Chassahowitzka

The Chassahowitzka River flows west for nearly six miles from Ponce De Leon before dumping into a bay of impassable mangrove keys. Its springshed drains 190 square miles of Citrus and Hernando county, southeast to Brooksville and beyond. It is one of five first-magnitude spring complexes in west-central Florida—the Florida Springs Coast5. The main vent is a second magnitude spring, pumping 420 gallons per second—the headspring group exceeds 700 gallons per second2; this would fill your average Florida pool in about a half-minute. The river is fed by numerous fresh and salt spring vents that form extensive creek tributaries: Crab, Baird, Salt, Potter, Johnson, Ryles, & co. To the north of Chassahowitzka lies Homosassa, to the south, Weeki Wachee—both first-magnitude spring rivers5.

The name Chassahowitzka is thought to have come from the Seminoles during their residence in what is now the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge1. The translation of the name varies, but seems to refer to some type of hanging gourd, extant at the time. Virgin cypress and cedar swamps on the coast of Chassahowitzka were heavily logged in the 20th century for lumber, shingles, fence-posts, lathes, cisterns, mulch and more. Tidewater Cypress Company out of Centralia3 logged 15,000 acres of coastal cypress between 1910 and 1922. Some of these trees may have exceeded one thousand years in age, whereas the people, dreams, and doldrums of Centralia were gone within a decade3.

In 1941, U.S. Fish and Wildlife designated 2,742 acres of Chassahowitzka as a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) for the protection of waterfowl and manatee1,4. The NWR presently encompasses 31,000 acres of black needlerush salt marsh from Saint Martin’s Keys to the north, south to Raccoon Point. Thirty-two years later (1973), 23,579 acres of Chassahowitzka were designated a Wilderness Area by Congress6. In 1986, a 23,183 acre track of coastal hardwood swamp was purchased from the Lykes Brothers and Turner Corporation1,7 during the Conservation and Recreation Lands Project as a Wildlife Management Area4 . The Chassahowitzka WMA is located south and east of the NWR, extending from Crawford Creek south to Weeki Wachee. The final track of 5,677 acres was purchased in the 1990s by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) as coastal swamp conservation land2. This includes the headspring uplands and contiguous swamplands. SWFWMD completed the Chassahowitzka Springs Restoration Project in 2013 and approved the river as a Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Priority Water Body the following year2.

The Chassahowitzka River is contained within a gulf coastal wetland. The headspring and upper reaches of the river are dominated by oak, pine, cedar and cypress. The estuary includes salt marsh hammocks of sawgrass, needlerush, mangroves and sago palmetto. Manatee bob the surface between kayaks at the headspring, raccoon snatch mullet lost in the reedbeds of Salt Creek, spot pluck shrimp off shoal grass in the estuary, and fish hawks harvest spot stranded in the mudflats of Alligator Creek. An exhaustive biological diversity is contained within six miles of river, all of which is catalogued in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Comprehensive Conservation Plan4 and SWFWMD SWIM Plan2.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

1.         Chassahowitzka, National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. Feb.5, 2019, retrieved in March 2019 from https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Chassahowitzka.

2.         “Chassahowitzka River Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Plan: A Comprehensive Conservation and Management plan. Aug. 2017. Southwest Florida Water Management District, SWFWMD). (https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/projects/swim/chassahowitzka-river). To my knowledge, the SWIM plan contains the most comprehensive piece of natural history information on the Chaz.

3.         “Centralia”. 2016. The Hernando Sun, Sid Taylor. The only credible references come from the Hernando Sun, from Cynthia and Sid Taylor. The article by Sid Taylor is available online as a PDF via The Hernando Sun, here: https://www.hernandosun.com/centralia.

4.         “Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge: Comprehensive Conservation Plan” 2012. U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS).

5.         “Springs Management Plan (2015-2019).” SWFWMD. Download a PDF at https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/projects/springs.

6.         University of Montana. 2017. Wilderness Connect. (https://www.wilderness.net).

7.         “The Lykes Brothers and the Original Spring Hill” 2015. The Hernando Sun, Rocco Maglio, retrieved in May 2019 from https://www.hernandosun.com/lykes_brothers.

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  1. Moon Flower is Ipomoea alba and worth looking up in “Wiki” for a reference (MIT) of how crushed vines mixed…

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