Rangers lead their first kayak tours of the park and its adjacent waters earlier this month, providing visitors with unique insights into area history and ecology.
The waters off De Soto National Memorial have been witness to over two thousand years of history, from Paleo-Indian habitation and Spanish conquistadors to Florida cattle drives and Civil War cannon battles. The water ecosystem gives the visitor the opportunity to understand how people from the past as well as the present use the water as a source of life and renewal.
The program was originally designed to utilize one of the parks untapped resources – water. “Water plays important part in the telling of the story of De Soto’s expedition and the lives of the Southeastern American Indian,” says Jorge Acevedo, the park’s chief of interpretation. “Not to utilize this resource is to only tell half of the story of this history.”
The park set about purchasing kayaks and equipment to outfit park visitors and give them the opportunity to experience kayaking and the outdoors. The rangers responsible for giving guided tours were trained in boating techniques by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and in water rescue and kayak survival. The program is designed to give the visitor a safe and free tour of the parks aquatic resources and expand the opportunities by rangers to accomplish the parks mission.
On March 6th, ranger Sarah Schoenfelder led the park’s first group of kayakers out on the water. The group had an equal mix of first-time and experienced kayakers. Schoenfelder led the group on an hour and a half tour that took them around the point of the park and into the protective cove and back. The tour made several stops as the ranger told stories and facts about the lives of Florida’s Native Americans and the Spanish conquest. Visitors also got a rare opportunity to see a bottlenose dolphin close up as it passed by the group. Feedback from the tour was very positive.
“I feel the tour went very well,” said Schoenfelder. “The kayakers were able to see many of the great resources and historical landscape from a different viewpoint. I feel that they were able to see the whole story of the expedition for the first time.”
De Soto National Memorial will offer kayak programs on Saturdays throughout the year starting at 9:30 a.m.