When Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto arrived in Tampa Bay in 1539 he probably didn't have a kayak, but those watercraft are a great way for present-day visitors to explore the waters at De Soto National Memorial. New ranger-guided kayak tours of the Florida park are now being offered on Saturday mornings. Here's how to sign up.
“Water plays important part in the telling of the story of de Soto’s expedition and the lives of the Southeastern American Indian,” says Jorge Acevedo, the park’s chief of interpretation. “Not to utilize this resource is to only tell half of the story of this history.”
"The waters off De Soto National Memorial have been witness to over two thousand years of history, from Paleo-Indian habitation and Spanish conquistadors to Florida cattle drives and Civil War cannon battles. The water ecosystem gives the visitor the opportunity to understand how people from the past as well as the present use the water as a source of life and renewal," Acevedo notes.
To help provide visitor access to the area's water resources, the park has obtained kayaks and equipment to outfit park visitors and give them the opportunity to experience kayaking and the outdoors. The rangers responsible for giving guided tours were trained in boating techniques by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and in water rescue and kayak survival. The program is designed to give the visitor a safe and free tour of the parks aquatic resources and expand the opportunities by rangers to accomplish the parks mission.
On March 6th, Ranger Sarah Schoenfelder led the park’s first group of kayakers out on the water. The group included an equal mix of first-time and experienced kayakers. Schoenfelder led the group on a ninety minute tour that took them around the point of the park and into a protective cove and back to their starting point.
The tour made several stops to allow the ranger to share stories and facts about the lives of Florida’s Native Americans and the Spanish conquest. Visitors also got a rare opportunity to see a bottlenose dolphin at close range as it passed by the group.
Feedback from participants was very positive. “I feel the tour went very well,” said Schoenfelder. “The kayakers were able to see many of the great resources and historical landscape from a different viewpoint. I feel that they were able to see the whole story of the expedition for the first time.”
The guided kayak programs will be offered at De Soto National Memorial at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays throughout the year. A total of ten "seats" are available in the park's ten kayaks, so advance reservations for a tour are needed. You can sign up by calling the park at 941-792-0458, extension 105. The trips are free of charge, and all necessary equipment is provided.
De Soto National Memorial commemorates the landing of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in Florida in 1539 and the first extensive organized exploration by Europeans of what is now the southern United States.
The park is located in Bradenton, Florida, and offers living history programs December through April, a nature trail and fine birding opportunities in the fall and early spring. The park website includes driving directions and other details to help you plan a visit.