Tag Archives: Discover

The Rolling Hills of Brooksville

11 Dec

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Heading north on SR 41, rolling hills appear on the horizon. Chinsegut Hill is one of Florida’s highest points at 269 feet.  Only a couple of locations along The Lake Wales Ridge in central Polk County boast greater heights. There are so many picturesque places in Florida to explore, yet so few that match the charm of a 5 square mile town nestled in the hills of eastern Hernando County. This is Brooksville, a place where you may forget you are still in Florida.  The rolling hills of Brooksville are a special destination on an otherwise sprawling coast.dsc06259

As a child, I remember the old-fashioned Sunday afternoon drives with my family. Everyone would pile in the car, and we would take off to nowhere in particular. My brother and I usually ended up asleep in the back seat. I can’t think of a better Sunday drive than veering onto one of the narrow back roads and driving through the eastern Hernando alpine prairie.

Forest-covered limestone and ancient sand dunes define this part of the state. The historic city of Brooksville lies twelve miles southeast of Florida’s geographic center. Even its location has a unique story. Hernando County was once triple the size of what it is today. In 1877, the state separated it into three counties, Pasco to the south and Citrus to the north. Back in 1856, four families established the city of Brooksville; the Howells to the north, the Mays to the east, the Hales in the west, and the Parsons to the south. Named after, Preston Brooks, a South Carolina congressman,  their new town of Brooksville was a consolidation of two communities established in the 1840s, Melendez and Pierceville.

During the period, the land surrounding Melendez and Pierceville was essential to trade along the west coast of Florida. Ft. Desoto (no relation to the Ft. Desoto in Pinellas County) served as not only a stop for the Concord Stage Line that ran from Palatka to Tampa, but also as a trading post and as protection for settlers from Seminole Indians. The abandonment of the fort is what actually gave rise to city of Brooksville. While the high terrain made the Fort location attractive, it was constructed on a bed of limestone which made obtaining water difficult. The settlers eventually abandoned the location and moved just to the southwest. Their new settlement became Brooksville. A private residence now sits on the landmark location where the old fort once was with no evidence of its existence to be found except what is written in history.

dsc06248While the nation fought the Civil War in the 1860s, eastern Hernando County supplied Confederate soldiers with cotton and lumber. In 1864, Union troops attacked the Confederate-held city of Brooksville to destroy the supply line. Despite a valiant attempt to protect the city, the Confederate troops were defeated in what is now known as the Brooksville Raid. The event is re-enacted each January near Weeki Wachee.

Today, Brooksville is known for historic southern homes lining cobblestone streets reminiscent of those you might find in Savannah, Georgia or Charleston, South Carolina. Take a walking tour through the downtown where buildings and businesses date back to the early 1900s. A stop at Roger’s Christmas House is a must for holiday enthusiasts even in the heat of summer where an array of themed buildings contain antique and artistic Christmas decor along with household accessories sure to fit any style. Grab lunch or afternoon tea at The Tilted Teacup. Then, visit the May-Stinger House Museum, check out a train depot from the late 1800s or a one room school-house still standing, all within walking distance from one another. It’s easy to spend an entire day exploring this quaint American town.

The area around Brooksville, known locally as The Nature Coast, is an outdoor lover’s dream! Once home to settlers and Seminoles, it’s bordered to the east and west by the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Areas. The Withlacoochee State Forest provides the anchor. One of the most attractive areas to outdoor enthusiasts is the Croom Wildlife Tract near Ridge Manor, a 20,000-acre wildlife area featuring dozens of miles of hiking, horseback riding, bicycling and motorcycle trails. The hilly terrain makes it great for getting into shape to do longer more strenuous hikes in the mountains or an

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Croom is a great hiking destination

ywhere else you may find yourself exploring in the future. Silver Lake is ideal for hunting or camping. Fish or kayak the 13 miles of the Withlacoochee River that cuts through the Croom Tract. The Florida National Cemetery rests along the east border. Interstate 75 provides easy access to everything.

When someone says Florida, the images that first comes to mind are usually those of
beaches and palm trees. However, there are some parts of Florida that get so little attention, they are practically unknown.  These treasures don’t fit the ideal portrait of sun and sand. They’re not advertised all over the world as a top tourist destination. Some who have lived here all their lives know as much about them as someone who lives a thousand miles away. Brooksville may be called a sleepy town. It may be thought of as dull. The lifestyle may be considered slow. The beauty of a gem is that on the surface it looks like a rock. It’s not until you look deeper that the beauty within the crusty shell is revealed. Only those trained with that special eye appreciate its rough appearance. Brooksville is the gem of the Nature Coast.

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So, the next time you are sitting in the living room with that urge to get out and do something new, think of how it was a century ago. Automobiles changed the world. They gave rise to the afternoon drive allowing entire families to get out and explore their surroundings. They loaded the car and drove into the untamed countryside for a picnic or maybe to a neighboring town to see old friends or family. The automobile brought people together and they put towns on the map. The automobile made it possible for sleep old towns like Brooksville to shed its outer crust and expose the extraordinary within. The world may have changed. Technology may have evolved. But people will always have that desire to explore, to get out on the open road and find something hidden, something extraordinary! And there is nothing more extraordinary than those rolling hills of Brooksville?

Weedon Island Kayak Adventure!

18 Jul

Weedon Island Preserve

Weedon Island may be one of central Florida’s most hidden treasures. I went on a Kayak trip with some friends on a Saturday afternoon. It turned out to be quite an adventure that any outdoor enthusiast would enjoy. While located in the middle part of Tampa Bay on west side of the Gandy Bridge, Weedon Island is a sanctuary where you’ll quickly forget you are actually in the middle of two major metro areas off a main highway. All that aside, let’s start with the most important part; how do you get there? The Weedon Island preserve can be accessed of San Martin Blvd about a mile east of 4th Street if coming from Pinellas County or 1/2 mile west of the Gandy Bridge if traveling from Hillsborough County. Just follow the winding road to Weedon Drive and you’re there!

Kayak Launch

Park at Discovery Center where you can get a quick overview of the island’s history. Human artifacts dating as old as 1800 years have been uncovered during excavations on the preserve. Creek Indians moved down from the north in 1700s eventually becoming the Seminoles. The natives took advantage of the abundant food sources the area presented from the plant life to extremely fertile fishing grounds. Several trails and observation towers allow you get a glimpse of the pristine landscape where these original Americans once thrived. But if you really want take in what this amazing preserve is all about, you’ll want to get out on the water.

Bring your own canoe or kayak and drop it in the water at the specialized launching dock. If you don’t own one, then rent a kayak from Sweetwater Kayaks. They’ll give you the equipment you need then send you on your way. Make sure to bring a small cooler and a snack for the trip. You will get thirsty in the warm Florida sun even in the cooler months. We followed the kayak trail where over 30 markers guide you through open estuaries and mangrove jungles. This part of the bay is pretty shallow particularly at low tide. Pay attention so you don’t have to drag you ride to deeper water. Some of the waterways through he mangroves are both shallow and narrow. Some degree of endurance is required, but nothing too strenuous.

First Marker Shallow But Clear Estuary

Wildlife is abundant on the kayak adventure. Fiddler crabs line the mangrove roots like a welcoming party. If you’re lucky (or maybe unlucky) one may even hop on to hitch a ride. We encountered just about every wading bird imaginable on our three-hour tour. From the smaller Snow Egret, the Ibis and Little Blue Heron to the majestic Great Egret and Great Blue Heron, we had plenty of spectators watching or maybe laughing at us as we worked our way through their world.  I heard dolphin and manatees were common in the preserve during higher tides, but the tide was well short that day. Only mullet leapt around the calm waters. That was enough entertainment for me though. I understood why the Native Americans cherished this place.

Eventually, the winding waterways and secluded lagoons open up to an open body of water that marks the home stretch back to the launch area. Along the way you can beach yourself on a sandbar in the middle of the open bay. You won’t be alone here! The sandbar is a popular stopping point. Regain the energy needed to paddle the last leg of the journey while lounging in the sun for a while. Make sure to save a cold one for the stop at the sandbar.

Great Egret Spoonbill

As we arrive back at the launch area, the soft rumble of thunder sounds in the distance. An egret sours overhead taking shelter from the approaching storm. Our arms ache a little. Our rear ends are a little numb. We dry off a bit and throw away the trash. Upon pulling away in the car I look back and think to myself what a great day! It was the Weedon Island kayak adventure I never expected and one I fully intend to take again.

 

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