Archive for September, 2012

Torreya State Park: Florida's Mountain Range of Biodiversity

Torreya State Park exposes visitors to a side of the Sunshine State unknown to many: river views from high bluffs and ravines that transport visitors to a world of environmental intrigue and naturalistic charm. 

"You're up and down and walking through a forest that you just can't find anywhere else in Florida, without going north into different states," says park manager Steven Cutshaw. "You can't find it anywhere else in Florida; we are definitely the ‘mountains of Florida.'"

An hour west of Tallahassee, the area's terrain is home to a rare steep-head ravine system, created when seepages of Florida aquifer water emerge from the ground and constantly erode. Over time, this erosion and topographical change has created the 150-foot drops and rises that challenge hikers.

"Our main recreational attraction without a doubt is our hiking trails," Cutshaw said. "We've got 16 miles of hiking trails and it's all because of the ravine system that makes them so attractive."

Adventurists training for treks on the Appalachian Trail frequently train in Torreya, which has four unique ecosystems – streams, wetlands, hardwood slope forests and dry upper-slope forests.

Many also visit the park to research and educate themselves on the park's collections of plant and animal life. This northwest Florida area ranks among the country's best biodiversity hotspots according to Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States (Stein, Adams 2000).

"It's our first time at the park," said a University of Florida botany student visiting with classmates. "We are really interested in looking at different types of plants and the Torreya (tree) is an endangered species."

The park's namesake evergreen species is found exclusively in the 20-mile stretch of the Apalachicola River.

"This is the only place worldwide where the Torreya tree grows," Cutshaw said, "in this 30-40 miles range encompassed in the park."

According to the University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation, the torreya re-sprouts from its stump once disease has killed its stem, giving slight hope of repopulation. Using seeds obtained from living trees, the Florida Park Service is working with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, growing seedlings that are being planted in the ravine habitat at Torreya State Park.

"With our efforts of propagation and seeding, numbers are increasing, with at least 400 known trees in the park," Cutshaw said. "We hope to continue to have a nice, healthy crop that will be sustained into the future."

Two tree plantings can be found along the brick walkway leading to the historic Gregory House. Others can be seen along the nature trails; 45 young trees have been surrounded by plastic netting for protection.

Spotting a torreya tree is easy. The tree is distinguishable from other evergreens, with a structured branch system that coils around the main trunk, sharp needles protruding on each leaf tip.   

There are numerous area-specific plant species here, including the U.S. Champion big leaf magnolia, southern magnolia, mockernut hickory, sweetgum, live oak, spruce pine, American beech and the rare Florida yew tree, according to the Florida State Park System.

Animal species populating the area include deer, beaver, bobcats, river otters, gray fox, Florida black bears and the unusual Barbour's map turtle. 

For bird watchers, Torreya has more than 100 species. Hardwood ecosystems within the higher elevations and lush river-level ecosystems provide the perfect environments for osprey, white ibis, snowy egret, ruby-throated hummingbird and the nocturnal chuck-will's-widow. 

Many bird lovers frequent the park during the fall to witness the annual nesting patterns of the American bald eagle. According to the FDEP, one specific nest is home to annually returning bald eagles who feed, mate and raise young along the banks of the Apalachicola. Although the eagles are not tracked specifically, it is assumed the birds are the same pair, according to Cutshaw. It is extremely rare for multiple and differentiating pairs to occupy a nest previously belonging to a separate pair. 

"They make home here where they wouldn't elsewhere," says Cutshaw. "We have eagle nests that are in the park that have been active for years upon years. Every year they will hatch fledglings, which you can see flying around the historic Gregory House."

Jason Gregory was an affluent Calhoun County plantation owner. The house was abandoned as the Civil War moved into the North Florida area.

Between 1937 and 1940, the Civilian Conservation Corps dismantled and moved the home from the Calhoun County side of the Apalachicola River, rebuilding the Gregory House on one of the park's largest bluffs.

Several gun emplacements can be seen along the bluffs, where the Confederacy placed cannons to offset Union Navy boats if they were to come up the river in hopes of reaching Columbus, Ga. 

For those looking to enjoy an extended stay of solitude and peaceful retreat, the park offers 30 full-facility campsites, 3 primitive campsites and two group-stay campsites.

Visitors looking for an alternative to the traditional camping route should consider booking the park's 20-foot domed Year-round Universal Recreation Tent (YURT), which offers electricity, a lockable wooden door, wood flooring and three large windows with screens. This unique lodging option rests a comfortable distance from all other campsites, atop one of the park's many scenic bluffs, surrounded by Florida pine and oak trees to create a sense of privacy. 

According to the Florida Park System, the YURT offers accommodations for up to five people and includes air conditioning/heating, skylight and futon with bunk twin bed on top, queen-size bed, table, chairs and a deck.

If You Go

2576 NW Torreya Park Road, Bristol

Admission: $3 per vehicle via honor box, limit 8 people per vehicle; $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists
Camping Fee: $16 per night, plus tax (includes water and electricity)
Yurt: $40 per night, plus tax

Tours of the Gregory House are available weekdays at 10 a.m., and weekends at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the cost of $3 per adult and $2 per child, 12 and under.

The park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year.

For more information, call 850-643-2674 or visit

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Photo: Launch Platform at Ski Rixen, Quiet Waters Park, Deerfield Beach

The launch platform at Ski Rixen, South Florida’s only cable skiing park, located in Deerfield Beach.

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Photo: Kneeboarding at Ski Rixen in Quiet Waters Park, Deerfield Beach

Ski Rixen in Deerfield Beach is not restricted to wakeboarding and water skiing. People of all ages can slalom, trick ski, kneeboard and even surf.

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Photo: Quiet Waters Park, Deerfield Beach

There’s plenty of room to relax on the decks after a day of cable skiing at Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach where Ski Rixen operates.

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Photo: Ski Rixen, Quiet Waters Park, Deerfield Beach

There are several exit stairs around Ski Rixen’s lake should you take a fall while cable skiing.

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Photo: Ski Rixen Cable Skiing, Quiet Waters Park, Deerfield Beach

Ski Rixen cable skiing is located in Quiet Waters Park in the heart of Deerfield Beach.

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Photo: Wake Boarding Jump, Ski Rixen in Quiet Waters Park, Deerfield Beach

Robert Burkholder flies over a jump at Ski Rixen in Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach.

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Photo: Wake Boarding at Ski Rixen in Quiet Waters Park, Deerfield Beach

Renato Zuccolillo flies over the first jump at Ski Rixen in Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach.

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Walton Outdoors Hosts Festival On October 6

What better way to celebrate the return of fall than with an outdoors festival? Load up the whole family and head to Live Oak Landing in Freeport for the Explore the Outdoors Festival, which happens Saturday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is free and hosted by Walton Outdoors, so you know it's going to be good.

The mission of the event is to introduce more kids to the outdoors, so make sure to round up all the children in your neighborhood (with permission, of course) and take them over to Live Oak Landing. Once at the festival, these youngsters will take part in such activities as boating, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding and wildlife viewing. Some of the events during the day include:

  • Fishing basics and ethics with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • Florida State Parks watershed and sea turtle interactive presentations
  • Birds of Prey with Lisa Miller of E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center
  • Kayaking with South Walton Outfitters

This is just a small sampling of the lineup of things happening at the event. Burgers, barbecue, hot dogs and drinks will be available for purchase. For more information and directions, visit Have fun exploring the outdoors!

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How I Roll: Titusville Edition

I get a lot of questions from folks wondering how I work when I'm traveling around the state. The honest answer is that it varies. A lot. Sometimes I camp, sometimes I stay in a hotel, sometimes I sleep in my car. In the car? Yes, it's a lot better than it sounds, especially when I'm working on a video or need to be at a certain spot super early. I don't mind, and I actually enjoy it. It helps to have a Honda Element, which is more like a mini camper than a car, though.

I guess I really just love being out there, working from the road and being in the moment, you know? It's a lot of fun, and I feel pretty fortunate to be able to make a living doing what I enjoy. One day I can be sleeping underneath a tarp somewhere, and the next I can be in a super fancy resort. That's pretty cool, but I think it sometimes freaks out the fancy resort folks a little.

So here's a little video clip to show you how I roll. Last week I was in Titusville for a meeting with the Florida Professional Paddlesports Association, and I set up basecamp at Manatee Hammock Campground, which is right on the Indian River Lagoon. Cool spot. My form of travel isn't luxurious (maybe I can get some luxury tips from Kara, VISIT FLORIDA's Entertainment and Luxury Insider at some point) but it works. 

This is my heavy car camping setup. The tent can connect to my Honda, when I'm not too lazy to actually hook it up. I use an old army cot, mostly because I've had it forever. It weighs a ton, so maybe I'll replace it someday with something a little lighter. I use a big plastic storage container for a table (it stores the tent when not in use) and I have a little fan that runs off of a solar panel if it's too hot during the day.

How do you roll when you are traveling around Florida? Share your stories of road tripping with me on the VISIT FLORIDA Outdoors and Nature Facebook page

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