Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park once again is welcoming wild manatees to spend the winter in its warm waters. For the third year, the park has opened a gate that allows the manatees to enter the area surrounding the spring.
"With the onset of cooler weather, it is important for wild manatees to have access to the warmer spring waters," said park manager Art Yerian. "On cold mornings, it is not unusual to see dozens of wild manatees in the main spring, including many females with calves."
The Homosassa Springs park participates in U.S. Fish and Wildlife's manatee rescue and rehabilitation program. In 30-plus years, the park staff has helped rehabilitate more than 40 injured manatees.
A separation fence installed within the spring allows staff to keep the injured marine mammals segregated from their healthier brethren. In Spring 2013, when the wild manatees leave the park, the gate is closed and the injured manatees are allowed to roam the entire spring bowl.
The manatees are just one of the many natural wonders at the state park. Using a wildlife walk that navigates woods and wetlands, visitors might see black bears, foxes, river otters, cougars, key deer and hundreds of bird species.
See the park website for information on fees, boat tours and hiking opportunities. A picnic area is located in the Garden of the Springs. Make a day of it.
This time of year, it's safe to say you'll often see the words "holiday" and "magic" in the same sentence. Here are two more favorites: "IMAX" and "Giant Screen."
No need to leave Jacksonville to find a winter wonderland — just head over to Shipwreck Island Water Park. Now in its second year, WinterFEST at Adventure Landing in Jacksonville Beach is the newest holiday tradition that’ll warm your soul, Nov. 17, 2012 to Jan. 13, 2013.
Everyone is invited to soak in the holiday fun, and there's plenty of it:
You can also sip gourmet coffees, hot chocolate and warm cider while noshing on sweet treats and comfort foods as you explore their version of an alpine village.
I heard all wonderful reviews from last year. Scoring high marks were Santa's Workshop, the cookie decorating and the holiday carnival games. Seasonal passes are available this year, too.
A Keys tradition since 2005, the Nutcracker Key West is a must-see holiday event. Instead of visiting the land of the Sugarplum Fairies, the lead character, Clara, discovers an island fantasy with “dancing snowy egrets, phosphorescent sea anemones and shimmering reef fish," says Joyce Stahl, creator of Nutcracker Key West.
Joyce is not only the imagination behind this seafaring story, she is a classically trained dancer who performed The Nutcracker and other ballets with New Jersey’s American Repertory Ballet for 38 years. And don’t think this is some small potatoes production; the principal dancer is Natalia Ashikhmina, a former prima ballerina with the Russian National Ballet. The sets and costumes designed by Stahl are valued at more than $500,000.
Performances will be at the Tennessee Williams Theatre on the campus of Florida Keys Community College. Its seven-show run will begin Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. Tickets are $20 per person and you can purchase your tickets online at www.keystix.com or by calling 305-295-7676.