Florida’s Beautiful State Parks and more

Visited December 1, 2016 – January 18, 2017

From Crystal River, we headed south toward Ft. Lauderdale with week-long stays at Little Manatee River State Park on the west coast and Jonathan Dickinson State Park on the east.  We took long walks, hiked nature trails, enjoyed ranger-led programs and also did the same on day visits to other state parks nearby.  Plus, we got to visit with friends and family in each location which continues to be the highlight of our trip!

In Ft. Lauderdale, we camped at Easterlin Park, a beautiful county park tucked into the heart of the city.  It’s bordered by the Interstate and train tracks so there is traffic and whistle noise, but to us it was just background noise that didn’t interfere with our sleep or activities.  Easterlin is a very green, tropical oasis with lots of trees and shrubs (and iguanas!), a pond and great picnic/playground facilities.  The campground sites have green space between them so you have some privacy which is a luxury not often offered!  We met some new friends at a fun beer-tasting party held by the campground hosts and took a nighttime nature walk with the park naturalist, no flashlights allowed!  I must admit it was a little creepy at first, but our eyes adjusted and our other senses heightened.  It was a great walk, we learned a lot from the naturalist and we in turn taught him how to spider-sniff when we got back and could turn on flashlights again. 🙂

The highest highlight of our two weeks in Ft. Lauderdale was being with our extended family and friends and celebrating Christmas together.  We worshipped at CityChurch Ft. Lauderdale where our friend Brad is the founding pastor.  We hadn’t seen him and his wife Laine for several years so it was a fun surprise to show up at their church!

We got to have several visits with Tom’s mom.  She had recently written her memoir and we helped her self-publish it.  We brought her the box of newly printed and bound books and it was priceless to watch her open it!  At 88 she still has vivid recall of her whole life, as far back as age four or five growing up in Michigan and later a midlife move to Florida.  It was important for her, and a gift to all of us, to get those memories recorded for posterity.  She is getting such a kick out of being a bona fide author!  Many folks outside of our family are enjoying her book and you might, too.  Check out Jeanne’s Journey on Amazon.

We only ate out a couple of times but we highly recommend Blue Willy’s for great BBQ and 26 Degrees Brewing Company for a wide variety of local craft beverages!  It was hard to leave our family and friends but the Florida Keys were calling to us!

We spent New Year’s week in the Keys, at Curry Hammock State Park, visiting park friends and enjoying sunny, breezy days that drew lots of kite surfers out to the ocean.  I could sit and watch them all day!  We also hiked the park’s nature trail on the bayside and went out most nights to chase the sunset. 🙂

Florida National High Adventure Sea Base - Lower Matecumbe Key

Not far from the park is the FL National High Adventure Sea Base, operated by the Boy Scouts of America, where Tom worked during college.  He was the first staff member hired by the director in 1980.  They created the program that exists today but, oh man, has it grown!  That first summer they had a couple hundred scouts participate.  Now, it’s thousands!  The campus and facilities have grown and developed as the program has expanded.  We hadn’t been back in over twenty years, so it was amazing to see all the changes, and nostalgic too, since Tom was on the founding staff.

Of course, we made our way down to Key West to take our pic at the continental southernmost point!  But the line of folks wanting to do the same thing was three blocks long!  So, we walked to the backside of the marker for a pic–no lines there!  We also had a beach picnic and a super tour of the fort at Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park with Assistant Manager Andrew Grimm; he is an outstanding interpreter!  Later, we strolled Duval Street stopping for a beer and people-watching on our way to Mallory Square for the sunset and entertainment, followed by some great seafood at the Conch Republic restaurant.

Our week in the Keys flew by and we were back on the road to beautiful Collier-Seminole State Park in the Everglades near Naples.  I came down with a cold and the weather wasn’t so great, so I laid low.  Tom did some hiking without me.  We drove to Marco Island for sunset pics.  I hadn’t been there since childhood and was amazed to see how much it had been developed, and how swanky it was–nothing like the sleepy island town I remembered!

From Naples we headed north to friends in Lakeland with another perfect driveway to surf!  Gerry and Margaret are also RVers and dedicated volunteers for the Florida Park Service.  We camp with them a few times a year at our Alumni events, but even better to camp on their lovely and secluded property!  We enjoyed their wonderful home cooking and got a great tour of “their” beautiful Colt Creek State Park.  Then, for the icing on the cake…strawberries actually, they took us to the famous Parkesdale Farm Market in nearby Plant City for strawberry shortcake and strawberry shakes.  Oh. My. Goodness!!

We made our way north for one last week at our daughter’s in Crystal River.  The reality of being away from them for the rest of this calendar year is setting in for us.  Our granddaughter will join us in Alaska this summer so that’s heartwarming for sure, but missing the rest of our family is obviously the heartbreaking part of this adventure.  We’re grateful to have technology options to keep us connected across the soon-to-be thousands of miles.

Before we left, we had a personal behind the scenes tour of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park with Park Manager Kim Tennille.  She led us through all the improved additions and redeveloped exhibits and we marveled at how far the park has come since Tom went there as manager in 1990.  I can say with certainty that Tom’s leadership brought the park to a new height of excellence, but today it is leaps and bounds higher.  And it will continue to grow under Kim’s vision and leadership and with the efforts of the uniquely dedicated staff and volunteers.  We called Homosassa home for 14 years so it will always, always be special to us.

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