Experiencing Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park from an Airboat
Second in a Series
Any time I have spent on the water was peaceful and filled with new sights and sounds.
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park hugs four miles of coastline on the Gulf of Mexico bordering 4,000 acres. The park’s landmass includes 600 upland (or inland) acres and 2,800 acres designated as submerged or wetlands.
Whenever I am on rivers and canals in Florida, I try to imagine what it was like the first time that indigenous people and explorers waded or paddled their way through the water, plants, rocks, and fish. Who knows what else they encountered?
Over 30 years ago, when I first arrived in Florida, an airboat ride was on my “must-do” list. I’ve been on sailboats, pontoon boats, canoes, kayaks, a glass-bottom boat, and even a catamaran.
Quite frankly, I imagined my first airboat ride would be gliding through the Everglades and I really wasn’t sure when that would happen. Imagine the excitement I felt when I was invited to take an airboat tour of the Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park as part of my series of articles for NatureCoaster.com.
Using an Airboat at Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park
Airboats are part of the fishing, exploring and eco-tourism culture that is Florida. Not surprisingly, airboats have often been used in emergency rescue situations. At Florida state parks where shallow water is often part of the area like it is at Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park, flat-bottomed airboats are used for the inspecting, monitoring, and patrolling duties of the rangers.
The airboat trip described here occurred on a sunny, breezy day in January. Park Services Specialist Mike Faustini and I put on personal flotation devices (PFDs) and ear protection, an absolute must! Airboats can be very noisy from a distance. Up close and personal, they can be extremely loud. After all, they are propelled by an “aircraft-type propeller, powered by an aircraft or automotive engine.”
Heading Out at near Low Tide
Before Mike and I went out, it was confirmed that the tide was pretty low, which is another crucial thing to know about. If you go out during high tide and stay out too long, the ebbing tide can leave you stranded.
We launched into the water with the help of volunteers and headed out for the tour. Mike Faustini is an airboat instructor, so I quickly felt ready to sit back and be surrounded by nature. We passed a couple of fishermen and channel markers. Then the open water curved into canals, one leading to another, with a couple of “ponds” for circling around.
Airboats can’t go in reverse, so areas that allow circling are crucial. Some of the paths leading from one area to another are very narrow. Fortunately, Mike has explored the canals enough to know where he is and how to best navigate the narrows. GPS and cellphones do get signals out there, which proved to be very helpful at one point.
Mangroves, Pine Trees & Needlegrass line the Canal Banks
Canal banks are thick with mangroves, pine trees, and needlegrass. Needlegrass is very appropriately named. Its needle-sharp tips are probably good for keeping predators out, and maybe at one time in history natives used the needle grass to weave baskets, but you sure don’t want to be poked by this plant. It hurts!
The plants and trees are tall enough to obscure the shore in most places, making our tour very private and peaceful. Birds sailed across the sky and the canal water was very shallow, due to the low tide, making it easy to see swarming schools of mullet nearby.
Our Adventure hits a Snag
As we were touring the mangrove shoreline, one water path was too overgrown with mangroves, so Mike tried to go up and over a nearby growth of needlegrass.
The airboat, even with its heavy-duty power, could not make it and got stuck. Who gets stuck in an airboat, I thought. “Me,” my little voice answered, “I’m just ‘lucky’.”
Mike contacted Adam Belden, the Park Manager, via cell phone to make him aware of the situation, but no one panicked, not even me! After a short time, the tide came in just enough to allow the airboat traction to go up, over, and through the needle grass. We were on our way again.
Not surprisingly, Adam was waiting for us as we came out of the canals, and we all made it safely back to the launch site. It was an unexpected adventure, but an exciting that added a surprise component to check off my “must do” list.
Exploring Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park by Water
The upland waters at Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park offer an opportune chance to explore and get a sense of ancient Florida.
One takeaway from this adventure is to make sure someone knows you are out on the water, where you plan to go and provide your cellphone contact information. And definitely pay close attention to the tide schedule.
Currently, there are no rentals at Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park for watercraft, so you will need to bring your own vessel and it must be a state licensed craft. Only kayaks and canoes are allowed to be launched from the park.
There is a kayak and canoe launch in the park and there is no charge above the cost of entrance to the park ($3 per vehicle) to use the launch. Bring personal flotation devices for each person in your craft, and if you are going to fish, be sure to have a Florida Fishing license for everyone with a pole.
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park is at 8737 U.S. Highway 19 North in Port Richey, Florida. The cost for entry is $2 for bicycle or pedestrian or $3 for a vehicle with up to 8 persons. For further information and to check on current hours of operation, go to https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/werner-boyce-salt-springs-state-park