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Florida Crackers and Monkey Island

Karen and I have been staying in Central Florida since the end of 2023. We've had a few opportunities to explore the central part of the state between Tampa Bay, Gainesville and Titusville/Coco Beach. It is so much more than Disney World and the other City of Orlando tourist attractions. Before Walt Disney arrived in Orlando, Florida it was primarily a military town. With a population of about 50,000 people, the area featured the Orlando Airbase and McCoy Air Force base. The swampland and breezy streets didn't exactly call out to travelers. We've learned the region was originally inhabited by Timucua and later Seminole peoples. Settlement began about 1843 around Fort Gatlin, a U.S. Army post. First called Jernigan for Aaron Jernigan, an early settler, the town was renamed in 1857 to honor Orlando Reeves, an army sentry killed during the Seminole Wars.

The greater area of Central Florida is mostly flatland with significant amounts of open space and over 1,500 lakes and ponds. There is a mixture of wetlands, Cypress, Oak, Maple and Pine forests, pastures, prairies and coastline.

On Thursday, February 15 we ventured out west towards Crystal and Homosassa Springs. Our travels took us to the Florida Cracker Monkey Bar located near the World Famous Monkey Island in Historic Old Homosassa, Florida.

So what is a Florida Cracker? The term generally describes a class of early pioneers, mainly small farmers and cattle ranchers. Cracker cowboys are sometimes called cow hunters. When it was time for branding or driving the cattle to market, the cracker cowboys would search the swamps and round up all of the cows with the aid of whips and cattle dogs. Florida Crackers are also distinguishable by the style of their frontier homes, musical traditions, and food ways.

The restaurant had a 4.7 star rating so we stopped there for lunch and were not disappointed. Karen had the Ponte Vedra Salad with Jumbo shrimp, crispy romaine lettuce, avocado, hearts of palm, onion, and vine ripened tomatoes arranged “Florida style” with choice of dressing. I had the Cattle Drive Burger, an 8oz Angus beef with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions & bacon and topped with a heap of crispy onion straws and sweet BBQ sauce served with kickin’ slaw. Our server, Madison was very cute and attentive. She provided us directions to the state park nearby after we finished our meal

We arrived at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park after lunch and paid $13 each to visit. Karen got to travel the park via a wheelchair provided by the facility. Now I can say I push my wife around...ha ha!

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park occupies almost 200 acres around Homosassa Spring, which is the primary source for the Homosassa River. Although the spring has been the focus of human interest from prehistoric times, it was first developed as a tourist attraction in the early 1900's, attracting visitors from as far away as Europe. Beginning in 1978, the land around the spring changed ownership several times until it was finally purchased by the State of Florida to protect its environmentally sensitive features.

The main entrance to the Park is along US 19 in the town of Homosassa Springs where you will find ample parking, a visitor center, snack bar and gift shop. From that location, you can take a tram or pontoon boat to the west entrance about a half mile away. There is a also a parking area at the west entrance along West Fishbowl Drive for those who wish to skip the gift shop experience.

The central feature of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is the main spring, where you can view the spring from the "Fish Bowl" floating underwater observatory, where East Indian manatees are almost always present. The Park serves an important role of being a rehabilitation center for orphaned or injured manatees that recuperate in the spring waters before being released again to the wild.

There is a boat tour company to take snorkelers to the springs to swim with the manatees. These animals are truly gentle giants. While viewing from an elevated deck, we watched a manatee swim up to a lady in the water and roll over; it was beautiful and amazing!

The Park also includes a large number of native animals in natural settings. Paved, wheelchair accessible paths wind throughout the park, allowing easy access for viewing black bear, Florida panther, bobcats, deer, alligators, and many other species. In addition to the animals that are housed at the park - most of which have been injured, or for some other reason cannot survive in the wild - a large number of wild birds and other species call the Park home.

The main Manatee Spring is only one of many springs in an area within a four square mile area around the upper Homosassa River. Collectively the springs produce over 200 million gallons per day and act as the source for the river. The main spring, where the floating observatory is placed, emits about 67 million gallons per day, making it a first magnitude spring. Underwater explorations have been conducted of many of these springs. However, public swimming and scuba diving in the main spring are not allowed.

This outing was another benefit and interesting side trip of our extended stay in central Florida as Karen continues the recovery process.


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Thank you, Karen and John, for sharing your pictures and description of your visit to this beautiful Park at Homosassa Springs. It sounds like a very fascinating place because of the Natural Springs and the opportunity to view wildlife so closely and swim with the Manatees. How do they keep the crocs out of the Manatee recovery area? That would be my only concern in swimming there with them. 😁 Glad to see Karen is getting out and about and recovering well❣️


Hello Paula, So good to hear from you. Good question about the alligators; I wouldn't think you could keep them away from the manatees; but we haven't heard it's a problem. I'm now 8 weeks post surgery and doing well! Grace and peace as you celebrate Resurrection Day! Karen

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