The Ever-Changing Spruce Creek
I first heard about Spruce Creek in hushed tones amongst a group of old time anglers. They called it a red fish heaven, packed with copper giants, hidden from the throngs of flat boats in nearby Mosquito Lagoon. The second time I heard about the creek was again in hushed tones. This time it was a group of canoers ranting about the sheer beauty of the ever-changing stream. I knew the time had come for me to pay my respects to this river.
Most of the old guide books and write-ups will tell you to put in at the Spruce Creek Park at US Highway 1 just before the three bridges on the right. Some will also mention passing the three bridges then making your first right onto a dirt road that will loop back to a sweet sandy put in. These are both decent suggestions, especially if you want to explore Strictland Bay, however; Spruce Creek Park is a mud sludge through mud that won’t let go. It also involves carrying your boat 100 feet to the “ramp o mud.” The park does have great bathrooms, camping, and outdoor faucets. The put in past the three bridges is an excellent put in for kayaks and canoes. If you are traveling solo I would be hesitant about just hanging around the area though. My recommendation is driving south-west on Taylor Road and putting in at the new Cracker Creek Canoeing outfitters, its located right next door to the Historic Gamble (Proctor and Gamble) place, so you can make a full day of it.
Cracker Creek Canoeing is located on the original 20-acre homestead of Roland “Rollie” F. Johnson, caretaker for the James Gamble Estate. The cabin he lived in along with the home built in 1933 for his wife, Lela E. Miller, and nurse of James Gamble, are located on the property. Cracker Creek Canoeing is adjacent to the historic Gamble Place and is surrounded by an associated 175-acre nature preserve. When you visit the Gamble Place you will step back in time to experience the same pristine environment that James Gamble found so inviting during his first visit to the area in the late 1800’s.
After touring the historic areas head down to the water for the real draw to the area. In minutes after putting in the water you will soon realize why this creek enjoys an Outstanding Florida Waterways designation. The swamp gives way to a narrow stream that very gradually broadens downstream into Strickland Bay. As the water meanders toward the coast, the associated aquatic habitats gradually morph from typical freshwater hardwood forest to freshwater marsh to mangrove shorelines and salt marsh in a classic estuarine ecosystem. The extreme differences between upstream and downstream that occur ever so slowly make this river an extremely unique natural area that supports a tremendous amount of wildlife. The amount of plant life is also overwhelming. Resurrection fern, Spanish moss, orchids, and air plants cling to every tree branch. If you paddle upstream of the put-in, be prepared to duck under a few of these plant covered tree branches.
Historically, a large Timucuan Indian habitation was located around the Spruce Creek basin. One of the largest prehistoric earthen works in Florida, the Spruce Creek Mound, is located on the creek on a high bluff. The site functioned as a major ceremonial and political center for the Indians. Smaller mounds are scattered throughout surrounding areas.
The best place to take out is either the Spruce Creek Park or the no name dirt ramp after the three bridges. Arrange a pick up with the outfitters. Before taking out, take a little bit of time and explore past the bridges at the confluence of the Halifax River. Better yet, bring a fishing pole so you can experience the red fish heaven.
Hope to see you on the water!
To reach the Gamble Place and Cracker Creek, take I-95 exit 256 and go west on Taylor Road (SR 421) approximately 1.5 miles. At the Florida Historic Site marker turn left down the 2-lane shell road. The Gamble Place and Cracker Creek are approximately one half mile down the shell road. Entrances for the properties are clearly marked.
OUTFITTERS, SERVICES, and REFERENCES
Adventures in Florida: Fully guided kayak/canoe tours on Spruce Creek and surrounding area.
Cracker Creek Canoeing: Canoe/Kayak rentals, canoe/kayak boat launch, picnic tables, and concession. Some shuttles available.
Spruce Creek Park: Canoe/kayak launch, camping, restrooms.
Gamble Place: historic buildings, wildlife, ancient cypress trees, and beautiful azalea blossoms.