I've avoided these for years. No, not alligators. Well yes, alligators of course, but I mean airboats.
The environmentalist are all over this kind of sightseeing and recreational boating, and not in a good way. The internet has many heated forums where environmentalists and local airboaters are blasting each other about the damages airboats do vs. their rights to use them. It seems evident that airboats are part of the local culture that I was talking about in my last post. Gator and hog hunting too!
So, in the spirit of most everything I do in my life right now, I decided I needed to experience it for myself rather than passing judgement without first hand knowledge.
Midway Airboat Rides is located just a few miles west from The Great Outdoors RV Resort, where the St. Johns River crosses Rt. 50. Funny, both places claim to be nature loving and cater to people who want to experience nature first hand, and both probably do their fair share of damage to the environment. Oh dear, and here I am supporting both. This kind of thinking just gets me down.
Pulling into Midway, the first thing we saw was this roseate spoonbill in the river. He wasn't as shy as others we've encountered, so we were able to get a good photo. Yes, he's probably used to the noise.
Greeting us, well sort of, at the front door of the establishment was "Pork Chop" a large Vietnamese potbellied pig who lives where ever he wants to I guess.
We were scheduled to leave at 2:30 for a one hour ride along the St. Johns River. While we waited we browsed through their little shop at souvenirs and caged birds and reptiles. The place is all about animal encounters, and it's trying hard to come off as environmentally sensitive, with hand painted nature murals and "Love Mother Earth" emblazoned across the side of the building. Okay.
Everyone wears very nice noise-cancelling headsets with microphones so you can ask the guide questions and hear what he is saying over the noise of the boats. Yes, big noise.
The landscape is flat, and the part of the river we rode runs through conservation land, marshes, a very large cattle ranch and a cypress swamp. I'm not clear how much of the land we saw was a preserve, but from what our guide said, I would guess that most of it was. Don't know how the cattle ranch fits in there. Perhaps they graze on the conservation land. Hmmmm. How does that work?
Here you can see the cattle and the alligators co-existing. They don't seem to bother each other - just mind their own business. Most of the alligators we saw were not bothered by us either.
The cypress swamp was the prettiest part of the ride.
Our guide took us in and turned off the engine so we could take off our headsets and enjoy the quiet for awhile. The line on the trees about four feet up is the highwater mark from the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Fay in 2008.
We may have seen more birds that we've seen anywhere else, including nesting great blue herons, little blue and tricolor herons, several kinds of egrets, roseate spoonbills, black and white ibis, black necked stilts, pelicans, kingfishers, bald eagles, hawks, and.......... a crested caracara! (A life bird for both of us that we have been looking for since arriving in the area.) There were many little birds too that we couldn't focus on because we were going too fast. The birds were spooked sometimes when we drove by, and sometimes not. The river is rich in fish, said our guide, and so draws the birds and the gators.
When we arrived back at the dock we got the opportunity to hold a baby alligator, and we couldn't turn that down!
You'll notice that his mouth was rubber banded shut while we were handling him, thank you. This guy felt soft on the bottom and hard on the top - a little like a snake, but more complicated than a snake because of all the body parts.
So, I'm not sure how I feel about the airboats. It was fun, and we saw a lot more of the back country than we would have on our own. I don't think I'm going to go out and buy one any time soon. And I'll probably not be doing it again. I just wanted to know what it was like, and now I know. The noise is obnoxious, so I hope they don't become more popular. I'm glad they are regulated in the national park lands. But I'm not ready to go out and fight against their use by locals. And I sure hope no one tries to prohibit RVs and RV parks. So, live and let live, including the noisy boats and little beasts, as best we can.