Thursday, August 2, 2012

Florida State Parks - The Northeast 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 Northeast Region of Florida. From there I will continue to work my way through the rest of the state in three subsequent posts.
NORTHEAST REGION
Amelia Island State Park – South of Fernandina Beach and along the discontinuous route of famous Florida highway A1A, Amelia Island state park is a real sleeper in the state park system. Made up primarily of blindingly beautiful beaches Amelia provides excellent bird watching opportunities in migration.
Big Shoals – Tucked away in an obscure corner of northern Florida east of White Springs, Big Shoals State Parks claim to fame is the white water kayaking opportunities that abound when water conditions are perfect.
Big Talbot Island – One of several beach parks northeast of Jacksonville, Big Talbot is one of the better birding parks in this part of Florida.
Cedar Key Museum – In my mind there are two towns that still retain their original “real Florida” charm. They are Apalachicola in the Panhandle and Cedar Key. If you want to experience Key West in the 1930s before all the glitz and alcoholism struck then head to Cedar Key in Levy County. Visit the museum on the north side of town and learn about the early history of what has to be my most favorite Florida town.
Cedar Key Scrub Preserve – Located between the town of Cedar Key and the Lower Suwannee River National Wildlife Refuge this patch of remnant Florida scrub habitat is a strong hold for the endangered Florida Scrub-Jay.
Crystal River Archeological - This site along the Crystal River is set aside to protect six mound complexes set among the lowlands of and near the Crystal River estuary.
Crystal River Preserve – The lowland forests and estuarine emergent wetlands of this ecological gem can provide you with hour upon hour of enjoyment for fishing, birding, or just hanging out.
Devil’s Millhopper - Located at the edge of Tallahassee, this geological site is a must see for anyone interested in geomorphology. Be prepared with plenty of water in your backpack before you make the trek down the wooden stairs to the bottom. And it all started with just one pebble of sand.
Dudley Farm – I’ve never really understood why Dudley Farm became a State Park. Of course I never understood why Florida elected a criminal as governor either. Moving along quickly now…..
Fanning Springs State Park – At the edge of Fanning Springs along the Suwannee River, this park is more like a city recreational area than a site for resource protection.
Forest Capital Museum – Set at the south side of Perry in Taylor County, you can learn about the importance of the forest industry in Florida at this museum. And when the winds are out of the northeast you can do your learning while inhaling the scent from a nearby paper mill.
Fort Clinch State Park - The northernmost state park in Florida Fort Clinch is a Civil War era fort that was also used in the Spanish-American War. It’s also a superb area for winter bird watching. If you want to add Red-throated Loon or maybe a Snow Bunting to your Florida state list, this is the place to hang out and spend time looking.
Fort Cooper State Park – This is a remnant from the Second Seminole War, a major event in Florida’s early history. Fort Cooper is one of the state parks that the Tea Baggers want to sell off because they see no value in preserving history.
Fort George Island Cultural State Park – The mansion here at the edge of Timucuan National Park preserves a 1920s era golf and country club.
George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier – This fishing bridge just northeast of Jacksonville is just that – a fishing bridge. Why it qualifies as a State Park is a mystery that I likely will never solve.
Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park – This is more of a self-contained zoo than a State Park. If you want to see West Indian Manatees go to nearby Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge where you can see them in the wild rather than here where you can see them through panes of thick glass.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park – River rafters and tubers are in seventh heaven on this beautiful stretch of forested river north of Fort White Florida.
Lafayette Blue Springs – There are 33 first-order springs in Florida and this state park protects one of them.
Little Talbot Island State Park – Crushingly beautiful beaches and nearby sand dune habitat await the visitor to this excellent state park northeast of Jacksonville.
Madison Blue Spring State Park – Another of Florida’s several state parks that protect a first order spring.
Manatee Springs State Park – Located at the outskirts of Chiefland Florida this park provides essential winter habitat for West Indian Manatees.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings - Travel to this little historical park near Cross Creek to learn about the idyllic life of the author of the classic novel “The Yearling.” Be aware of the skin of a massive Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake hanging on a wall. One of his brothers or sisters might still be sliding around out there and they could very quickly ruin your entire day.
Mike Roess Gold Head Beach State Park – Another state park that is designed for the recreational needs of the masses rather than the habitat needs of the critters being replaced by all the masses of humans.
O’Leno State Park – Situated on the banks of the Santa Fe River near High Springs, Florida, O’Leno protects an extensive area of forest and associated forested wetlands. For some reason there always seem to be a lot of American Goldfinches here in winter.
Olustee Battlefield – This site of the largest Civil War battle in Florida is located in Baker County. Like most of the other sites this one commemorates a Confederate victory and a crushing Union defeat. How we ever won the war was a mystery.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park – Just south of Gainesville lies one of the absolute gems of the Florida State Park system. This is how a state park is supposed to look. Paynes Prairie is a major wintering area for the eastern population of Sandhill Cranes that nest in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and eastern Ontario.
Peacock Springs State Park – Another day, another park made from another spring. Next.
Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve – The largest contiguous tract of coastal uplands remaining in Duval County is protected in Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve. Well, its protected until the Tea Baggers sell it.
Rainbow Springs State Park – These beautiful springs are set aside for masses of tourists and swimmers.
River Rise Preserve – Just south of O’Leno, River Rise Preserve protects a region of the Santa Fe River where it emerges after flowing several miles under the surface of the land. Neat!
San Felasco Hammock Preserve – An excellent conglomeration of upland forest and wet meadow habitats await the visitor to this gem just north of Gainesville.
Florida’s Nature and Heritage Tourism Center – This site isn’t really a state park. If you have stopped at one of the tourist information centers on any of the freeways entering Florida you’ve seen all the same fliers and posters and free cups of coffee that you likewise see here. The only reason n I will stop here again is to get the passport stamp.
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center – Located in White Springs, I remember my first time visiting here being so excited to learn about the history of Stephen Foster who penned those words in the song about “way down upon the Suwannee River.” It wasn’t until I arrived here that I learned Foster never once stepped foot on any portion of the river. He chose the Suwannee River just because he needed a rhyming word for the song. What a huge freaking disappointment. It was like learning that Santa Claus is your parents.
Suwannee River State Park – Some of the finest looks at one of the most important rivers in Florida can be obtained from this beautiful park set along a beautiful river. Some day before I expire I want to paddle a kayak the entire length of the Suwannee River. I can’t imagine how many cottonmouth’s I would see on that trip!
Troy Spring State Park – Yawn. Next.
Waccasassa Bay Preserve – Made up entirely of water the only access to this preserve is by boat or by swimming.
Yellow Bluff Fort – This diminutive site along the St. John’s River commemorates an important military position during the Civil War.
Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins – If you want to learn about the once-thriving sugar industry in this part of Florida this site near Homosassa is an excellent place to being your quest.

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