A boat tour of the Ocklawaha River last Sunday was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Karen Chadwick, NorthStarCharters.net, guided a group that included Mary Alford and Jennifer Langford, engineer and architect with The Sustainable Design Group, my daughter, Melanie Sussman, along with myself.

The Ocklawaha draws down every four or five years for a few weeks to remove debris created by the dam that was built when the Cross Florida Barge Canal was initiated in 1969. The dam covers twenty springs, drowns 9,200 acres. It slows the river flow from 3.6 days to reach the St Johns River to 23.4 days, allowing algae and other aquatic weeds to proliferate. Melanie and I sat inside a dying giant bald cypress along with another 9,200 acres of cypress forest drowned when the dam floods the river.

The most heartbreaking scenery was Cypress Bluff, where the flooded cypress is near death after 45 years of being flooded.  Sadly, it is unable to get its ‘knees’ up above the water to breathe. Stress marks were prevalent on the trunks of the giant bald cypress still out of the water during the last stages of the draw down. I was lucky enough to swim in Cannon Spring that will soon be covered up again.

We shot this short video to illustrate what we saw:

The tiny cypress saplings growing around the base of the giant tree were clear signs that the forest could come back. There is an active movement to remove the dam. If you would like to learn more, visit the Florida Defenders of the Environment, fladefenders.org.  You can join in the effort at the Earth Day Luncheon on April 22nd at the Historic Thomas Center in downtown Gainesville, Florida. Peggy MacDonald might just sign your copy of “Marjorie Harris Carr… Defender of Florida’s Environment.”

You can see a great documentary on the Ocklawaha River called ‘River Be Dammed!” at riverbedammed.org.

Sinker Cypress be Dammed! 3

Me relaxing in Cannon Spring. This area will soon be covered up again when the draw down is over.

My daughter Melanie and I sharing a moment together inside a giant cypress tree.