Well, I fiinally did it.¬†
From the first day I drove into Gulfport I knew I wanted to take a Kayak Nature Adventure tour. I'm ashamed to say that it took me two and half years to do it, but now I can say I have done it. And you can bet I will do it again...often.
It was magnificent! Absolutely beautiful! I had no idea what I was missing!
I have been to the Clam Bayou Nature Park often and spent many hours watching the birds and taking photos from the trails and walkways. I have¬†relaxed while taking in¬†the view from the hill that must be the highest point in Gulfport. I actually thought I had been seeing most of Clam Bayou. Well, I was mistaken.
You can only see a tiny piece of Clam Bayou fom the trails.
Kurt Zuelsdorf is the guide who leads the adventurer on a fascinating and educational tour of Clam Bayou. As soon as we arrived at the launching point he began a gentle yet powerful dialog about the bayou; its history, ecology, biology, the tides, weather, plants, animals, fish¬†and birds.¬†
When we entered the water his amazingly keen eye was picking out egrets, herons, hawks, and other wildlife. He knows all the trees and plant life and casually mentions them as we glide slowly past them on our kayaks.
The tour takes one to the edge of the open Boca Ciega Bay where Kurt shares some interesting bits of knowledge about the past, present, and future of the bay. This is where the fresh water of the estuary merges with the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico. At this point we were totally in salt water.
From here the tour heads into Clam Bayou and progresses through the mangroves into¬†several lagoons and waterways towards the fresh water.
As Kurt guides the adventurer into the quiet and beautiful hidden lagoons, he explains how the fresh water mixes with the salt water and describes the various differences in the flora and fauna therein. For instance, the Little Green Herons only nest where there is fresh water. So as we saw their nests, it was a sign we were in fresh water.¬†An old oak tree was tapping it roots right into the creek which is another sign we were now in fresh water.
I have been in Florida for 6 years and this special adventure that is in our own backyard was by far the best nature experience I have enjoyed since¬†coming to this state. In fact, I have driven for several hours on several occassions¬†to try to find some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of Florida's urban expanses. I feel kind of silly now that I know I could have walked for less than fifteen minutes to find exactly what I had been looking for!
Kurt's kayaks are comfortable, easy to learn, and it is a pure joy to paddle alongside an experienced guide who obviously knows Clam Bayou like the back of his hand. He asked me if I was up for an adventure, and I think he already knew I was, so he led us into some tight "tunnels" in the mangroves that reminded me of old movies I saw as¬†a kid of swamp monsters and dark jungles. As we'd pass through I was amazed to see lagoon after lagoon open in what is a labyrinth of channels through the mangroves. All of these¬†secluded wilderness areas¬†were populated with egrets and herons and other wildlife.
All of this right in our own backyard!
I highly recommend this tour to anyone. My nature background is from years of hiking and camping¬†in the high country¬†of Colorado and exploring the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. I had begun to just sadly accept that as long as I was in Florida, a true wilderness experience would be hard to find. I thought maybe one day I would explore the everglades or something if I was lucky. But to my delight, I am already living near a place where one can paddle for five minutes and leave the city behind. It is incredible.¬†If you live in Gulfport, you need to check this out. If you live far away, it would be worth it to come here just for this.
Try it for yourself: Kayak Nature Adventures
Rob Fowler, March 13, 2009