Friday, August 3, 2012

Florida State Parks - Central Region


Florida is blessed with one of the most extensive state park systems in the country. And, despite the presence of a criminal presently residing in the Governor’s mansion, it’s state parks are among the best managed nationally.

On moving to Florida in March 2008 I discovered that just like the National Park Service system, the Florida state parks system maintains a passport stamp program. Each state park has a stamp unique to it and if you slog your way through all of the parks in the system (currently 152 of them) and obtain a stamp for each one, you receive a complimentary front license place from the parks agency

Not all parks are able to maintain an active onsite staff (another of Governor Rick Scott’s many accomplishments) however passport stamps for those parks can be obtained at larger nearby parks.  For instance, the stamp for unmanned Cedar Key Scrub Preserve is obtained at nearby Cedar Key Museum.

The first state park I visited in Florida was Collier-Seminole in Collier County. There I purchased my first passport stamp book and after traveling around the state for a year I finished obtaining stamps for all of the parks at Big Lagoon State Park in Escambia County Not satisfied to leave it there, I purchased another passport stamp book and completed the second round of visits at Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West – at the exact opposite end of the state from Big Lagoon.

Not many people have completed one circuit of the state park system let alone two times. That day at Fort Zach I purchased a third passport stamp book and in June 2011 finished filling it out at Torreya State Park in the Panhandle.  Currently I am working on a fourth round of visits to each state park. When that’s completed I’ll do it a fifth time.

Because you can obtain stamps for the unmanned parks without actually visiting them, I decided during my third round of visits that I would go one step further in obtaining documentation of my visits.

This time around I began photographing the entrance sign for each of them.  Doing so turned into a challenge because places like unmanned Mound Key Archeological Site and St. Lucie Inlet Preserve require a boat ride or a kayak paddle to physically visit the site and obtain a photo. Likewise, Yellow Bluff Fort in Jacksonville doesn’t actually have an entrance sign – just a plaque on a slab of concrete announcing the presence of the park.

Not long ago I had obtained photographs for all but two of Florida’s 152 actively managed state parks (there are 14 others that do not have a passport stamp or public access or both).

The two missing photos were for Egmont Key State Preserve at the mouth of Tampa Bay and Anclote Key State Park offshore from Tarpon Springs.  I attempted to get a picture of Anclote in February 2012 but the ferry system used put me on South Anclote Bar where there were no signs.

On July 28, 2012 I took the ferry from Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County over to Egmont Key. I had last been on this island in the mid-1990s when I accompanied the National Wildlife Refuge manager there.

All of Egmont is a National Wildlife Refuge but part of it is managed as a state park through a cooperative agreement. On this trip I wanted to visit the state managed area to see and photograph the sign.

That was accomplished easily on a brilliantly hot and bright July weekend afternoon.

Leaving Egmont Key for the mainland I was one park short of my goal – a picture of Anclote Key’s sign. Before making the 90 minute drive to Tarpon Springs where I planned to hire a boat for half a day to run out to the main island, I called Anclote Key to confirm the presence and location of a sign.

Imagine my surprise when I was informed that there is no sign for Anclote Key! Thus when I took the picture of the Egmont Key sign I had completed my quest and now have a photograph for all the actively managed parks that possess a sign (although the signs for Terra Ceia and Cockroach Bay are marginal in their acceptance as a park entrance sign).

To commemorate this accomplishment I am going to post my picture of each of the State Park signs.

With the picture comes a small blurb about the park – something unique or some experience I have had there in each of my visits.  This post deals with all of the State Parks in the Central Region of Florida.  From there I will continue to work my way through the rest of the state in two subsequent posts.
CENTRAL REGION
Alan David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve – Just north of Lake Kissimmee State Park but a million miles away by road it seems, Catfish Creek is one of the gems of the Florida State Park system. Its boundary now borders the acquisition boundary for the new 150,000 acre Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge. What a beautiful collection of wild Florida that complex will be.
Anastasia State Park - Just south of downtown St. Augustine, Anastasia protects some wickedly beautiful coastal dune habitat.
Blue Spring State Park – If you want to see West Indian Manatees in winter there is simply no better place around than this park adjacent to the St. John’s River near Deltona.
Bulow Creek State Park – An unmanned jewel of habitat along the Atlantic coast near Ormond Beach.
Bulow Plantation Ruins State Archeological Site – The half-mile drive from the main road to the ruins is one of the most scenic drives in Florida. Here is another excellent example of what the real Florida is supposed to look like.
Colt Creek State Park – A relatively new state park northwest of Lakeland, Colt Creek provides excellent forest birding.
De Leon Springs State Park – More of a municipal swimming pool than a state park, I only go here to get the passport stamp each time I’m working on filling a new book. Next.
Dunn’s Creek State Park – Located in Putnam County this state park is a cornucopia of habitats all jumbled together in a complex mosaic. You can spend days exploring here and never get bored. At least I haven’t.
Faver-Dykes State Park – Solitude is the best word to describe this largely undeveloped (and keep it that way) state park near St. Augustine.
Fort Mose State Park – Protecting a site that was once a settlement for freed African slaves, Fort Mose is an excellent location to learn a bit more about the dynamic history of Florida.
Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach – Whew. I get exhausted each time I say the entire name of this place! Protecting some gorgeous coastal habitats, Gamble Rogers is an excellent birding area especially in winter.
Hontoon Island State Park – Leave your car in the parking lot, stand on the pontoon dock and wait for the electric boat from the island to come over and pick you up. Take a 3 minute ride across a backwater of the St. John’s River and then step out onto one of the jewels of the Florida State Park system.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park – Without doubt this is my all-time most favorite state park in Florida. Located out in the middle of nowhere in Okeechobee County, each time I visit here I am taken back to a place in my life when I lived in either North Dakota or Nebraska. Wide, expansive vistas of Florida wet prairie greet visitors who take the time to look around Want to see (or more likely hear) an endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow? There is no better place than right here to do that. I just absolutely love being here.
Lake Griffin State Park – Another state park that is more appropriate as a local swimming pool. If the Tea Baggers have to prove a point and sell off something in the State Park System I would have no issue with them excessing this state park.
Lake Kissimmee State Park – Wow! What a fantastic patch of habitat. Here you can find the entire suite of Florida pineland birds and do so with ease. Listen to a clan of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers chattering as Bachman’s Sparrow song rings out from the pine forest. As you stumble around here soaking in what the state park has to offer, make sure you keep an eye on the ground for large reptiles with diamond-shaped patterns on their backs.
Lake Louisa State Park – Managed more for RV “camping” than anything else, Lake Louisa is an interesting place to spend an hour or two working on your county bird list. Otherwise its best left to those who are into RVing.
Lower Wekiva River Preserve – A large tract of untrammeled lowland forest just a stone’s throw from the madness of the Orlando/Ratworld metro area. How it survived this long is a mystery but it has and I hope it always will.
North Peninsula State Park – Yummy is not a very scientific word but in the case of North Peninsula it’s an excellent word to use in describing the coastal habitats protected here.
Ravine Gardens State Park – Situated in the south side of Palatka, Ravine Gardens is one of three extensive botanical gardens/ arboretums that have been set aside and managed by the Florida Park System.
Rock Springs Run State Park – Like Lower Wekiva River Preserve, Rock Springs run is another patch of beautiful habitat that has been protected from the crush of human development that is swallowing central Florida. And it’s all because of a rat-like animal dreamed up in one of Walt Disney’s cocaine-euphoric dreams.
St. Sebastian River Preserve – Not far north of Fellsmere and right on the Brevard County line, this preserve is an excellent bird watching and nature interpretation area.
Sebastian Inlet State Park – Stand under the A1A bridge at sunrise looking east. Take a snapshot of what you see in your mind and remember that beauty at 1:00 p.m. when Sebastian Inlet is crawling with boaters and beach goers. Sunrise is the best time to be here. The birds all agree as well.
Silver River State Park – Some very nice forested habitat has been protected from the ravages of the burgeoning Ocala area in this park.
Tomoka State Park – I remain awestruck by the enormity of the beauty of the forests at this park each time I get to visit it.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park – Another of the three botanical gardens set aside as state parks. I really enjoy my time spent here every time I get to visit this part of Florida. My guess is you will as well.
Wekiwa Springs State Park – Get there early because this little patch of what once was at the edge of the Ratworld metro area fills up quickly on weekends!

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