National Geographic : 1977 Jul
if the occasional abandoned shack hidden in the foliage wasn't a defunct moonshine operation. Stills were once as common as cottonmouths in the swamp, but high sugar prices and the efficiency of lawmen and revenuers end ed most moonshining. BELOW FARGO the river loses its swampy character, cutting through sand hills covered with pine-and oak scrub. As we drifted in the late afternoons, we began looking for camp sites on the stark white sandbars that rose along the river bends. We swam in the cool waters of the Suwannee and built our fires with "fat-lighter" pine knots. Even on damp rainy nights the resin-soaked wood blazed cheerfully. Outside our campfires the eyes of wild creatures gleamed, owls hooted, and bats swooped. On one sandbar near the Georgia-Florida line, we camped near a wild-bee tree, listening to the ominous buzzing that came from the monumental oak. About thirty miles across the Florida border, the Suwannee roared, if only briefly. Even before the sign, "DANGER-SHOALS 500 FEET AHEAD," we could hear the sound of rushing waters. We paddled ashore just above the shoals and made camp. Only the thun derstorm that descended on us could obscure the noise of the water. We awoke in sunshine, and in the morning light the white water boiled magnificently over rocks and ledges. Who could have thought that this peaceful stream that filtered through tree roots and swamps a few miles up river was capable of such violence? Portaging our gear around the rapids, we pushed our lightened canoes off the bank, and were sucked up and swept along. Fighting desperately to retain control, we saw we were approaching rocks, swerved, plunged nose first into the water, paddled through air, and swamped. Laughing and exhilarated, we swam our canoes to shore to reload and press on past water-sculptured white limestone outcrops to White Springs, several hours downstream. A picturesque small town with well kept Victorian mansions rising above the river bluffs, White Springs is also the Florida headquarters of Occidental Chemical Company, which operates an extensive phosphate strip mine and holds mineral rights along miles of Suwannee shoreline. Five miles inland, towering draglines rip holes into the earth, extracting phosphate for ship ment as fertilizer for overseas as well as for domestic use. Occidental has agreed not to mine to the shores of the river, but it was cit ed by Florida State pollution-control officials in 1975 for excessive turbidity and runoff resulting from construction and dredge-and-fill operations around a Suwannee tributary. The citation was withdrawn when the company signed an agreement to alleviate the problem, but a bigger con cern remains: Occidental's 20-year plan for strip mining will destroy thousands of acres of swamplands and pine plan tations in the Suwannee Basin. Even with land reclamation, this will greatly influence the future of the Suwannee River Basin. Under present Florida law, little can be done to stop strip mining on private lands. The Suwannee was recommended for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Riv ers System in 1974 by the Department of the Interior, which suggested that it be administered by the states. The pro posal was opposed by property owners who fear loss of their land and devel opment rights, and by those who want local control. Now the Florida govern ment is working closely with several local agencies to provide protection Surefire proof of marsh gas requires only a match, as Andre Clewell, botanist at FloridaState University, demonstrates in a Suwannee Basin stream. The match briefly ignites bubbles of methane risingfrom decaying vegetation below.