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Oxbow and Riverlore Cruise to begin next month

By Staff | Oct 26, 2017

A popular cruise is returning again this year to provide the community with an opportunity to learn about the Caloosahatchee while hearing stories of families that have resided along the river for many years.

“It’s a passion for me. I’m constantly learning in the 24 years I have been studying, doing research and restoration work on the Caloosahatchee. It’s seldom that I don’t learn something new,” Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel said.

She said she created the Caloosahatchee Oxbow and Riverlore Cruise 22 years ago as part of a research project she began, which documented and characterized oxbows, the original meandering bends of the rivers.

“It really gives you a view of the past, a different time, different circumstances, different concerns and how you survived. I hope the process of providing the tour gives people the chance to have an experience of what this place used to be,” Wessel said. “I look forward to getting people out on the river to see what’s up there. To have that sense of place.”

As a limnologist, Wessel had befriended a lot of old families who shared stories while conducting her research. The stories of Charles Foster, who was born and raised in Alva, has been an integral part of the history shared during the cruise. He had spent his whole life on the lake and estuary.

Since Foster had the perfect boat, he would accompany Wessel on her outings while conducting her research.

As Foster shared his stories, Wessel would jot them down on her data sheet. As her sheet filled, she thought why not get a boat and tell stories.

The thought turned into a four hour cruise with a lunch in the early years.

“Now it’s two and a half hours. We do a really nice program. He’s gone now, but a lot of his stories remain. I feel it is my duty to explain them the best way I can,” she said.

Initially the cruise would make a stop at Foster’s cousin’s place, Jim English, to explore his orange grove, which was started in 1894.

“We would pull up to the bank and put a little plank out. You would walk the plank to get to the land. Jim would walk us through the grove and tell the family story of settling the land,” Wessel said.

Although English’s property is no longer a stop, the cruise still shares the natural, human and science elements on the Sunday boat rides.

“I wanted to merge the two. Stories about what it was like back long ago before a lot of the alterations, and then as a scientist being able to compare and contrast, and the curiosity of how it changed the system,” she said.

She said the western Everglades wrapped around the west part of Lake Okeechobee. When the water became extremely high in the lake, about 20 feet or so, before the dikes were put into place, a lit bit of the water flowed to the west, mostly down to the Everglades, Florida Bay and 10,000 Islands.

“Some would flow into the western Everglades marsh and a series of lakes,” Wessel said, one being Lake Flirt on the western edge. “It formed a waterfall.”

With the new knowledge found through research, and the friendships she had formed with some of the families, the Oxbow and Riverlore Cruise explains why the Caloosahatchee River works the way it does, while incorporating the deep human history.

“This place and the river system estuary lets us tell that story of some of the people, some of the characters, and some of the conditions they live through,” Wessel said.

In addition, the cruise ties in the consequences and science regarding the issues of trying to restore the Everglades system. When a dike was placed around Lake O, Wessel said it made us the largest discharge option for lake water when it is high.

The first cruise will depart from W.P. Franklin Lock & Dam off SR 80 in Olga the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 24. The cruise, which is held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., begins at the Franklin Lock and Recreation area. The cruise heads east towards Alva to enter the historic bends of the river.

“We go up to Alva and then we come back. It’s a very nice comfortable boat with 41 passengers,” Wessel said.

The pontoon style boat offers three quarters of shade and a pop up head.

“It’s a very comfortable, open style,” boat, she said.

The other dates include Sunday, Jan. 28, Sunday, Feb. 4, Sunday, Feb. 18, Sunday, March 11, Sunday, March 25, Sunday, April 15 and Sunday, May 13. Private group trips can also be scheduled by contacting Wessel at rawessel@sccf.org.

“The river is never the same two days in a row. You have different experiences,” Wessel said.

Tickets are $45 a person and can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com/e/caloosahatchee-oxbow-riverlore-cruise-tickets–32695215269.

Oxbow and Riverlore Cruise

All cruises depart at 1 p.m., return at 3:30 p.m. from the south side of the Caloosahatchee River, at the W.P. Franklin & Dam off SR 80 in Olga

* Friday, Nov. 24

* Sunday, Jan. 28

* Sunday, Feb. 4

* Sunday, Feb. 18

* Sunday, March 11

* Sunday, March 25

* Sunday, April 15

* Sunday, May 13