Our first Florida State Park visit was at Fort Clinch on Fernandina Island, just outside Jacksonville. A great ocean-front park with miles of beaches, an old fort, and nice campground. One quick walk on the beach was all we could fit in at this beautiful park, even though we were here for three days. Since we were so close to Palm Coast we choose to use the time to visit Audrey McGregor, her daughter Cheri, and the sweetest little dog, Jenny B.
Our friendship with Audrey goes back to the 1980's when Marlin began working for Farm Family and Gerry McGregor was the head of the claims department. Whenever we were in Florida we always stopped to touch bases with him and Audrey. Gerry passed away several years ago but it is always a pleasure to visit Audrey and her daughter, Cheri. Cheri has started an on-line business selling antiques, so she and Audrey spend many hours and miles checking out Estate Sales and finding places to store inventory. Our visit included lunch at the Funky Pelican in Foley Beach, where I had (believe it or not) the best New England Clam chowder I have ever had. Maybe I was just extra hungry!.
For the next couple of days, we camped at Withlacoochee State Forest near Brooksville. One of our favorite Florida campgrounds, due to its adjacent 47 mile flat bicycle trail.
We got in a couple of days riding the trail, as well as a visit with Sheila Hartt in Zephyr Hills. It was sad without Delmont there but Sheila seemed in fairly good spirits. She is feeling good, after a change in medications and making headway on adjusting to Del's passing in November.
Our next stop was to spend a couple of days with Chuck and Julie Burwell. They are staying in Avon Park for the month of January. We were able to book three days at Highland Hammocks State Park, which is about 10 miles from the RV park they are staying at.
They arrived at our site, toting a complete chicken dinner to share with us. First things first tho, Julie had to get a picture of the four of us. She is an expert using the self timer so she can also be in the picture. I have got to learn how to do that with my camera.
Here is Julie's picture she took with the timer. Thanks Jul!
The next afternoon we all took the park tram tour. This boardwalk was a shortcut to the CCC Museum where the tour began.
Back in the 1920's local citizens, especially a woman named Margret Shippen Roebling, began a citizens campaign to save this unique habitat from being turned into farmland. Money donated by Ms Roebling, as well as matched donations from the public, was used to purchase the original 2,100 plus acres for a Park. The original idea was to turn it into a National Park. However, the size was determined to be too small for that purpose. It turned out to be the beginning of the Florida State Park system.
Highland Hammock State Park is one of the original eight Florida State Parks where the CCC established trails, cleared forests, built boardwalks and constructed buildings that are still used today. Highland Hammock became a 1,280 acre park in 1931 and was the first Florida State Park project for the CCC.
The museum, which opened in 1994, houses extensive artifacts and information about the CCC in Florida, It is located in a building that was built by these men and used for housing while they worked there.
This building was the mess hall used by the crews who worked here and is located across the drive from the museum building and currently used as an Inn.
The museum building
After a visit inside the museum, our tram tour began at 1:00
Our tour guide has been volunteering here for 20 years. His extensive knowledge of the park was evident.
Our first stop was at a cleared area where several orange trees were growing. Oranges are not native to Florida and usually non-native species are removed. The grove with the orange trees remain as a historical and culturally significant part of the park because one of the original settlers here cleared the land by hand, planted and tended this grove many years before it became a Park. The tour guide pointed out the difference between clearing this size plot with today's equipment in a day, as compared to hand cutting the thick vegetation, digging out roots, planting trees, and keeping out other vegetation. Probably an entire season of work.
This live oak is reported to be over 900 years old. Much of the tree is dead, however, there is one large branch, jutting out of the old broken top that is alive and thriving. They are hoping to get another couple of hundred years out of the tree!
This section is called the Pine Flatwoods. Apparently much of Florida was covered with this type of habitat. The sandy soil supported a couple of dozen pine per acre, and frequent lightning started fires kept other vegetation from becoming established. Today prescribed burns help to maintain this natural ecosystem.
There were multiple live bird and reptile exhibits as we traveled along Charlie Bowlegs Creek
Black Crowned Night Heron
Many Red Bellied Slider Turtles
An American Bittern gave us a great view of his beautifully striped chest.
Mamma alligator catching some sun
This old alligator nest was active last season. You can see by the isle chain on the tram how close to the road she built her nest.
Another day we biked the three mile paved loop road, which has nine, 30 minute walking trails scattered at different points along the road. We took the time to hike two of these trails. This Young Hammock trail allowed a look at how the habitat changes when the normal cycles of fire are prevented.
Pine is being overgrown by palm and other scrub species.
Another beautiful cypress swamp boardwalk. I never get tired of seeing these trees.
Cypress throughout the swamp have the classic "knees" which lend support to the giant trees. I have never seen a "knee" incorporating the boardwalk into its habitat.
This central Florida park should be on everyone's must see list.
The next day we visited Chuck and Julie at their RV site.
Marlin and Julie relaxing (and later napping) in the lounge chairs.
Another great dinner served by Julie. We will stop to see them again after we visit Naples.