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Monday, October 17, 2005

Here is a Julie Robberson review of a book on Florida inland paddling

Book Review: A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to Florida, by Johnny Malloy et al., Menasha Ridge Press, 2005, 309 pages, $16.95,

If you have any interest in exploring Florida's creeks and rivers on your own, you want this book. Now that we have that indisputable fact out of the way, we can talk about what you should and should not expect from this book.

As the author acknowledges near the beginning of the book, writing a book about paddling in Florida is like writing a book about hiking in Alaska. There are too many great paddles in Florida to write about them all. The author necessarily limits his coverage to the "high points" and provides bare-bones, bottom-line information. As such, this book probably would not tell a Florida local or an experienced Florida paddler anything such readers do not already know.

The author does a remarkably good job of detailing a lot of fine paddles, though. The book is divided into ten parts, with each part covering a region of Florida. Each part describes and provides a simple map for six to ten paddles. Each paddle description includes a narrative, a river classification, the physical length, an estimate of the time to paddle, the availability of river gauges, water levels, the water gradient, the name of the relevant USGS map(s), and a rating of the scenery (including summaries of riverside development and river traffic).

This one-volume book replaces and updates the two-volume book formerly known as A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Florida. The older title is more informative. In other words, you should be aware that this book does not cover any open-water paddling, just creeks and rivers. So, this book does not cover any of our club's favorite paddles in the Gulf, bays, and backwaters in the panhandle and Big Bend areas of Florida (Cape San Blas, St. Vincent Wildlife Refuge, Cedar Key, etc.) or anywhere else in Florida.

The author provides no GPS coordinates and no sources of free, public information and maps other than a list of Florida paddling clubs at the end of the book. A lot of very good, free maps and guides are available from chambers of commerce, county extension agencies, military installations (particularly Eglin Air Force Base), etc. It annoys me that the author references the existence of various agency-run trail systems (such as the "Apalachicola Wildlife & Environmental Area Paddle and Trail System" and the "Florida Canoe Trail"), with little or no explanation of what these trails are or how to get maps of them from which agencies. The author's decision in this regard could be justified by the fact that such information can change quickly, but then why does he include a list of commercial outfitters, whose information changes just as quickly?

The book is impressively current. It even mentions the impact of Hurricane Ivan on some waterways. So get it while it's hot; it's worth the $16.95 if you plan to explore Florida's inland waters.

(reviewed by Julie Robberson)