District staff, Governing Board members and Hillsborough River Basin Board members recently welcomed the first wave of warm weather with a canoe trip down the upper Hillsborough River. The outing was an opportunity to see firsthand a highly protected natural river in its upper reaches, which ultimately provides water supplies to the City of Tampa and freshwater flows to Tampa Bay.
“The upper Hillsborough River is in excellent ecological condition, with good water quality and riverine and floodplain habitats that are largely undisturbed,” said Sid Flannery, District senior environmental scientist. “This mosaic of habitats creates a very diverse ecosystem, and the upper Hillsborough River is well known as a great place to see fish and wildlife.”
The canoe trip began at John B. Sargeant Park and headed downstream about 4½ miles to Morris Bridge Park. Throughout the trip, the group was greeted by various wildlife, including alligators, red-bellied turtles, belted kingfishers, limpkins, anhingas, several species of herons and numerous songbirds. Some were lucky enough to spot a few river otters and one roseate spoonbill.
Due to the current drought, the river’s flow was about 25 million gallons of water per day (mgd), compared to its average of about 166 mgd.
However, according to Flannery, the dry season can be one of the best times to see the river in all its glory. Crystal Springs provides base flow to the river, making it surprisingly clear so that features under the water surface can be seen.