its 18-foot norm revealing the destruction caused by the dam’s creation and subsequent flooding of miles of river and covering around 20 natural springs. We witnessed first-hand parts of the natural and historical land, giving us a glimpse of the river’s past like its steamboat landings and once thriving communities and homesteads.
We took off from the Eureka West boat launch and rode the river north, past an uncompleted dam, and a never-used spillway. At first glance, the meandering river surrounded by cypress and blooming air plants was classic Central Florida landscape. But, as we journeyed north, the effects of the dam became clear. Along miles of river banks, the cypress bore water marks indicating the level of water they normally sit in. Karen pointed out the seedlings doomed to fail when the drawdown is reversed by early March. And then the waters will again rise over the banks drowning and depleting the upland forest of its growth and of animal habitat. The river is not as wide as it might be due to the large amount of water hyacinth, dollarweed, and water lettuce. But wildlife is abundant, herons, egrets, limpkins, kingfishers, and even a wood stork or two. Lots of gators were spotted on the banks.
How lucky we were to venture down the tree-lined corridor and then snorkel Cannon Springs with its clear blue color and numerous small fish. Then further downstream we stopped to hike out to Tobacco Patch Landing Springs and explored the ruins of the house built by Dr. Strange. Both areas will soon be hidden by high water and muck.
Our final destination was Paynes Landing with its broader and more expansive vista. Some parts of the shore had healthy trees that had survived the flooding, while other patches revealed the desolation of a dying landscape. Upon our return to the Eureka boat launch, we reflected on the enormity of this man-made project to thwart the natural course of the Ocklawaha River. We certainly appreciated the glimpse of the past and a future that could be – without the Rodman Dam.