Archive for June, 2012

Trails with a Twist

Specialty trails depart from the mainstream, revealing a lesser-known side of Florida. Here, visitors can make like an ancient Calusa warrior, join the circus (or tour its Floridian roots), explore architectural treasures and listen to nature sounds on command.

Situated along Wildlife Drive at J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, the iNature Trail’s 10 signs feature 23 QR (Quick Response) codes. When scanned with smartphone or tablet apps, the codes link to interactive videos and informative websites that allow visitors, young and old, to learn more about the refuge.

They’ve also jumped on the QR trend at Gainesville’s University of Florida. Visitors to the Natural Area Teaching Lab trails at the Thomas J. Walker Conservation Area can scan more than 50 codes to gain insight into the area’s ecological diversity. Hear recordings of katydids, crickets and birds; or watch videos of other wildlife filmed on-site.

Moving from smartphones to quirky Old Florida, the Circus Heritage Trail self-driving tour explores Sarasota County’s “big top” heritage. Stops include the Circus Bridge in Venice and the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, mansion and circus museum on Sarasota Bay.

Another trail with distinct Florida charm, South Beach’s Art Deco Walking Tour shows off the district’s trademark early 20th century gems – saved from bulldozers by local building-huggers – on daily guided tours. The urban trail features more than 100 historic structures to view during 90 minutes and 20 stops.

Step way back in time on Pine Island’s Calusa Heritage Trail to tread the path of Florida’s original peoples. Climbing to the top of a 2,500-year-old shell mound is one highlight along this 3,700-foot interpretive walkway that leads through the Pineland archaeological site.

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Photo: Natural Area Teaching Lab at the Thomas J. Walker Conservation Area, Gainesville

Scan a QR code to learn more at the Natural Area Teaching Lab at the Thomas J. Walker Conservation Area in Gainesville.

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Photo: Fury Water Adventures, Key West

Explore Keys waters aboard a catamaran from Fury Water Adventures in Key West.

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Photo: Capt. Vaughn Cochran of Black Fly Outfitters, Jacksonville

Capt. Vaughn Cochran of Black Fly Outfitters, Jacksonville, is a fly-fishing legend.

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Photo: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, 1967

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, in this photo from 1967.

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Awake Your Inner Fly-Fishing Fanatic

Fly-fishing promotes gracefulness and creativity, offers the excitement of playing strong fish on light
tackle and introduces the art of fly-tying, which you’ll use to land your own catches. The right instructor can teach you these techniques and get you casting accurately in a long weekend.

Individual or family lessons are available, or join a larger class, where you’ll build confidence and camaraderie among fellow anglers. An added bonus: The “course work” ends with fishing adventures.
Here are some top schools near some of the state’s most productive waters.

Islamorada-based Florida Keys Outfitters has been offering fly-fishing schools for 22 years. Sessions include two days of classes and individual casting sessions.

Angler/author Jon B. Cave is a fly-casting legend. Based in Oviedo, near Orlando, Jon B. Cave’s Complete Fly-Fishing School offers lessons specific to freshwater or saltwater for corporate groups, families and individuals.

Jacksonville’s Black Fly Outfitters is owned and operated by angler/artist Capt. Vaughn Cochran, a fly-fishing legend. The shop offers casting lessons, seminars on fly-fishing northeast Florida waters and fly-tying lessons.

Pine Island-based Florida Fly Fishing Schools offers fly-casting and fly-fishing classes, plus a school dedicated to saltwater fly-fishing. Courses run from one to three days.

Stuart-based Capt. Mike Conner’s method blends fly-fishing techniques into one effective approach. Anglers of all skill levels will catch fish on the Indian River Lagoon with flies they’ve tied themselves after learning the loops from him.

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Photo: Banyans at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota

Take shelter in the shade of the banyans at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.

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Florida's Botanic Gardens

Florida is always in bloom, and its array of flora is showcased in tranquil parks and sprawling gardens across the state.

Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales

Dutch immigrant Edward Bok created this idyllic garden sanctuary, topping it off with a 205-foot bell tower made of Georgia marble and Florida coquina rock. Stroll along the garden paths, lie upon the lawn, feel the breeze and take in the beauty of azaleas, camellias, magnolias, ferns, palms, oaks and pines, while listening to the 60-bell Singing Tower during afternoon carillon concerts.

Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando

Near downtown, this 50-acre oasis is accented with oak-shaded walkways and delightful gardens adorned with azaleas, camellias, roses and palms, as well as beautyberries, bottle brushes, bromeliads, firecracker plants, flame vines, plumbago, primrose, snapdragon, tabebuia
and violas. Soothing and serene, it’s an ideal retreat anytime, but especially during musical moonlight strolls in April and October.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Gainesville

A 1.5-mile walkway through Kanapaha’s 62 acres leads to 24 major collections that include Florida’s largest public display of bamboo, the Southeast’s largest herb garden, a hummingbird garden, rose garden, Asian garden, water lily garden and a rock garden dotted with colorful cacti. A popular setting for weddings, Kanapaha’s Summer House is ideally suited for receptions and events.

Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Tallahassee

Alfred B. Maclay had such a soft spot for camellias that he sent men to scour the Southeast for them. When he died, his wife continued his dream. Today, Maclay’s home is surrounded by this outstanding collection of camellias and azaleas. Of the park’s 1,200 acres, 28 are tended gardens that also include dogwoods, oriental magnolias, tulips, irises, banana shrubs, honeysuckle, silverbell trees and pansies, all nestled beside placid Lake Hall.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables

In South Florida, tropical and subtropical plants grow year round, making this 83-acre haven a hot spot for horticulturalists. Explore the Vine Pergola, where flowering vines, including the Jade Vine, bloom year round, or seek shelter among the rainforest's soothing waterfalls and shady trees. Stop for a photo in the Bailey Palm Glade, Palm Allée or the Overlook, where sun-dappled passages open up to magnificent lake and lowland views. Time it right to enjoy festivals celebrating chocolate, orchids and mangos.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota

Alluring walkways wind through this 14-acre bayfront garden. Among its enchantments are orchids, hibiscus, a bonsai display, bromeliad garden and the world’s most outstanding collection of epiphytes (air plants). The grounds also feature a banyan grove, waterfall, koi pond, fernery, palm grove, bamboo garden and butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Events include the Lights in Bloom Holiday and Tropical Fourth of July celebrations.

Florida Botanical Gardens, Largo

This park covers 182 acres, nearly half of it a permanently protected preservation area. Here, you'll find topiaries, waterfalls, herbs, tropical fruits and native plants, plus more than 300 varieties of bromeliads. The park also features demonstrations on the natural process of composting, a cottage accented by an Old World garden and programs on cultivating your own Florida-friendly garden.

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Photo: Florida Botanical Gardens, Largo

Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo is 182 acres of waterfalls, herbs, tropical fruit trees and more.

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Photo: Horseback riding in Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound, 1970

Horseback riding in Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound, in this photo from 1970.

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