Where a natural entrance was once bathed by the barrier island of Cocoa Beach, a cluster of islands was home to the first inhabitants of Florida.
Now it is one of the most popular places to paddle along the Space Coast. It’s been years since I paddled the Thousand Islands, but my old friend Bobby, who often comes here, was wild.
We started our paddle at Cocoa Beach Country Club, which offered more parking spaces than the Ramp Road Park, which I knew better. Despite its name, it is a public park.
On a Saturday morning, the main ramp was almost surrounded by several local ecotourism companies and their customers.
Hidden in the corner of the property, there is a small ramp with only space to launch one boat at a time. We went there.
I first paddled and turned around to get some pictures of Bob joining me on his paddleboard. I had never paddled from this place to the Thousand Islands. Bob is a regular here and a local, so he led the way.
We began our counter-clockwise tour through the islands heading south into the Banana River. We brought a few other paddleboarders and a family to fish.
When the father saw me take a lot of pictures, I heard him say: “must be one of those tourists, take so many pictures.”
I recalled: “Hey, I was born here and now I work.'”We shared a good laugh. I said something about the very large dolphin floating behind their boat. They told me he follows them all the time because they feed him. I wonder if Flipper started like that?
The Banana River isn’t very deep, but where we were, it was wide open and could intimidate paddlers who don’t feel comfortable with open water.
Embracing the shore, I couldn’t help but notice the dozens and dozens of old car and truck tires along the coast. They didn’t look like they were thrown by chance. To me, they looked like they were lined up once and eventually stacked.
As I got closer, I could see where some of them were tied together to form a chain. Could this have been a long-abandoned coastal project to prevent erosion?
After crossing a few small coves, we turned east and entered the Thousand Islands Nature Reserve by paddling a wide channel lined with mangroves.
Approaching the coast of Cocoa Beach, I was able to see Patrick Air Force Base south for a while before slipping between a few mangrove islands and entering a main channel. He drove us past houses and condos before heading to Ramp Road Park at the end of Ramp Road.
Just in front of the ramp we could see a white PVC pipe with a blue paddle sticker and a “You Are Here” card. This is the official start of the Thousand Islands Conservation Area Paddling Trail, which according to the map only makes an arc through the islands.
Before following the Paddle Trail, I walked down the wooden sea wall in Ramp Road Park to take a closer look at a historic marker in Florida that I hadn’t seen here on my last paddle. This is how I learned the entrance that was once here and the peoples that once lived on these islands.
A canoe is the symbol on the blue sticker on the PVC bars that lead us along the way. It’s not a paddleboard for a damn good reason.
The path through the mangroves was getting narrower and narrower, until they finally closed, forcing Bob to paddle on his lap. Then it closed even more and formed a mangrove tunnel. It was almost impossible to use our paddles.
Sometimes it was easier to put away our paddles and pull us with our hands. I told him how happy I was that we were not in the Keys where I had come face to face with iguanas in the mangroves.
When the tunnel opened, we reached open water. Straight ahead was another mangrove tunnel. To our right, a wide open space. And to your left an unusual green sign.
Hiking trail. Right. You are in the middle of a mangrove forest, water in all directions and there is a sign for a hiking trail. Of course, we followed him. I had to. If Sandy knew there was a trail there and I didn’t study it. I would be in great trouble!
Of course, with a few strokes of the paddle, we found a narrow landing with a path leading to a kiosk. Since this time of year-especially in this humid environment-is not very conducive to hiking, I explored it for a future visit.
We paddled a little further before turning around. When we entered another channel, we met a small group of ecotourists and their guide. They all smiled and enjoyed this quiet place, away from noise and traffic.
When we paddled past canalfront homes, I spied an unusual sign. Remotely, I could only read ” floating pipeline when workers present.””What did it mean in the world? When we approached, I could read the small print “enter an active dredging site”.”
While we were on the active dredging ground, our path turned to another wide unmarked channel. I noticed a very unusual dock and made a short detour to see what it was.
I’ve never seen a dock like this. It must be the heaviest kayak landing I’ve ever seen. It has thick planks, heavy chains and binding studs large enough for a giant yacht.
It looked like it would lead to another hiking trail. I paddled close enough to look at the trail which seemed very overgrown and wild.
In the distance, I could see the high antenna and lights of the ball field, from where our paddle began. When we came out of the mangroves to cross this short part of the open water, I felt the gentle pressure of a slight back wind that brought us back to shore.