The story of the beautiful Wekiva River Canoe Launch
Beautiful pristine riverbank at risk of being lost to developers. Two local businessmen come to the rescue to save this historical spot.
THE PERFECT AFTERNOON
It was the perfect day, the middle of January, the sun warming our faces, a brisk chilly breeze fills the air; yes it was the perfect afternoon. For a short time we pretended that we were far away from the busy hectic rush of the rest of the world. We drifted along the peaceful current, occasionally putting our paddle in the water to point us in the right direction. We stopped; I said, “Listen to that.” Patrick said in a hush, “What?” I chucked and said, “Nothing, that’s it, the sound of nothing, just peace and quiet.”
The perfect afternoon started at Kings Landing where we launched our canoe and paddled through the mucky canal that led us to the Wekiva River. Bob Loomis invited us out to test the landing. Actually to see the great work that is going on out there.
We paddled though the thick mixture of sludge, fallen timber and trash like debris of the canal, and as we reached the mouth of the river joining the canal, it looked beautiful. The water so crystal clear you could see to the bottom. It was as if you were looking through a sheet of glass.
We stopped along on a sandbar, rolled up our jeans, took of our shoes and waded in the chilly, crystal clear water. We were excited about the moment as the cold water splashed on our legs. Memories came rushing back as I remember my adolescent years spending time on the river. We laughed and frolicked in the water for a few moments while pausing from time to time to take photos of the four Loomis boys who love the river they live on. Mark, Jimmy, Steven and Trevor gave us a spectacular show as they took turns climbing 50 -60 feet high into the air and take the large swinging rope that was thrown to them.
On the count of three they would jump. “One, two, three…ready?” They said. All at once they would let go of the perch they were standing on and flew out over the river waters beneath them, and let go. We snapped the camera as they splashed into the cold water. That was really cool to stand by wishing we were kids again.
Since as far back as I can remember, Kings Landing, Rock Springs and Wekiva Springs Park & Marina was the favorite spot for youth to go. The average daytrip was renting the canoe at Kings Landing, paddle leisurely up the river, and we would stop along the way and swim, picnic and look at turtles and baby alligators. We would also go to Rock Springs and rent tubes and tube down the current of the river. It was usually a long hot exhausting day, but we were adventurous and resilient. When we weren’t together as a twosome, we would be at Kings Landing with our church youth group for a day outing. Yes, Kings Landing was the place to go.
We raised our children near the river and on weekends took them to Kings Landing to canoe down the same paddle run; we would stop and share our stories of the river with them.
We grew up on the river and knew it would be there forever.
Now 33 years later Kings Landing was at risk of being lost. It has just recently been brought to my attention by Bob and Steven Loomis, of Loomis Funeral Home, that Kings Landing could have been but a mere memory, and those memories we made as kids would be all we had left.
There are a lot of people who have grown up in this area and have fond memories of the Wekiva River. Those who live in Apopka and Northwest Orange County have a lot to be proud of and thankful for. Not everyone is like-minded when it comes to natural resources, ecology and the environment. While we all want to do our part in preservation, doing our part might not always be enough to guard against losing one of our most valuable resources.
HISTORY OF THE LANDING
For decades, Apopka has been known for the Wekiva River. Kings Landing, the Wekiva Marina, Rock Springs Park, Katie’s Landing and Wekiva Springs State Park all make up the river system that flows throughout our area.
The Kings Landing canoe rental post property has been privately owned all these years by Gabby Gardner and her partner, Ted Kirkland. Gabby and Ted operated the Kings Landing canoe rental business catering to outdoor enthusiasts both locally and to those traveling to canoe this popular paddle run.
Unless you are an avid reader of sporting guides and outdoor life magazines, or belong to an outdoor adventure group, you might not know that this paddle run has for years been rated number one in Central Florida. Second would be paddling the waterways and lagoons in the Titusville and Brevard County area. In fact, many paddle tour groups and kayakers from all over the nation come here to enjoy the paddle and canoe trail. Being an avid kayaker, enjoying paddlenews.net, and belonging to the Wilderness Trekkers group, I have become aware of this popularity of this spot.
During the devastation of the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, this property and the river passages were damaged and left full of debris, making the river virtually impassable by canoes and kayaks. As new owners Bob and Steven Loomis said, “Only an experienced kayaker could have gotten through.” As a result, the property sat for a long time and Kings Landing was becoming less and less popular. The entire landing area has been full of trees and debris.
This popular canoe, kayak access and launch area to the Wekiva River was no more. The damage surrounding the canal area and passage to the river mouth was enormous, far too much for the owners to restore. Believe it or not, and without all of us knowing it, this most valuable part of Apopka could have been lost to developers who would have owned the riverbanks. The only public access to the famous Wekiva River. If we ignore these valuable resources, we could be in jeopardy of losing them to developers who delight in purchasing valuable vacant land and developing large, new communities.
Most of us would not want to see the only accessible entrance to the Wekiva River blocked by an iron gate that requires visitors a gate code to enter a high rise condominium building lining the banks of the beautiful Wekiva River.
SALVATION OF THE LANDING
As I write these words, I am certain that I share the pulse and heartbeat of Bob and Steve Loomis, the new owners of Kings Landing. If they could stand before the communities around Apopka and in Northwest Orange County, they would say, “Help us clean up, restore and preserve the only access to this river for the public.” That is exactly the motive behind their recent purchase of this valuable, well-known nature spot and business. Bob and Steven are really passionate about their motives. They want people to know that they have no other goal in mind except to protect and preserve the pristine waterways of the Kings Landing canoe and kayak path.
Many people are not aware of the details surrounding this historical natural and wondrous landmark. On December 22, 2006, the Bob and Steven Loomis purchased this spot for their own enjoyment and for their sons. “It is important that the people know this,” said Bob Loomis. “We want them to know our intent, motive and plans.”
It is also important to Bob and Steven that all of the people living in Apopka and surrounding areas know why they rushed to the forefront making this acquisition. This property was not purchased for resale to developers, to build on or to build on. Bob and Steven are aware of what they now own and are committed to refurbishing, restoring and preserving the pristine river, so that canoeists and kayakers can enjoy it.
In the past, the famous Kings Landing may not have had the best care and management, but Steven and Bob are very strong about this being a family place. This will be a place that will be free of alcohol, so that people, companies, groups and basically everyone can come here to canoe, fish, swim, picnic, swing from tree ropes and enjoy the otters, black bear and other Florida wildlife that inhabit the Wekiva riverbanks. The black bear are all over this place.
Visitors have basically two options: One is to rent canoes and make the trip to the Wekiva Marina, an 8-mile paddle of 3 1/2 to 4 hours. They can arrange ahead of time for the shuttle to bring them back to the place of origin. Or, if they prefer, visitors can take their canoes out a few miles to swim, fish, picnic on the riverbanks, and then return.
Now, the cleanup at Kings Landing is complete. The canoes are all restored and waiting. You can bring the kids, too! There are canoes with Care Bears, Star Wars, ET and many other characters painted on them. This place has always has terrific reviews and been known as one of the best spots for fishermen, as well as a great place to take that first-timer on a fishing trip.
Since the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, this portion of the river has been inaccessible and the waters are not fished out. It is almost a “guaranteed catch,” according to Bob Loomis. This, of course, means the odds are great that you will catch a fish when you go out. Bob is adamant about having visitors stick to the rules. “We will be very strict with our rules, such as catch and release only, no Styrofoam coolers, and again, absolutely no taking fish out of the water,” he said. On that note, we have been invited back to fish for that huge bass.
Bob Loomis has two sons, Jimmy, 13, and Mark, 10. Both are in Boy Scout Troop 211 in Apopka. Steven Loomis also has two sons, Steven, 10, and Trevor, 6. “This was purchased for our sons,” Bob said. “We want to give this to them to one day run and own. Right now, the boys love the river life, they go out early on their weekends and start fishing and swimming,” Steven Loomis said. “The problem is finding them for lunch.”
THE NEW KINGS LANDING
Kings Landing is up and running now. From businesses groups to paddle groups to families, everyone is welcome. The river passageway is now opened up and free from the hurricane debris. This is an easy and very enjoyable trip for anyone from a beginner to the most experienced paddlers. Hours are Wednesday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 a.m. until dark. Return shuttles will run on those days, at 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Groups that would like to paddle the run and bring back debris to help with cleanup can call Steven Loomis, at 407-467-8290. Kings Landing also offers a great river experience. There will be a Moonlight Paddle, with a master storyteller. Groups will leave around 5 p.m. and reach a destination where there will be a campfire, so they can cook dinner and tell stories, then paddle back to the landing.
Bob and Steven Loomis would like everyone to know that this property could have been bought by someone with other intentions for its future. If this property were closed off to public access, there would be no other way to the paddle run except for the Wekiva Marina. We can all be grateful to them that they did not allow this to happen. We can all rest and know that Kings Landing will always be a family place of fun and recreation thanks to Bob and Steven Loomis. Jimmy, Mark, Steven and Trevor will grow up at Kings Landing learning the family business and protecting this valuable place for us.
Written by: Shelley Costello