Tiny pieces of sunlight danced on the surface of the St. Johns River as we pulled away from Reddie Point Preserve and motored slowly south. The morning’s breeze was balmy with a touch of cool. Blue water reflecting blue skies, with an occasional osprey soaring overhead – it was a perfect day to enjoy the river, which was the reason we were there.
“This is an incredible place to be out on the water,” said our guide, St. Johns Riverkeeper Outreach Director Shannon Blankinship as we entered the area where the Trout River enters the St. Johns. Behind us, fishermen cast lines from a long dock jutting out from the green-canopied preserve. Ahead of us we could see the riverfront banks of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. The St. Johns is so wide there – where its northern course makes a sharp turn toward the east – it felt more like being out on a bay.
“Our mission is to get people out on the water, because when you experience the river you appreciate the river,” Blankinship said. A privately funded, nonprofit organization, the St. Johns Riverkeeper works to keep the river and its tributaries healthy and clean. Its year-round monthly day tours, which introduce people to various sections of the First Coast’s river waterways, help make that possible.
“Once you take these cruises and go out on the river, you realize what it is,” said Carol Harrell, who said she has gone on many. “When you just look at a map, it’s just a thin line,” she said, “and you think, ‘what does this have to do with me?’”
The cruises make it real to you, Harrell said. “And take you places you would not have gone on your own.”
Riverkeeper day tours feature various areas of the St. Johns and its waterways, and a variety of destinations. This month’s “Family Day Boat Trip,” November 8, cruises into the Ortega River from the Riverside Arts Market. December’s “Ortega River Holiday Cruise” on December 6 will leave from Friendship Fountain in Jacksonville and cruise through downtown Jacksonville, historic Riverside and Avondale and then enter the Ortega River under Roosevelt Boulevard.
The two- to three-hour Saturday tours take place aboard the city’s new River Taxi. The October trip I took was the first tour aboard the new boat, and we were slated to cruise east to Kingsley Plantation. A problem with one of the engines prevented us from heading in that direction however, so instead we headed south for a view of parklands on the eastern side of the St. Johns and industrial development and the city on the western side.
The Jacksonville skyline was beautiful. So was gliding past sailboats, tugboats, dolphins, the Arlington Marina and the entrance to the Arlington River.
It was a refreshing, relaxing and educational excursion.
I know the river better now.
It’s not just water that I pass over on a bridge.
Or a line on a map.