Shingle Creek Regional Park at Steffee Landing recently opened a newly constructed kayak, canoe and paddle board rental facility called The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek. The creek and surrounding area, to include West Lake Tohopekaliga (Lake Toho for short), has a rich history and cultural heritage reaching back to the 1800s. Shortly after the United States Civil War, Shingle Creek became home to those seeking a new life in a warmer climate. With plenty of available resources such as food, water, and timber, as well as easy access to the trade hub that was West Lake Toho, Shingle Creek was among the earliest settlements in the greater Kissimmee area. At the turn of the 20th century, the creek’s abundant Bald Cypress trees provided timber for settlers’ houses, as well as shingles for their roofs, thus inspiring the creek’s name. Steffee Landing is uniquely situated at the confluence of the original “water highway” used by the Seminole Indians and the modern “land highway” (Hwy 192), which is a well-known tourist corridor linking Disney World to the City of Kissimmee, 10 miles away. Paddling Center visitors on canoes and kayaks passing under Highway 192 quickly become immersed in the ecological diversity and natural beauty that is Shingle Creek, experiencing what the Seminole Indians may have experienced 200 years ago.
Today, Shingle Creek is remarkably undisturbed. This is due, in part, to the amazing efforts put forth by Osceola County to acquire lands adjacent to the creek in attempts to fend off urban sprawl. Although much of the creek and its surrounding lands have remained relatively unchanged since the days of early settlers, there is still fluctuation and variation within the environment. Shingle Creek is fed by a large watershed located in South Orange County and North Osceola County. During months of heavy rains, in late summer and early fall, water levels may rise 1 to 3 feet over the course of several weeks as evidenced by the high water marks on the cypress trees lining the Creek. High water levels typically are associated with swifter currents, and there are times when only experienced paddlers are able to successfully navigate the 1.25 mile South paddling trail from the launch point at The Paddling Center facility. Even during these wet months, visitors enjoy a wide-open paddling trail that comprises the 1.25 mile North paddling trail. Both North and South paddling trails offer a diverse array of wildlife, such as alligators, wading birds, turtles, otters,
Beautiful Cypress Forest Scenery and eagles; as well as some beautiful flora – Spanish moss, bromeliads, cypress trees, and water lilies. Surprisingly, due to the constant water flow throughout the year, mosquitoes are virtually non-existent when on the water, making it an exceptionally pleasant experience for all.
To accommodate the diverse needs of local organizations and groups, as well as visitors from within and outside the U.S., The Paddling Center has developed several special programs during its first year in existence. These include guided and unguided eco-tours, educational classes (water- and land-based), team building activities, and kayak training classes. Coming soon will be camping and clamping (catered camping) on Makinson Island located on West Lake Toho, as well as a shuttle van service allowing paddlers to go down-current (South) only through an amazing cypress forest area, and bike rentals. Biking and hiking opportunities will expand greatly in the upcoming year due to the imminent completion of a biking/hiking trail along the East shoreline of the Creek stretching from The Paddling Center facility to Babb Landing and the Pioneer Village complex, located just over a mile to the North. A newly constructed bridge over the creek at Babb Landing will allow bikers/hikers to cross over to the West shoreline of the creek and continue North toward the county line and beyond. Plans for expanding this biking/hiking trail North to Clermont and the West Orange Biking Trial are being explored, as are plans to link the East and West coast of Florida via a “Coast-to-Coast” biking trail from Port Canaveral to St. Petersburg. Once the coast-to-coast and North-to-South biking trail sections are linked into a continuous route, there will exist a magnificent biking, hiking, and paddling trail complex within Central Florida with Shingle Creek and The Paddling Center being a central hub, where all three tails come together.
The county also has a long-held vision of expanding the paddling trail to the South, beyond West Lake Toho and utilizing the Kissimmee River to reach the Everglades. This vision includes identifying selected campsites spaced 10 miles apart, allowing paddlers to complete multiple day-long paddles starting from Shingle Creek, the headwaters of the Everglades, to Lake Okeechobee. In summary, Osceola County’s vision for developing an eco-friendly bike-hike-paddle corridor that will be available for all to enjoy is well on its way to becoming a reality!