Imagine slowly careening down a beautiful scenic river at night on a canoe such as in one of those Huck Finn moments. The USF Outdoor Recreation Center offers a program one weekend a month where USF students, faculty and alumni are able to enjoy such a pleasure.
The cost is $4 a person and includes a pre-bonfire marshmallow roasting, a canoe and a brief lesson on canoeing from one of the outdoor recreation employees. The location is at Riverfront Park on Fletcher Avenue and is offered usually on or close to a full moon. It is suggested to bring some bug spray and a flashlight, and it is best to wear long-sleeved clothes, pants and sneakers.
Moonlight canoeing has been going on for more than four years and has drawn in many people who had never canoed and now have a new hobby.
After all the preliminary lessons and signing a release form that states the park is not responsible for any damages caused, one is free to experience the Hillsborough River. For the first few minutes, the river follows a straight path until canoers hit a fork in the river where they choose to either flow north or south.
“Canoeing south leads you to the backyards of some beautiful houses along the river,” said Tony Meroth, an outdoor recreation staff member. “Going north will lead to untouched wilderness.” Occasionally, one can see a snapping turtle come up for air or see the ebbs the fish leave as they swim by. Being that it is a river, there is a chance a canoer may encounter alligators. But Meroth said the animals don’t cause problems.
“There has never been an incident with an alligator attacking a human,” he said.
Meroth said occasionally a visitor will spot an alligator, but the alligators are more afraid of humans, and only by enticing them will people be threatened. With that assurance in mind, canoers have no reason to feel alarmed. However, it is suggested to bring a flashlight so the alligators can be easily seen at night.
“It was fun and pretty,” said sophomore Justin Santoro. “It was a nice ride. The alligators were cool.”
He said he thought he hit an alligator with a paddle by mistake; he chuckled about the story.
Another employee, Amy Grosgebauer, said once a man who rented a canoe tipped over. When nearby picnic-goers saw the fallen man, they rushed to Grosgebauer and informed her of the incident. Grosgebauer and another employee immediately got into another canoe and tried to rescue him.
“It was a very funny situation, because nearby people standing on the tower in Lettuce Lake Park were careening around with their video cameras taping the incident,” she said.
After a little struggle of managing to get three people into one canoe, Grosgebauer and another co-worker were able to rescue the man and themselves.
“The man was really nice and wrote me a great thank-you letter,” she said.
Moonlight canoeing lasts from 7 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. with the last canoe being rented out at 10:30 p.m.