Florida Waterways: The Aucilla River

Florida Waterways
“The Aucilla River Is One of North Florida’s Gems”
By Kevin McCarthy

1. The Aucilla River begins in Georgia
2. The Aucilla River seen from US 98 bridge
3. The Aucilla River at the US 19 and 27 bridge
4. USS Aucilla
5. Pleistocene mastodons
6. Pleistocene mammoth

One of Florida’s relatively unknown dark-brown rivers is the Aucilla, which begins in southern Georgia, and makes its way down to the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachee Bay. The 89-mile-long waterway forms the boundary between Jefferson and Madison counties in the north, and also touches Taylor County in the south.

The Aucilla has much to appeal to different kinds of people. For example, archaeologists have discovered mastodon bones from thousands of years ago, as well as artifacts from early human beings from 10,000 years ago. Geologists have marveled at the fact that part of the lower river disappears underground, before reappearing further downstream. And kayakers may be surprised to know that the river actually has some rapids. Near the mouth of the river, one can experience tidal fluctuations from the Gulf, changes that extend about four miles up from the river mouth.

Historians point out that the river served as the boundary between various groups of Native Americans, like the Apalachee and the Yustaga, and also that Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto may have crossed it in 1539. The river was also the site of a Spanish mission, San Miguel.

Those traveling by canoe can take advantage of the 19-mile-long Aucilla River Canoe Trail, and fishermen can catch bream, catfish, and largemouth bass in its waters. Those out for a day of boating can marvel at the high limestone banks in the middle part of the river.

The river was memorialized in the naming of the USS Aucilla (AO-56), a Cimarron-class fleet oiler used in World War II to deliver fuel and water to ships in battle. She returned home after the war, having won five battle stars.  Her hull was laid down in May 1943, launched six months later, decommissioned in 1970, struck from the list of ships in 1976, and scrapped in 1992. The picture here shows the ship at sea.

All in all, the Aucilla is one of the many watery gems in North Florida. Its waters are dark brown from the trees along the way, but it has to be one of the most peaceful, undisturbed rivers in the whole state. If you’re in the vicinity of this remarkable river in the next few months, why not try it out with a fishing pole or kayak, or your favorite boat. And keep your eyes on the look-out for more mastodon bones. It’s amazing to think that those massive animals, and even mammoths from the Pleistocene Age, used to roam and eat along the river.

Kevin McCarthy, the author of “North Florida Waterways” (available at amazon.com), can be reached at ceyhankevin@gmail.com.