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Paddling to the ‘Big W’

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Federal land agencies across the country are celebrating “W50”, the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act, signed into law Sep. 3, 1964, as the result of a long fought effort to formally designate federal lands as wilderness.

That celebration is happening locally, too.

The Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges started a bit eartly with “Paddle to the Big W(ilderness)."  

Sixteen dare-devils, from places such as Archer, Ocala, Chiefland, Cedar Key and Atlanta, paddled out to North Key on a windy day with rough seas that would have turned most away.

Refuge Ranger Pam Darty led the excursion.

“I figured if I could keep going across those rollers, it would keep everyone moving forward. They knew from the get-go it was a paddle for advanced sea kayakers, and they were psyched for it,” Darty said.

The explorers, according to Darty, were lured by the promise of going into the designated wilderness area of North Key, closed to humans "24/7/365 forever, except this moment."  

When they reached the island, the beach was covered with quahog clams, as plentiful as pavers.  around a pool deck. And then the group was off into the interior of the island.

Sallie Gentry, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Office, was one of the participants and said, " Didn't know if I was up to the challenge. And, boy, was it a challenge.  So proud of myself for doing it."

To learn more about the first days of environmentalism and the wilderness Act of 1964, join refuge staff at the Cedar Key Library March 19, at 10:30 a.m. for the film “Wild by Law,” or call 352-493-0238.