Archive for September, 2012

Florida Paddling Day is Oct. 6 – Start a Splash Mob!

Good news, friends – this Saturday, Oct. 6 is the first ever Florida Paddling Day! Load up those kayaks and canoes and hit a waterway near you to celebrate.

A few weeks back, I was in Titusville at the Florida Professional Paddlesports Association meeting, and this terrific idea to make an official day to get out and enjoy paddling was created. Look for this event to get bigger and better every year, with more things happening locally around the state.

Activities for Florida Paddling Day will depend on which FPPA outfitter you visit. The Peace River Canoe Outpost, Blue Moon Outdoor Center, Everglades Area Tours, and lots of others are offering big discounts on rentals. 

I'd recommend checking out the FPPA website and following them on Facebook to find outfitters near you. Get out and have some fun on Florida Paddling Day!

Continue reading Florida Paddling Day is Oct. 6 – Start a Splash Mob! »

Florida Paddling Day is Oct. 6 – Start a Splash Mob!

Good news, friends – this Saturday, Oct. 6 is the first ever Florida Paddling Day. Load up those kayaks and canoes and hit a waterway near you to celebrate.

A few weeks back, I was in Titusville at the Florida Professional Paddlesports Association meeting, and this terrific idea to make an official day to get out and enjoy paddling was created. Look for this event to get bigger and better every year, with more things happening locally around the state.

Activities for Florida Paddling Day will depend on which FPPA outfitter you visit. The Peace River Canoe Outpost, Blue Moon Outdoor Center, Everglades Area Tours, and lots of others are offering big discounts on rentals. 

I'd recommend checking out the FPPA website and following them on Facebook to find outfitters near you. Get out and have some fun on Florida Paddling Day.

Continue reading Florida Paddling Day is Oct. 6 – Start a Splash Mob! »

Photo: Hiking trail, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka

About two miles of trails crisscross Ravine Gardens State Park, offering both smooth strolls and steeper climbs up and down the trail walls.

Continue reading Photo: Hiking trail, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka »

Photo: Gazebo, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka

Ravine Gardens State Park’s manicured gardens also include gazebos for resting.

Continue reading Photo: Gazebo, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka »

Photo: Loop drive, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka

The paved loop drive in Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka is open to pedestrians and vehicles until one hour before sunset.

Continue reading Photo: Loop drive, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka »

Find a Horticultural Haven in Ravine Gardens State Park

Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, a quirk of Florida geology, unfolds like one of its touted blooms.

The modest sign on Twigg Street only hints at what lies beyond – a cool green oasis in hotter months and a floral showstopper in the winter and spring.

Ravine Gardens isn't a traditional plot. Its architect is erosion, which over eons collapsed a sandy bluff near the St. Johns River into something odd for the Sunshine State – a 120-foot-deep ravine.
Depression-era projects by the federal Works Progress Administration and the city of Palatka transformed the ravine into a naturalized public garden, with pathways, walls and steps, and the installation of thousands of native azaleas and other plants.
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Today, Ravine Gardens, which dates to the mid-1930s, is a horticultural haven for both Palatka and Putnam County residents and the area's many visitors.
 
"The park gets a lot of use," said Emily Rodriguez, Ravine Gardens' park specialist. "It's not often that you see a natural garden this extensive."

Over 100,000 azaleas provide a riot for the eyes during the peak January-April bloom. Five of the park's 146 acres are formally landscaped, including terraces that lead down one slope to the ravine and its creek.

Fountains spout amid terraces. Limestone walls line flower beds and walkways. A rose garden rims the uppermost terrace, framing the largest water spout, the Azalea Fountain. Rodriguez sees many brides and grooms come and go from the upper terraces.

"We have weddings every other weekend," she said.

About two miles of trails crisscross the ravine, Rodriguez said, ranging from a smooth stroll on its floor to steeper climbs up and down its walls. Two suspension bridges span the chasm at separate locations, providing kid-friendly bouncing and creek views.

"I've seen otters down here," Rodriguez said, pointing east from one bridge toward the river. "The creek leads out to the St. Johns and they find their way up here."

The spring-fed creek averages a water temperature of 72 degrees year round and is passably drinkable, although "We don't recommend it," she said.

Embedded among Palatka homes and businesses, Ravine Gardens evokes its history in every detail. The circa-1935 administration building – pecky cypress-paneled and pine-floored – has been restored. An outdoor picnic and gathering pavilion adjacent to the uppermost terrace replicates the original 1935 concession stand.

The Court of States, another formal garden across from the original administration building, is outlined with rock-columned trellises and crowned with an obelisk monument to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the WPA founder.

Rodriguez said the flags of the first 48 states – Ravine Gardens was established prior to Alaska and Hawaii statehood – fly in the Court of States during festivals and events. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

All year, expect a morning stampede of runners, walkers, cyclists and hikers.

"The parking lot will be full before the park is even open," Rodriguez said.

In late summer, Ravine Gardens is more about texture and layers, quietly green except for crape myrtles, roses and beds of bright marigolds and vinca. Giant queen palms muscle through live oak branches.

More compact, old-growth sago palms share hillsides with equally old and enormous azaleas.

The park's 1.8-mile paved loop is open to pedestrians and vehicular traffic until one hour before dusk. Restrooms, a playground, picnic areas and a designated fitness area for stretching can be found along the way.

At its height, the loop appears to whisk users through the treetops among massive live oaks, burnished gold-green magnolias, pines, chickasaw plums and southern red cedars.

At its lowest point, the loop dips to where the ravine empties at the city's old waterworks plant. Ponds here are thick with water lilies – and warning signs for alligators.

Fitness or not, all that exploration works up appetites, so head back to Palatka's historic downtown a few miles northeast of Ravine Gardens.

Angel's Diner, which claims to be the state's oldest (1932), is de rigueur for first-time Palatka visitors and diner aficionados.

Tiny and almost stubbornly retro in appearance, it's renowned for fresh hamburgers and onion rings, plus milkshakes and malts.
 
A few blocks west of Angel's off 4th Street, digest those calories while browsing Elsie Bell's Antique Mall. The 3,000-square-foot space houses quality vintage wares from 30 dealers in another old Palatka building – a former sanitarium-turned-funeral parlor that retains original stained-glass windows.

A case near Elsie Bell's entrance is stocked with old-fashioned candy varieties if Angel's milkshakes or malts didn't provide enough sugar.

Across 4th Street, on the Putnam County Courthouse grounds, the Maltby Live Oak shades everything around it. Named for former county agent Hubert Maltby, the tree is at least 125 years old, according to a granite marker that also claims a branch spread of 116 feet and a circumference of 13.5 feet.
Indeed, metal posts prop the Maltby's largest, most sprawling branches.

Nearby signs say, "Please don't climb on trees."

If You Go

Note: A complete list of Putnam County and Palatka restaurants, shops and galleries can be found at putnamcountychamber.com.

Ravine Gardens State Park
1600 Twig Street, Palatka
386-329-3721
Directions: From U.S. Hwy. 17-State Road 100, turn south on Moseley Avenue then east on Twigg Street. Park entrance will be on your right.

Angel's Diner
209 Reid Street, Palatka
386-325-3927
Directions: In downtown Palatka. Reid Street also is U.S. Hwy 17-State Road 100. Angel's is on the south side of Reid Street, between 2nd and 3rd Streets.

Elsie Bell's Antique Mall
111 North 4th Street, Palatka
386-329-9669
Directions: In downtown Palatka. Turn south off Reid Street (also U.S. Hwy 17-State Road 100). Shop is on left, across from Putnam County Courthouse.

Continue reading Find a Horticultural Haven in Ravine Gardens State Park »

Photo: YURT, Torreya State Park, Bristol

Visitors looking for an alternative to the traditional camping route can book Torreya State Park’s 20-foot domed Year-round Universal Recreation Tent (YURT).

Continue reading Photo: YURT, Torreya State Park, Bristol »

Photo: High bluffs at Torreya State Park, Bristol

The high bluffs at Torreya State Park provide brilliant views of the Apalachicola River.

Continue reading Photo: High bluffs at Torreya State Park, Bristol »

Look, Up in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a… Water-Ski Cable?

Picture yourself on a ramp close to the water, skis on your feet, a tow-rope in your hand. Suddenly, you're jerked into the water by an overhead cable circling a small lake at 20 miles an hour. You wobble a bit until you get the hang of it – so to speak – but, pretty soon, you're bouncing along the surface and looking forward to your first trick or jump.

You've just been introduced to cable skiing, a hybrid of surfing, skiing and wakeboarding that's the newest wave on the water.

Accomplished cable-skiers can do spins, flips and twists, and they can soar 10 feet above the water while rotating a wakeboard over their heads in a thrilling maneuver called a front roll.
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One of the best places to try cable skiing is at Ski Rixen USA, in Deerfield Beach's Quiet Waters Park. The 2,700-foot oval course is said to be the longest of any of the 10 cable ski operations in the United States. Riders get a full minute and a half of ski-time as they complete one circuit.

"We don't have this in Seattle," said Mike Gelb, a professor of chemistry at the University of Washington, who made a stop at Ski Rixen during a recent business trip. "It's a thing I like to do that I can't do at home."

Cable-skiing equipment is adapted from snow ski lifts. The cable turns on giant horizontal wheels suspended on towers 20 feet over the water at each turn in the oval. Attached to the cable are eight to 10 leads, fastened to tow bars that skiers grab.

Gelb first tried cable skiing in Germany, where the sport was born 50 years ago. The inventor, engineer Bruno Rixen, opened the first course in the United States at the park in Deerfield Beach.

There are also courses in Fort Myers, Tampa and Orlando, making Florida the premier destination for both novice and pro participants.

The appeal of cable-skiing will not be lost on parents trying to plan a family trip that includes hard-to-satisfy teens. And while riders must wear helmets and life vests, many find cable-skiing a more relaxed alternative to boat skiing.

"When you do it behind a boat out on the ocean, it's kind of scary," said Autumn Tust, 13, "But here it's fun because you're on a lake with all of your friends." Tust took up cable skiing after she turned 12, the minimum age at Ski Rixen.

When it comes to cost, cable-towing eliminates the need for a boat, a driver and a spotter, as well as the expense of fuel, said Brita Schipner, who runs Ski Rixen USA. "With $25 in your pocket, you can go and ride."

Safety inspections are held regularly by state regulators and SkiRixen's insurance underwriter. 

"They've had a good record with us," said Allan Harrison, chief of the Florida Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection.

Beginners watch a short video and must make their first circuit on a kneeboard before strapping on a wakeboard.

"You don't have to be a super athlete," Schipner said. "Basically to go out and learn in one lesson, or two hours."

Paola Oliveira tried cable skiing for the first time at SkiRixen. She fell on her first circuit, but soon was back in line to give it another go.

"I've done wakeboarding behind a boat before, but it's different," said Oliveira, an account executive for an advertising agency in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "You just have to get used to it."

If You Go

Ski Rixen USA is about a 20-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale, located at 401 S. Powerline Road, inside a county park. It is open every day, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., except Monday. Call 954-429-0215.

Other Florida cable skiing courses can be found at:

Revolution Cable is located at 17590 East Street, North Fort Myers. The hours are Wednesday through Friday, 1 – 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon – 8 p.m. Call 239-656-3000.

McCormick's Waterski Wakeboard and Cable Park is located at 2020 McCormick Lakes Way, Seffner (near Tampa). It's open seven days a week, noon – 7 p.m. Call 813-681-4441.

Wet N' Wild is located at 6200 International Drive, Orlando. Hours vary by season. Call 407-351-1800.

Orlando Water Sports Complex is located at 8615 Florida Rock Road, Orlando. Hours vary by season. Call 407-251-3100.

Continue reading Look, Up in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a… Water-Ski Cable? »

Photo: Gregory House, Torreya State Park, Bristol

Between 1937 and 1940, the Civilian Conservation Corps moved the Gregory House from nearby Calhoun County and rebuilt the home on one of Torreya State Park’s largest bluffs.

Continue reading Photo: Gregory House, Torreya State Park, Bristol »