Posted by: RasmaSandra | May 30, 2018

Florida Off the Beaten Path

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Blackwater River State Park is one of the few remaining sand-bottom rivers in the Southeast and even though its water is tannin-stained it is one of the cleanest. It is located in Holt, Florida. The park offers both canoeing and swimming and has fine sand beaches. There are nature trails which wind through more than 600 acres, a boardwalk across a swamp and a picnic area. The ecological systems here include the river floodplain with swamps, sand levees, and small lakes. In the woods, one can see white-tailed deer and turkeys.

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The river otter roams the floodplain. One of the largest and oldest Atlantic white cedars stands among the other trees that line the river.

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You’ll find the Paynes Prairie State Preserve in Micanopy. It was named in honor of the Seminole Indian King Payne who was killed in a battle with American settlers near the Georgia border in 1812. In 1970 the state purchased some 18,000 acres to make a habitat for wildlife.

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A panoramic view can be enjoyed from a 50-foot observation tower. Birding is superb here and at the visitor’s center, one can get a list of the 215 species making their home at the preserve. There is a recreation area at Lake Wauberg and Sawgrass Pond that is popular for picnicking, swimming, boating, and fishing.

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The preserve also has several miles of riding trails and a corral.

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Buffalo and other wildlife can be seen and there are guided observation walks available.

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Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Site – Marjorie Rawlings came to live in Cross Creek in 1928. At that time she was an unknown writer and lived in poverty. Seven years later she sold her first story and her reputation started growing.

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Finally, she wrote her most famous work “The Yearling” which won a Pulitzer Prize. Her home is a typical Cracker homestead which is designed for optimum cross-ventilation. The house consists of three clapboard units which are connected by porches and shaded by wide overhangs. The home is surrounded by orange trees and magnolia. In 2007 Rawlings house and farmyard was designated as a National Historic Landmark, in 2008 the United States Postal Service released a commemorative stamp honoring her and Marjorie Rawlings was honored as a First Floridian by Governor Charlie Crist in March 2009.

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Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore – Merritt Island was inhabited by Indians since about 7,000 B.C. This refuge shares a border with the John F. Kennedy Space Center.

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There are 13 miles of unspoiled golden sand between Apollo and Palyalinda Beaches. One can hike and take the time to swim and gather seashells. One can also shellfish, and surf cast for pompano, bluefish and other species. Boating, canoeing, and fishing can be enjoyed at the adjacent Mosquito Lagoon. The refuge has two nature drives which can be explored by car and on foot two short hiking trails. There are 250 bird species to be observed. Birds such as great blue and green herons, snowy egrets and the rare anhingas and black skimmers can be seen here. There are also 19 endangered species most notably the southern bald eagle and the brown pelican.

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Offshore one can occasionally see porpoises, manatees, and whales. The Canaveral information center offers a slide show on the history of this tidal area and the wildlife it supports.

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Fort Foster Historic Site is located south of Zephyrhills in Florida. The log fort and the wooden bridge that spans the Hillsborough River are reconstructions of the originals that were built here in 1836 during the Second Seminole War which is said to be the most costly Indian War in United States history. The fort was meant to safeguard the bridge along Fort King Military Road from Tampa Bay to what is now Ocala. The frontier bastion remained garrisoned until June 1838 and during its last few months was in the command of General Zachary Taylor who was later to become the 12th U.S. president. The fort may be visited only by one of the tours leaving hourly on weekends from adjacent Hillsborough River State Park.

A quarter-mile trip by van from the park’s visitor center takes one to a shelter 900 feet from the site. Then visitors continue on foot along the old Fort King Military Road to the fort. Rangers in the uniforms of those 2nd Artillery soldiers who manned the fort in 1837 explain the events of that time and the life of the artillerymen posted here.

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Hillsborough River State Park is noted for its beautiful scenery and flanks 10 miles of riverfront.

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There are some 3,000 acres of hardwood, hammocks, pine flat woods and marsh.

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The river and its rapids attract fishermen, who catch bass, catfish, garfish and other game fish. The park also has a swimming pond, a network of trails and canoe rentals.

Elliott Museum and Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge is located on Hutchinson Island, Stuart.

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At the Elliott Museum, one can see replicas of 19th-century shops – an ice cream parlor, tobacco and apothecary shops, a shoe store, a millinery, and a combination general store and post office complete with display items and original fixtures. Children will be fascinated by an elaborate four-ring toy circus with animals, performers and spectators, and a furnished dollhouse of the Revolutionary War period. Some of the other hundreds of items to be admired are model trains, lead soldiers, a collection of clocks and watches, classic automobiles, glassware and Indian artifacts. These exhibits reflect the interests of Harmon P. Elliot who built the museum in memory of his father, Sterling. Both father and son were prolific inventors and between them, they obtained more than 220 patents. One of the more intriguing innovations to see is the father’s knot-tying machine which was patented in 1881.

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Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge was named for the pirate Don Pedro Gilbert. It opened in 1876 and served until 1945 as a way station for seamen shipwrecked off the treacherous coastline here. It has been completely restored and is included in The National Register of Historic Places. The clapboard house contains some fine Victorian furniture and an array of antique nautical equipment, woodworking tools, and memorabilia. On display are such lifesaving devices as a Lyle gun, used to fire lines from shore to ship, and a breeches buoy.

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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples includes over 11,000 acres of wilderness. There are pine flat woods, wet prairie, swampland, and typical hardwood hammocks. Native plants can be enjoyed on foot along a beautiful 1 ¾ mile long boardwalk overhung by Spanish moss. It is the home of the nation’s largest surviving stand of virgin bald cypress trees many of which are about 700 years old. One can see lettuce lakes, cypress knees, floating russocks, water hemlock, ropes of the strangler fig, ferns and lilies, brilliant hibiscus, royal palms and various epiphytes (plants such as the tree-growing butterfly, cigar and clamshell orchids that grow on other plants).

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Among the birds seen here are cardinals, red-shouldered hawks and rare birds known as limpkins and the country’s largest colony of wood storks. There are also alligators, Florida water snakes, mosquito fish, and turtles. At the visitor’s center on display are photos of the wildlife found in the swamp and a diorama of the ecological profile of a swamp. The sanctuary is managed by the National Audubon Society.

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Biscayne National Park is an oceanic expanse of 175,000 acres encompasses the keys and living coral reefs of southern Biscayne Bay. It is one of the largest marine preserves in the United States. Waters here are turquoise and crystal clear. They are great for fishing, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving and marine gazing in general. The best way to explore the park is by boat. Visitors can launch their own at Convoy Point, the mainland information center or take a tour. One can take a 1 ½ hour excursion in a glass-bottom boat along the mangrove-fringed shoreline. It gives a colorful view of the grassy seabeds and the shrimp, lobster, green turtles, sponges and exotic tropical fish lurking along the bottom.

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Visitors can also take an excursion on a 50-foot excursion boat to Elliott Key seven miles offshore. Here one can find a small swimming beach on the ocean side and get a chance to snorkel or dive around coral reefs. There is a boardwalk on a 1 ½ mile nature trail through a hardwood hammock. The visitor center on Elliot Key presents programs on the ecosystem of the wetlands and the plants and wildlife inhabiting them. At Convoy Information Center visitors are familiarized with the local coral, sponges, and shellfish. Along the shore are picnic tables with grills beside tree-high sea grapes and mahogany trees. Here you can watch brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, white and blue herons, terns and gulls. The fish most often caught are bluefish, pompano, striped bass, and groupers. One can also catch blue crabs and crayfish. Lobstering is not permitted because this preserve is a sanctuary for this shellfish.

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Flamingo Area Everglades National Park – Flamingo on the shore of Florida Bay is the center for sightseeing in the southern sector of the primeval Everglades. Visitors can choose foot trails, canoe trails or privately operated cruises. There are four walking trails.

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The most popular is Snake Bight Trail along which one can go on foot or ride the wilderness tram which starts near the park ranger station. There are some 345 bird species and nearly 100 kinds of butterflies including such rarities as the dingy purple wings, least Florida skippers, mimics and byssus skippers.

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The park is also host to Seminole bats, nine-banded armadillos, black bears, Everglade minks, and bobcats. On the Rowdy Bend, Bear Lake and Christian Point trails one can see other facets of this unique ecological system. Four cruises go along the local waterways, three of them along scenic Florida Bay. At low tide, you can expect to see brown pelicans, egrets, great blue herons, and other large birds looking along the shoreline for food. For those who are interested in seeing the inland waterways and plant life there is a pontoon boat that goes into the Everglade wilderness. Any of the five different trails can be taken by canoe. There is even a 100-mile Wilderness Waterway which takes one through the backcountry between Everglade City and Flamingo. Canoes, skiffs, outboard motors, pontoon boats, bicycles and fishing gear may all be rented.


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