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Floridians head outdoors as temperatures rise

Members of the local community and their furry friend spend a warm day canoeing down Blackwater River. Canoeing, kayaking or tubing down the river are popular pastimes during the summer. (Photo by Hayley Benton)

As temperatures rise and the final days of the semester inch ever closer, students at the University of West Florida are excited to think about spending the first days of summer vacation laying on the beach.

However, after a week of sunning on the beach and nursing the first sunburn of the season with aloe, students are left to wonder, “What now?” Pensacola and the surrounding area offer many wallet-friendly cures for the summertime blues and they don’t involve the beach.

UWF Outdoor Adventures club members will be thinking up ideas for summer excursions soon. But don’t have anything specific confirmed yet, said Assistant Director Shaun Boren.

“In the meantime, you can certainly get outdoors on campus with our nature trail, mountain bike trails, disc golf course and canoes on the bayou or check out kayaks to take to the beach — all free,” he said. “For students who would like a break from the summer heat while trying something new, the Climbing Center is open Monday through Friday 5 to 8 p.m., and it is usually quiet over the summer, so climbing instructors will be ready every day to teach beginners.”

Although it is still technically on the beach, kayaking through the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico is an exciting alternative to regular beach activities — and a free upper-body workout at that.

“Recreation and Sports Services offers canoe and kayak checkouts free with your Nautilus Card,” Boren said. “Canoes are ready for launch right on campus into Thompson Bayou while kayaks are available for your transportation. Paddles and life jackets are also provided, free of charge. Visit the Health, Leisure and Sports Facility Service Desk to take advantage of this opportunity.”

As for mountain biking, UWF offers a maze of biking trails behind the campus’ nature boardwalk.

“Mountain biking on the miles of quality trails on west campus is also an enjoyable summer activity because while you’re working out, you’re creating a breeze to help cool you off,” Boren said.

“Obtain a trail map from the Recreation website and get involved with the Cycling Club if you would like to check out a mountain bike or learn more about riding and bicycle maintenance.”

A less strenuous alternative is to take a relaxing ride down the Blackwater River on tubes — only a short trip from the UWF campus. For daytrips, down the river on inner tubes, the cost averages $15 per person for a 3- to 5-hour ride, depending on how many stops a group makes.

Both Adventures Unlimited and Blackwater Canoe Rental run tubing, canoeing and kayaking businesses along the Blackwater River and Coldwater Creek in Milton, Fla., and will supply a raft for your cooler at half price to carry a picnic with you on the four-mile float.

Both companies also provide information about overnight camping trips along the river, and advise those interested that there is no campground—just you, your friends, and the wild, untamed wilderness of Blackwater State Forest.

“We have tents, sleeping bags, coolers, dry-boxes—all those things here,” said Randy Polk of Blackwater Canoe Rental. “That is not included in the price. Most people bring those things from home, but if you do not have any of that stuff we do have it to rent. Tents are $15 for example, if you want to rent a tent for the trip. The entire trip is in the middle of Blackwater State Forest, which consists of 200,000 acres, so you’re out there.”

Polk said college students will generally get a small discount, as long as they pay with cash.

“We also have group discounts and things like that depending on how many people they have,” he said. “Every 10 people we’ll give $1 off per person—that includes a life vest, the transportation upstream, the rental of the tube—everything.”

For more information on camping, tubing, canoe or kayak rentals, visit www.blackwatercanoe.com or www.adventuresunlimited.com.

 Hayley Benton
Staff Writer 

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