Returning from the River

Timucuan Preserve

By Shannon Blankinship, Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper

People that know the St. Johns River usually only know “their” part of it. Few people know the entire river – because the entire river is really big. The St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida, drains nearly 16% of our state, and changes dramatically as it slowly flows from marshes in Indian River County to the Atlantic Ocean in Duval, a distance of over 300 miles.

Recently, St. Johns Riverkeeper returned from a 13-day expedition along the entire length of the river in order to raise awareness about the issues impacting the St. Johns and to connect and collaborate with people and organizations throughout the watershed. Each of those 13 days was an entirely different experience. We didn’t just spend our time boating along the main stem of the St. Johns. We wanted to experience and better understand the tremendous diversity and expansiveness of this interconnected river system by also visiting the springs, lakes and tributaries that feed into the river and the lands that surround it. For example, the tour team visited Silver Springs. This first magnitude spring flows from the aquifer into the Silver River before converging with the Ocklawaha River, the largest tributary of the St. Johns River.  We then spent 2 full days paddling the Ocklawaha, both above the Rodman Dam and below it through a braided channel that we wouldn’t have been able to navigate without our outfitter from Adventure Outpost.

We also explored the second and third largest tributaries of the St. Johns, the Econlockhatchee and Wekiva River. Both rivers, which you can visit at any time through outfitter Adventures in Florida, are distinctly different from the St. Johns. The “Econ” is a cola-colored meandering river and required rapid paddling and quick reflexes to navigate its fast moving water. White sandy beaches and hiking trails line the shores.  The Wekiva is a blackwater river fed by more than a dozen springs and surrounded by dense green vegetation with pops of color from birds and flowers. It is the most protected river in our state designated as a National Wild and Scenic River and Outstanding Florida Water for its entire length.

The tributaries differ dramatically from the vast lakes of the St. Johns, which are really just wider dilations of the flat river floor. Starting our journey at Blue Cypress Lake meant the tour team was experiencing what seemed to be an entirely different river from the one that many of us pass over via a bridge in Northeast Florida. The marshy banks were surrounded by dwarf cypress trees, each with its own Osprey nest protected by its raucous inhabitants.

When we finally reached the point that the smell of salt filled the air and seagulls had replaced the herons, we knew that we fast approaching the end of the Tour and our final destination at Huguenot Memorial Park. The Save the St. Johns Tour wasn’t just about exploring and seeing new places. It was about understanding the issues impacting our river in a holistic way, connecting with people throughout the water who care about the river as much as we do, and creating a grassroots movement to save the St. Johns. That is a journey that doesn’t end where the river meets the ocean. In fact, we are just getting started.

To learn more about the Save the St. Johns Tour or see daily videos and photos, visit

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.