By Lucy Tobias, Author, Artist, Authentic Florida expert
When visiting faraway places ask yourself – what will I be unhappy about if I don’t get to see/experience it while I’m here?
The same question works for being in Florida, even if you live here.
What would I miss here in Florida if I didn’t experience it?
For me it would be Florida State Parks, all 160 of them around the state.
The oldest state park is Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park dedicated in 1899 and the newest is Weeki Wachee Springs State Park acquired in 2008. Thirty-nine parks are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Talk about diversity!
Diversity that includes – Living history museums, white sand beaches more beautiful than any brochure can depict, endangered ecosystems saved from bulldozers – all state parks embrace conservation of natural and cultural history.
It is a concept the Florida Legislature doesn’t understand as they attempted in the past two years, and failed, to place exotic animals and golf courses on these lands. Public outrage beat back these disgraces. If you were one of those who spoke up, thank you.
Meanwhile the rest of us get it. We really get it, especially in these hard economic times when families are looking for fun things to do that are cheap and close to home.
State parks fill the bill. The entrance prices are reasonable. There is a state park near you.
Over 20 million people visit state parks each year and the numbers are rising. Maybe every state legislator should be required to visit at least one state park and talk to people about why they are there. Twice Florida’s state parks have been named the best in the nation. Twice. Says something, doesn’t it? They are great just the way they are.
Every park has a unique signature. At Lake Jackson Mounds Archaeological State Park in Tallahassee, walk a forest trail indented with the tread of Indians who used these pathways eight hundred years ago.
In Apalachicola at the Orman House Historic State Park tour his antebellum home built in 1838 and get a taste for the halcyon days in the 19th century when cotton was king.
At Silver River State Park in Ocala (where my dogs love to walk the trails) rent a canoe and float along the Silver River. Look at the lovely shoreline on both sides. A combination of state and local partnerships bought this land and saved the riverbanks from becoming waterfront home frontage.
Like shelling? Go to Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin. The shelling is good here. Birders will be happy too – a high number of ospreys nest at Honeymoon along with a wide variety of shorebirds.
Take a glass-bottom boat tour at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo and see the reef. Get even a closer look by scuba diving or snorkeling.
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach is a barrier island with coastal hammock and mangrove forest – home to several endangered plants. Bring a picnic lunch on Sunday afternoon and listen to bluegrass music. Swim, fish and hike the nature trail.
Every state park has a variety of activities and events. Fifty-five parks have campgrounds, 19 have cabins and one has a lodge – overnight accommodations are a good choice for a multi-day vacation.
I’m on a quest to see and experience all 160 state parks. Join me! It is a worthy goal.
If visiting parks is your new thing to do – save money and get an annual park pass – $60 for an individual and $120 for an family – certainly cheaper than going to a tourist attraction for one day.
For help and a bit of fun in the quest, get a Florida State Parks Passport, available at parks for $9.95. All 160 parks are in there with descriptions. Get your Passport stamped for every park you visit.
Did You Know?
My book 50 Great Walks in Florida has 14 chapters that are state parks and with Bonus Points (other places to go) a total of 32 state parks are destinations.
Here are a few upcoming events in May at state parks and all are good reasons to visit parks while the weather is still mild:
May 12 – Secrets of the Salt Marsh, Fort George Island Cultural State Park, Jacksonville. Free event. No reservations necessary. A park ranger leads a hike along the salt marsh starting at 2 p.m.
May 12 – 6-10 p.m. Picnic & Stargazing in the park, Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound (south of Stuart). Admission: $15 includes picnic dinner. Reservations required, limited to 50 people. Call Patricia Magrogan at (561) 746-7353.
May 13- Mother’s Day Buffet, Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, Wakulla Springs (southwest of Tallahassee). At the historic Wakulla Springs Lodge. Call for reservations and prices, (850) 421-2000.
May 13 – 2-4 p.m. Conch Stomp Band plays bluegrass at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, North Palm Beach. Concert is free with park admission of $5 per carload. On May 20 from 1-4 p.m. the band “Untold Riches” plays bluegrass. These concerts are outside.
May 17 – Sunset Yoga on the Beach, two hours before sunset at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in Naples. Park entrance fee, $6 per vehicle, applies. Bring a mat or towel, water and wear comfortable clothes for stretching.
May 19 – Low Tide Bike Ride, starting at 2:30 p.m. at Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, to promote physical and healthy lifestyles. Ranger-led event with 3 ½ mile low tide bike ride and bird watch. Bring water, bike, snack, binoculars and sunscreen. Park entrance fees apply. Bike rentals are available at Island Beach Store and Grill inside the park.
May 19- Coffee with the Birds – Silver River State Park in Ocala, starts at 8 a.m. Join an experienced birder for a gentle hike through woodlands. ID birds by sight and sound. Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a coffee cup, insect repellent advised. No pets. This is the final bird walk for the season. Begins again in September. Regular park fees apply.