September 06, 2012
No matter how hard the little snapping turtle tried, he couldn't swim away from me. His four short legs beat the water frantically. Clear line was holding him to the log stuck in the muck in a foot of water. He had swallowed a hook, and was now tied to the log with a death sentence. I cut the line close to his mouth and watched him swim away to wherever he chose to spend his last days.
Minutes later, I came across two Great Blue Herons. Normally skittish birds, the one flew to the opposite shore immediately. The other watched me warily as I inched closer in my boat. It watched me pass by, within six feet, where I could see a bright Rapala lure jammed through its foot.
Accidents happen, and not every snag can be recovered while fishing. Right before my encounter with the turtle I had spent my morning cleaning up bait fish left all over the shore at Osceola Landing, broken bottles, a fire outside of a fire ring, tangled fishing line, and hooks left out in the sand. Cleaning up after yourself isn't a new concept, and most people do it really well. Others struggle.
The seven principles of Leave No Trace (copyright: Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics) are widely used by National Parks and other federal land agencies.
Dispose of waste properly
Leave what you find
Minimize campfire impacts
Be considerate of other visitors
The Riverway's "Pack in, pack out" regulation means you should take your waste home with you - all of it. Broken glass and fishing hooks do not mix well with bare feet on the beach. On the lower river we ask people to bring in their own portable toilets because it is difficult to find Park Service land along the lower river above the flood plain. When the river floods, everything you just buried, comes right back up.
Thousands of people come here, all seeking something different. Some fish, some watch birds, some just want to go swimming. Pack in, pack out means being considerate of other people and the wild things living here. This is a place everyone has the opportunity to enjoy. If you brought it here, take it home, too.
Two days earlier, we responded to a call about an immature Bald Eagle wrapped in fishing line with a damaged wing. He is now at the Raptor Center. How the Heron is doing, one can only guess.