a treasure map to north florida waters

by anna rabhan
Truly, the St. Johns River is the heart of Jacksonville and the envy of all who long for a thriving metropolis with all the amenities for easy access to the river, creeks, Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. We live in a corner of paradise where you can easily enjoy dinner, entertainment and sports – all via boat.
“Want to enjoy the outdoors, but don’t know how to get started? Love the St. Johns River, but don’t know where to go?” The first two lines on page 18 of Get Your Feet Wet: Your Guide to Exploring and Experiencing the St. Johns River reflect the thoughts of many Northeast Florida residents. Tracey Manno, St. Johns Riverkeeper Education Director, says, “We believe this guidebook will help connect the community to its river and inspire more people to fight for its protection.” Indeed, our River City has long needed a guidebook for enjoying its river. Thanks to the Riverkeeper staff, we have one!
The first thing you notice about Get Your Feet Wet is how well-planned and designed the book is. From the coated card stock and metal binder format to the seven tabbed sections to the simple maps and easy-to-understand park activity icons, this guidebook was clearly designed with all the practical considerations of being outdoors in mind.
Get Your Feet Wet covers the St. Johns and its watershed area from Palatka to the Atlantic Ocean. In the introduction, the Riverkeeper staff mention the guidebook and www.mystjohnsriver.com and say, “…these resources … are simply intended to help you ‘get your feet wet’ and get started exploring your St. Johns River.” The content in the seven sections is so carefully chosen and presented, though, that you can comfortably dive right in!
The “Our River” section describes some of the features that make the St. Johns so special and important to our community. It also offers a “Brief History” of the river. “What is St. Johns Riverkeeper?” introduces the reader to the organization that advocates for the river.
“Let’s Get Ready” offers practical advice so the user can enjoy the river while respecting it and minimizing safety risks. It includes a helpful suggested packing checklist and common-sense advice for dealing with medical issues and inclement weather. The authors thought of everything, which makes this guide easy to adapt to one’s own needs and interests. Their experience is invaluable.
The third section, “Places to Explore,” contains information about many of the river’s watershed-area parks. Park location and contact information are first, then a description of the park. This is a great reference for features and facilities outlined with easy-to-understand icons, species to look out for, helpful insider tips and a list of suggested activities. Another fantastic attribute of this section is the information about coming amenities and attractions. For example, Sister’s Creek Marina is “the future site of the National Park Service’s Kingsley, Sister’s Creek, and Fort Caroline boat tour.”
For what to do once you get out there, look no further than the “Things to Do” section. It suggests activities that require some equipment and planning, such as kayaking, and ones that require only your attention, such as identifying animal tracks. For all activities, the guide provides advice and resources for getting started or for more information. The river mascot, Kirby Kingfisher, appears in this section with questions and answers about river facts for some great discussion or solo reflection.
The “River Wildlife” section describes the most common animals and plants seen near the St. Johns and includes sketches of animal tracks.
Readers can find a list of useful keywords as well as books, websites and links for additional information in the “River Resources” section. Finally, the “River Journal” section offers blank pages for recording whatever you wish during your adventures. Kirby Kingfisher provides several thought-provoking writing prompts here.
Get Your Feet Wet is a fantastic offering to northeast Florida from the Riverkeeper. Purchase it at www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/river_guidebook.asp for $15 for Riverkeeper members (join while you’re visiting the website) or $20 for nonmembers, shipping included. Now get out there and get to know your river!