Tag Archives: fishing

Tate’s Hell State Forest is Heavenly for Some Visitors

Many Visitors Think Tate’s Hell State Forest is Heavenly

Despite it’s name, many visitors think Tate’s Hell State Forest is heavenly. Not everyone thinks Cebe Tate was correct when he emerged from the woods and declared he’d been through hell.

Today, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Forestry manages the land (some areas are managed by the State of Florida) that encompasses Tate’s Hell State Forest and surrounding areas, with a goal to restore natural habitat while still allowing recreational use and limited commercial use. Slash pine stands have been thinned to a more natural setting or cleared altogether and replanted with longleaf pines better suited to the habitat. 15% of all revenue earned from the timber industry, recreational use, hunting, and other sources of income benefits Franklin and Liberty counties.

Birders watch for barred owls, the red shouldered hawk, wild turkey, bald eagles and red cockaded woodpeckers. Hunters stalk wild boar, bobcat, nutria, gray squirrel, beaver, and other wildlife, while photographers hunt wild deer and small game.

Other habitats within Tate’s Hell State Forest include the Dwarf Cypress stands found there: although well over 150 years old, the trees are only 15 feet tall. An elevated boardwalk takes visitors through the stands and the observation tower offers panoramic views of the trees. A six-mile hike along the High Bluff Coastal Hiking Trail takes hikers up ancient sand dunes that offer stunning views of the forest and St. George Sound or you may choose the educational eastern trailhead that offers information on the various ecosystems as well as the history of the turpentine industry that once thrived here.

Tate's Hell Forest #4As is usually the case with the unusual places featured in Finding Florida, odd names are attached to the place. Waterways within Tate’s Hell State Forest include Gully Branch, Sunday Rollaway, Alligator, Deep, and Cash Creek, as well as Whiskey George Creek. Road names are just as amusing: Jet Engine Road, Nero Road, Billy’s Road, Car Body Road, and Lake Morality Road are just a few that bring a smile to your face.

Hunting and fishing are strictly regulated here, and valid licenses, permits and stamps are required! Hunting is only allowed in designated areas at designated times. The Division of Forestry and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission establish the areas appropriate for Still Hunt and hunting with dogs. Off highway vehicles must have a registered decal and are restricted to designated areas.

While some find the supervision oppressive, most people who respect the habitat appreciate the balanced approach the federal and state government employ when managing access and resources and preserving the beauty within Tate’s Hell State Forest.

 

Snook Haven, a Retreat to “Old Florida”

Snook Haven: Retreat to an Earlier Era in Venice, Florida

Snook Haven is accessed from the intersection at Old Venice Avenue and River Road in Venice, Florida (exit 191 off Interstate 75). A sign at the entrance of a dirt road points the way in. The drive takes you deep into the jungle that leads to the banks of the Myakka River, just upstream from the Gulf of Mexico, and the small clearing known as Snook Haven.

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History still rests here, despite the modernization of running water and electricity and yes, even an unpaved parking lot. First used by indigenous Native Americans, it became an excellent smuggling site and hideaway for rumrunners in the 1920s and 30s and a perfect watering hole for the locals who knew how to keep their mouths shut.

As prohibition waned, other interest moved in on Snook Haven. A New England businessman was the first to develop the area, building a house by the river for himself, and several cabins for his fishing pals. He also generously kept the place supplied with willing young ladies whose job it was to keep the guests happy. Today, the property is not nearly as nefarious and is under the ownership of Sarasota County. The on-site restaurant is still rustic and serves up local cuisine and the cabins house the boat rental and other businesses, none of them selling moonshine or favors of a different sort.

The site caught the eye of Hollywood scouts as the perfect location for jungle wilderness movies, such as “Prestige” in1931, a movie about, of all things, the French Foreign Legion. One of the Tarzan movies was filmed in the area around Snook Haven, as well as the 1947 “Revenge of the Killer Turtles”, and, of course, as with an artistic endeavor, many of the movies did not reach such heights of glory.

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I must admit that I’ve never encountered a killer turtle on any of my canoe trips up and down the Myakka. Most of them seem pretty laid back.

 

Swamp Walk #5

 

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I do keep a close eye on the alligators, though, and keep a respectful distance.

 

 

Alligator hunting season started a few weeks ago and it opened with a bang when two Venice fishermen caught a 12 ½ foot alligator in the Myakka not far from the Snook Haven landing (photo courtesy of wwsbtv).

It took an hour to overpower the massive alligator and the men feared the giant gator would sink their 14 foot fishing boat. In true “Old Florida” style, once the taxidermist is done, the men plan to donate it to the Snook Haven Restaurant, which seems fitting.

It hasn’t arrived yet, but the new managers of the restaurant are displaying other impressive examples of local habitat. If you’re lucky enough to go today, you’ll enjoy live country music entertainment from 11 AM until mid to late afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palm Island Resort, an All-Inclusive Getaway

Palm Island Resort, an All-Inclusive Getaway With Something for Everyone

Palm Island Resort is a unique getaway destination located off Florida’s southwest coast between Fort Myers and Sarasota. It is accessible by boat or ferry. The Palm Island Resort is on the north end of the island. Private homes, many available for seasonal rental, are on the south.

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Supplies must be carried in, so plan carefully, since the ferry ride is not cheap, even though the island is only100 yards across the Intracoastal Waterway that divides the island from the coast of Placida.

We’ve stayed at the Palm Island Resort twice and thoroughly enjoyed the experience both times. For those seeking privacy, I recommend Palm Island Resort Village 1, Unit #18. It is a duplex “cottage” on the edge of the property, offering three bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen and laundry directly on the beach. Bayside homesites are available, as well. Of course, as families with children return to the school year and legislators in Florida consider the value of standardized testing vacationing couples may prefer less spacious digs, so one and two bedroom units are available, as well.

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Unlike the beach at Dog Island, in addition to two miles of pristine white sand beach, the Palm Island Resort offers several swimming pools, eleven tennis courts, and a fitness center. Deep sea fishing packages can be arranged for you on island. Several nearby golf courses are available to those so inclined, and for those interested in eco-tourism, there are miles of nature walks.

Palm Island Resort Amenities

Palm Island Resort offers numerous amenities, from a small shop for souvenirs and sundries, to rentals for everything from golf carts to snorkeling gear. You can eat the food you bring in, or the resort offers two restaurants that feature island drinks and a menu that is heavily slanted to seafood (one off island, the other is located on the resort grounds) as well as a coffee café as dining options.

For those interested in destination weddings, family reunions, corporate retreats or small business conferences, the Palm Island Resort clubhouse can accommodate up to 120 guests, but larger events (up to 450 people) can be held in a tented facility. Planning, decorating, and catering is seen to by an attentive staff attuned to attention to the smallest detail.

Expect an unhurried pace, plenty of entertainment, and, yes, even a little family harmony as the kids clamor, “Please, Mom and Dad, take us to Palm Island Resort!”.

Nick and Matt at Palm Island

Or Not.

Nick at Palm Island #1

There’s no doubt…the Palm Island Resort means great fun!

 

Lake Okeechobee: a Hidden Treasure

You Can’t See Lake Okeechobee From the Road

Lake Okeechobee would have probably been a lot more fun had we not visited during the last slap of Tropical Storm Andrea’s outermost feeder bands. Our stay at the Hampton Inn Okeechobee was reasonably priced, but I found the hard bed uncomfortable. The air conditioning unit kicked on and off, rather than the usual racket all night long and the bathroom had a great shower.

We enjoyed our fried catfish lunch at the Lodge at the River, which offers “Sharpies” (the entire fish, heads, bones, and all) or just the catfish filets. We chose the latter and enjoyed it very much.

Lake Okeechobee is the second largest freshwater lake (730 square miles) that is entirely within the United States. Mostly what you see from the road is the Hoover Dike, a twenty-foot high berm, or levee, on one side and sugar cane on the other side of the road (sometimes corn…how can they grow corn in FL when I can’t?). This is the legacy of the Army Corps of Engineers, who, back when ideas like land stewardship and environmental responsibility were unheard of, “improved” the land for farmers and ranchers by draining the wetlands and straightening the surrounding rivers from their usual meandering course into straight line canals, forever affecting the natural ebb and flow of the Everglades.

We finally figured out the “Scenic Trail” signs indicated lake access to the other side of the levee. The top of the 140 mile long levee that protects the surrounding communities allows bikers and hikers a great view of the lake. Driving up the berm and making blind turns (and I DO mean your car is tilted skyward and you cannot see over your hood) reminded me, once again, of why I am not a mountain girl.

However, once you get over the levee, you aren’t quite there, yet, since the only way to access the lake is by canal…in other words, you take a waterway to get to the water! If you look at these pictures, you can see how the two are separated:

Lake Okeechobee #1

The water hyacinth, an invasive species, chokes the shallow lake of nutrients and oxygen and is an on-going problem for the area. The alligators, however, love them because they provide cover for the hunting reptiles.

Lake Okeechobee #2

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Boating, fishing, and hunting in season are popular here.

Lake Okeechobee #4

Alligators, bears, and otters are a common sight, as are osprey and eagles’ nests, high atop light poles and trees. Some sights were amusing. At one point, a baby alligator escaped the lake and a big, burly man stopped his car in the middle of the road, got out and grabbed the reptile by the middle, right behind its head, and carried it to a ditch, while it wiggled and fought him the whole way. He was laughing his head off, looking as if he was having the time of his life. The man, not the gator. The gator was furious. His wife walked back to the car, shaking her head. We were going in the other direction and didn’t get stopped in time to take a picture. Apparently, this is not a terribly unusual occurrence down by the levee, as they seemed to take it in stride.

Lake Okeechobee #10

 

 

St. Marks, Yesterday and Today

St. Marks, Yesterday and Today

Twenty-five miles south of Tallahassee, St. Marks is a small fishing community located in Florida’s Big Bend where the St. Marks River and the Wakulla River converge. The Gulf port on the Apalachee Bay was first developed by Spanish explorers in the 17th century who built a fort that played an important role during the Civil War.

The fort’s foundation is located within the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. Bicyclists and horseback riders enjoy the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail State Park, a sixteen mile long trail that finishes on the St. Marks waterfront. Some believe the fort’s tower once held torches to guide boats safely, which would make it the site of the first lighthouse in the country.

The current lighthouse, St. Marks Light, was built in 1828. It is interesting to note that construction costs for the lighthouse exceeded the allocated $6,000 budget by more than $5,000. Even worse, the first one was rejected because it had hollow walls (you’d think someone would have caught that), so the lighthouse was rebuilt and it was put into use by 1830. Hmmm…a project that costs twice as much as predicted, poorly planned, and poorly executed? Yep. It was a government job! Time and erosion took its inevitable toll and a new lighthouse was built further inland in 1842.

St. Mark’s NWR and Wakulla Springs State Park draw visitors from all states and is popular with birders. The area’s ecosystem ranges from saltwater estuaries and bracken marshes to swamps and forest.

Boating and fishing are big here, of course, so arranging a fishing charter or contacting an outfitter is easy.  Lodging accommodations range from trailer parks to inns (there are various motels and hotels in nearby towns, as well). The Shell Island Fish Camp, located directly on the Wakulla River, offers accommodations that range from motel, cabins (2 bedrooms, kitchen and bath), tents, campers, and a limited number of RV campsites with water, electric, and dump station. A full service marina provides boat rentals and boat repairs.

The Sweet Magnolia Inn Bed and Breakfast offers a slightly different ambience. Its history as a general store, boarding house, brothel, church, city hall, possible bootleg warehouse, hotel, and hurricane shelter offer up many a story on a warm summer night. In its current dress, the B&B stays true to its roots, right down to a fishpond built in the shape of Florida, including the keys.

A vintage shot of my mother, in her first year of college, 1948. She’s the one closest to the shrimping boat:

Mom #9

And St. Marks today:

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We enjoyed our visit and would go again for a more in depth exploration of the area.

A quick note for those who are leaving me notes regarding the website hosting. My tech guru is currently out of the country. When he gets back, I’ll show him your notes and get feedback. In the meantime, thanks for your interest and positive comments (they are very much appreciated!) and please be patient. I will respond to them when I can.

 

Lake Manatee State Recreational Area, Pristine and Beautiful

Escape for a Day or Camp Overnight at Lake Manatee State Recreational Area

Located on state Road 64, fifteen miles east of Bradenton, Lake Manatee State Recreational Area encompasses three miles of Lake Manatee shoreline and 556 acres that once provided the common activities of pioneer days: cattlemen worked the land as hard as the farmers. The land also supported a busy timber and turpentine industry. Periodic controlled burns are used these days to clear the land and keep habitat from choking the area off.

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Today, it is an area for recreational activities such as camping, swimming, fishing (from the dock or boat) and boating and is open seven days a week, from 8 AM until sundown.

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Bicycles can be rented at the Ranger Station. They have fat wheels, making them suitable for biking on or off paved trails. A two and a half mile paved road provides bicyclists and hikers with a pleasant step back into nature and eventually loops around the two campground areas. For the more adventurous, there is another trail, unpaved, that is nearly as long, but offers a bit more challenge.

Lake Manatee, encompassing a 2,400 acre area, is now a reservoir for Manatee and Sarasota County drinking water. Fishing is popular here and the lake teems with catfish, largemouth and sunshine bass, bluegill, and speckled perch. Bobcats, alligators, deer, and gopher turtles, as well as numerous species of birds inhabit the area.

A boat ramp provides easy access to the lake. Boat motors are restricted to 20 horsepower, so it is a pleasant place for those who prefer to canoe or kayak. Water skiing is prohibited.

Swimming is restricted to a designated area. There are no lifeguards on duty so you swim at your own risk. Be warned: lake plants are sometimes blown into the swimming area. Their long roots can act like tendrils that can entrap an unwary swimmer.

There is a good-sized picnic area tucked under the scrub pine trees and the main pavilion (accommodates 12 tables and has electric and grill) can be reserved for a fee. The children’s playground is a popular spot for young families.

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The full-facility campground includes 60 campsites and a bathhouse and shower facility. RVs are limited to 65 feet. Each campsite is provided with water and electricity. A dump station is located near the campground entrance.

Pets are welcome, but must be well-behaved and on a six foot hand held leash at all times. Pets, excluding service animals which are allowed in all areas, are not allowed in the swimming area and should never be left unattended. Pet owners are expected to clean up after their pets so that everyone can enjoy the park freely.

Popular with people from all walks of life, the Lake Manatee State Recreational Area offers an escape from the busy-ness of daily life and reminds us to take time to slow down a little and appreciate our surroundings.

For more information call the Lake Manatee State Recreational Area at (941) 741-3028

 

Other Spots of Interest in the Salt Springs Florida Vicinity

Salt Springs, Florida Tourist Attractions Off the Beaten Path

Ocala National Forest is a Florida tourist attraction as well as an oasis of solitude and offers a wide variety of activities. Salt Springs sits in its upper half, nestled between Lake Kerr and Lake George. Nighttime activities are mostly limited to hot dog roasts and star gazing unless you care to venture into a nearby bar. You will, however, find restaurants, gas stations, post office, laundry facilities and shopping in the town of Salt Springs, lest you think this might be too much wilderness for your tastes.

A quick trip to the visitor center will familiarize you with the area and offers a chance to learn about on-going efforts to protect this natural habitat from deterioration. If you’re interested in exploring the origins of Paleoindians and the days of mastodons and saber tooth tigers, this is the place for you. Nearby Welaka Maritime Museum is well-known for its hand-crafted wooden boats, but time did not allow, so it is added to our “Must See on the Return Trip” list for this magical area of Florida.

The Salt Spring Recreation Area between the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers and nearby Lake George teems with activities. The campground offers full RV hookups as well as a tent area. Salt Spring vacation rentals abound, as do homes and land for sale, for those who find this area fills their soul with peace and harmony.

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Salt Springs Activities

Approximately 82 feet wide and 25 feet deep, the spring bubbles from the west bank of the Withlacoochee River. Rising deep from underneath the earth, the natural mineral spring water is laden with potassium, magnesium and sodium, giving its name to the area: salt.

Swimming and snorkeling in the crystal clear 74º (F) waters offers up glimpses into a primeval past and certified cave divers explore to their heart’s content. There is no boating or fishing allowed in the swimming pool which is lined with sidewalks and concrete walls that allow for easy access.

Others are attracted to the boating and fishing. Salt Spring, Lake George and surrounding area boat rentals are easy to find and range from paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks to power and pontoon boats. Anglers also enjoy fishing the four mile long Salt Spring Run (downstream of the swimming area and marina, of course).

For those who prefer to discover the area on foot, 1400 miles of scenic trail await you. Besides hiking, you’ll find amenities such as basketball and horseshoes.

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Life is decidedly slower in the forest and time slips away before you get your fill of nighttime bear-watching and wild flower arrangements.

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What Comes to Mind When You Think of Visiting Florida?

What comes to mind when you think of visiting Florida? Do you envision the international shopping at the malls in Orlando or making the scene in Miami? Perhaps your preference is for the relaxed “Old Florida” friendliness found in the panhandle or the gracious hospitality of Mount Dora. For those who feel kinship to sea life or sunbathing, our beaches stretch for miles and our coral reefs reveal stunning mysteries in gemlike colors. All things cultural tempt some to Florida’s west coast, also known as the suncoast, where a focus on the arts offers a wide variety of entertainment choices. From there, you might venture north, up the Nature coast and around the bend, feasting on scallops and oysters, or south to Seminole reservations and airboat rides in the watery Everglades.

Sport fishermen and golfers love the wide open expanses our tropical peninsula supports and water sports, from sculling and offshore racing to surfing and swimming with dolphins (or manatees, if you prefer), attract thousands here each year.

Most people, especially families, tend to visit Orlando’s tourist attractions first, and there’s good reason for it. Besides a little mouse-bonding (I highly recommend the theme-related breakfast buffets where your kids can meet Disney characters without the jostling crowd making it difficult), there’s much to be learned about our environment at Sea World (okay, and a lot of fun, too!). Islands of Adventure, Discovery Cove and Wet n Wild Orlando will help burn off any residual energy.

My Favorite Florida Spots for Relaxation

But I suggest that you also consider discovering Florida’s lesser known treasures, oftentimes a cheaper alternative with an added bonus of fewer crowds. Of all my favorite “mini-vacation” breaks, finding out-of-the-way, oftentimes unusual, restful spots in the state allows me an escape from the day to day stress of running my own business and was especially key to retaining my sanity as I helped my mother as she developed the symptoms of dementia. Now I am an empty-nester and our getaways are less rushed, giving me time to absorb the ambience of a particular setting. Rather than cramming in a lot of useless information, I hope to convey each spot’s unique “vibe”, from the wild and open gay pride parade in Key West to the nighttime sounds of the Ocala forest.

This website is not just a travel brochure or a Florida tourist attraction map, however. Along the way, peppered in amongst the descriptions and recommendations, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on nature and of life, as well as family history, from settlement in Florida before Statehood to date. Photos will range from vintage to modern, but each will tell its own story.

I’ve been asked if I worry that revealing these gems will cause a great migration that ruins ambience, but I’m not really worried, since most people will satisfy themselves with armchair daydreams. And for those brave enough to get off the beaten path and flexible enough to accept beauty in its natural state, I say, “Welcome, fellow adventurer! Glad you made it! Now, pull up a seat. The sun’s about to set and I have a story to share with you.”