On The River: Raising a Ruckus for the St. Johns

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Every Saturday under the shade of the Fuller Warren Bridge, the Riverside Arts Market brings thousands of people to our downtown waterfront for local produce, fresh food, artisan crafts, live music and entertainment. While the St. Johns River is a beautiful backdrop for all of these exciting weekend activities, the river itself is seldom used. The 200 ft. boat dock may get one or two visitors. The Water Taxi doesn’t stop here. Kayakers or swimmers aren’t usually seen passing by the waterfront amphitheater. Fishing isn’t allowed.

The river isn’t as healthy as it could be. Algae blooms are so common now that most people know to stay away from the river when it is showing toxic signs of illness via green blobs or masses. Advocates like St. Johns Riverkeeper have been asking the City to adequately fund the removal of thousands of failing septic tanks leaking into our waterways for years. In the last decade, Jacksonville has failed to remove any of the signs along creeks and tributaries to the St. Johns River saying “Warning: Bacteria levels in this stream exceed state standards. Water contact may cause an increased risk of illness.” Cleaning up the St. Johns hasn’t been the primary focus of any of the mayoral administrations since the 1970’s when Mayor Hans Tanzler stopped raw sewage from being dumped in the river.

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RAM Director Krysten Bennet has the 411 on all things River Ruckus THIS SATURDAY, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Check her out her chat with Kumasi Aaron on WJXT4 The Local Station’s Morning Show. #raiseariverruckus

River Ruckus is a festival that looks to bring people to the river to have fun, but also to ask questions. Is our river safe for recreation like fishing, swimming, kayaking or crabbing from the end of a dock? What should our city be doing to restore health to the river, and what activities can prevent more harm? All of the activities at River Ruckus are aimed at showcasing the St. Johns River as an incredible asset to our city for so many reasons. Here are some of the activities that you can look forward to:

Marine Science Education boat tours from students and leaders at Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute on the research vessel Larkin.

  • Standup Paddleboard Yoga which helps with breathing and balance, as well as beginner SUP lessons on land and in the water with local retailer, All Wet Sports.
  • Inshore Fishing 101 with local kayak charter fisherman, Rory Gregg of Chicopit Bay, to learn where to fish, what to catch and how to catch it in Jacksonville.
  • Celebrity Jump is a way to show people jumping into the St. Johns River for a cause. It is also really fun. Find out which local celebrities will be jumping this year at River Ruckus!
  • Kayak flotilla with Black Creek Outfitters for those of you who always wanted to know what kayaking downtown is really like.
  • Dragonboat races and swimmers completing an open water 10k in the heart of downtown with JumpingFish and the Jacksonville Dragonboat Festival.
  • Free boat tours all day for those of you thinking about recreational boat ownership, or membership with a boat club like Freedom Boat Club based in Julington Creek and St. Augustine.


Kayakers arrive at the RAM Dock as part of the kayak flotilla, River Ruckus
Kayakers arrive at the RAM Dock as part of the kayak flotilla

All of this as well as kids’ crafts, live music and all of the incredible local farmers and artisans that Northeast Florida has to offer at the Riverside Arts Market. River Ruckus won’t change the health of our river in itself. Bringing people to the river will force us all to acknowledge what we have and what we need to do to protect the cultural current of our city, the St. Johns River.

INFO: www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/events/river-ruckus

About Shannon Blankinship

Shannon Blankinship is the Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.