POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

St. Johns River eco-tour starts closer to Orlando

Riverkeeper Eco-Heritage Boat Trip along the St. Johns River

Passengers on the Riverkeeper Eco-Heritage Boat Trip are promised an up-close look at nature on the St. Johns River. (ST. JOHNS RIVERKEEPER / February 7, 2010)

Since 2003, the nonprofit St. Johns Riverkeeper organization has hosted roughly two dozen multi-day excursions along the unspoiled river between Jacksonville and Palatka.

That has always required a formidable commute for Orlando-area residents, but that's about to change. On April 10, the next Riverkeeper Eco-Heritage Boat Trip departs from the Lake Monroe Marina in Sanford for a two-day journey that concludes in Palatka.

"We've traditionally been more active in Northeast Florida, where our staff is based," says Jimmy Orth, executive director of the St. Johns Riverkeeper. The grassroots organization is dedicated to advocacy for the river and its watershed, and to being a sounding board about issues that affect it.

"This is the first trip geared toward Central Florida residents," Orth says. "We've heard people for years say, 'We wish you'd make these easier for us.' So we're hoping we'll get a good turnout."

To encourage that interest, Riverkeeper will offer a slide-show preview of the trip on Feb. 18 at DeLand House. Meantime, here's a breakdown of the schedule:

•On April 10, the chartered pontoon boat (holding about 55 passengers) will depart at 8 a.m. from the Lake Monroe Marina. First-day activities include a stop at Blue Spring State Park, catered lunch at Hontoon Island State Park in DeLand and historical presentations by "Mr. DeLand" Bill Dreggors and River of Lakes author Bill Belleville. Passengers will spend the night at the rustic Blair's Jungle Den in Astor.

•On April 11, continue along the river to Crystal Cove Marina in Palatka. Along the way, stories of the river will be presented by actors portraying naturalist William Bartram and 19th-century author Constance Woolson. In Palatka, passengers board a chartered bus for a return to Sanford.

All expenses, with the exception of two meals, are included in the $325 ticket. (Registration information is available at riverkeeper.org.) Profits go toward funding the organization's work, but Orth emphasizes that the tour isn't modeled after a commercial operation.

"We're doing this with different motives in mind," he says. "Obviously, we raise some money from the trip, but it's also an educational tool for us. We want people to experience and learn about the river."

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