Winter in Bushnell Florida (Part Four)

Over the last few months I have checked out a bunch of the surrounding state parks in central Florida. There were several times that Pattie, Steve and I went together. Or a bunch of times I went just by myself. One of times that I went by myself was to Silver Spring State Park near the city of Ocala. Florida has a bunch of large natural springs and most of them have been incorporated into state parks or protected lands. The property that is now Silver Spring State Park used to be privately owned and was a tourist attraction with their famous glass bottom boats. It is a huge spring putting out millions of gallons of fresh crystal-clear water every month. This is a very busy park getting thousands of visitors every month. You can rent kayaks and canoes and paddle down the river enjoying the beautiful freshwater and enjoy nature all around. 20200210_13372420200210_133707And yes, there is still the glass bottom boats and for extra fee you can go for a ride on the Spring itself. 20200210_133235

The captain will navigate the “Spring” pointing out different features and wildlife you can see through the glass bottom. 20200210_14005820200210_13364320200210_133349

We also saw lots of turtles and a couple alligators and many different birds. 20200210_13540020200210_135404

This park, “like I find” many of the Florida State Parks to be, is a little too commercialized and very crowded this time of year. I’m more used to the parks out West where they are is vast areas of openness and less crowds. But they’re still great places to visit. Speaking of all parks another one that I took Maxine to was Davis Island Dog Beach. This is on the Bay of Tampa in the South part of town near the commercial docks. It’s right adjacent to a small airport here’s a picture of the beach, the airport is right on the other side the fence.


As you can see from this photo the docks are just across the bay, it’s a busier little park with lots of other dogs and people. 20200213_134255

It’s funny Maxine usually doesn’t want to share her toys but she wants all the other people to play with her. Out of the several dog beaches that we had gone to I must say Picnic Island Park is probably the nicest in the area. 20200213_134111

A different day trip that Steve, Pattie and I took. Was a drive up to Gainesville, Florida to visit the Florida State University Campus, home to “Florida Museum of Natural History”. They have a large building called the “Butterfly Rainforest”. It’s a very large glass atrium with thousands of different butterflies in it. On the day we went it was quite cool so the butterflies weren’t flying that much. But you could get some great pictures of them sitting on the different plants. I will let the photos show you the beauty of them. 20200214_10172520200214_10173420200214_101825

There was one spot where there were dozens of the same ones hanging all on one plant. 20200214_103441

Many brightly colored ones. 20200214_10390020200214_10240020200214_10305920200214_103932

In a different spot they had some huge moths. 20200214_104147

It was another nice outing enjoying the nice weather and a short ride in the Florida sunshine. Another event that was held one weekend at Dade Battlefield State Park. Was a World War II celebration and gathering. During World War II the park was a base and training facility, so each year they have this event to celebrate its history. People came in and dressed up in World War II attire and set up camps and spent the weekend. 20200307_15373720200307_153823

They had booths setup when merchants all kinds of memorabilia for sale. And lots of different displays of what life was like during the war. I really like this old machine gun. 20200307_153947

There were several different “Army Jeeps” and one guy was giving rides in his. 20200307_15411520200307_154048

There was an old personnel carrier. 20200307_154258

And a reproduction of an old English armored car. 20200307_154314

It was not a huge turnout but it still was a very nice event. I did go on a second fishing trip out of Tarpon Springs. This was with the same fishing company “Gulfstar Fishing” but this was a shark fishing trip. This trip is limited to a maximum of 20 people, on the day we went there were 13 of us. You fish with heavier tackle than on the other trip and much larger bait and hooks. And they throw a lot of chum into the water to attract the sharks. On this trip the boat is allowed to keep a maximum of two sharks, only certain species could be kept. No matter who would catch or landed the fish, the meat would be shared amongst us all equally. But unfortunately, it didn’t make any difference because we didn’t catch any sharks to keep that day. My new friend and fellow volunteer at the park “Frank” came along with me. While we were waiting for the sharks to bite. We did some bottom fishing with some lighter tackle, Frank managed to catch this nice Grouper but it was not legal sized or in season, so we had to release it. 20200309_151834(0)

I did catch several Black Sea Bass that were legal (sized they had to be a minimum of 10 inches) so we kept them for some good eating when we got back home. 20200309_155215

As shark fishing trips go it was a bust, but that is why it’s called fishing and not catching. We still had a great time. There was a group of about eight of the guys that were on a “guy’s outing”, they were all old friends and all from New York, Boston and Jersey area. We had a great time with them sharing stories and telling tall tales and that’s what it’s all about. On the way back into the dock we had a couple dolphin swimming right alongside the boat which is always cool. 20200309_181131

On the Friday just before things started to get really crazy and things started to shut down because of the pandemic. I did one last day trip to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. This is also normally a very busy park because of the attractions they offer. But I knew it would be quiet because people were already starting to stay home and be cautious. This park once was also a private enterprise before becoming a State Park. It is home to the famous Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show. The facility and the show was started back in the late 1940s after World War II and at one time was the biggest attraction in Florida. It did really well until that pesky, Mickey Mouse and all his friends came to Central Florida. Then business started to drop off. Like so many other beautiful Springs in Florida the State Park’s System started acquiring these failing businesses. So that they could protect the natural wonders and if they could, they kept the attractions going. This park not only offers the Mermaid Show but also boat rides on the Spring and River. It also has a “Water Park” that is fed by the freshwater spring. And other Ranger programs throughout the week. When the park reaches capacity, they stop admitting guests which happens most of the time. But on this day, they were nowhere near capacity because of the threat of Covid-19 Virus spreading. Just last year they rebuilt the auditorium and the viewing platform for the mermaid show. They put on three different shows every day all year round. I arrived just in time to see the 1 o’clock show, and because of the small crowds was able to walk right in and get a seat in the auditorium. Everyone sits on metal benches in a half-moon shaped aquarium type auditorium and they raise the curtains and you get views of the mermaid’s, they put on a very wonderful little show. 20200313_133126They breathe using air hoses the same system that was originally used back in the 1940s. They lip-sync to the narrated program making it look very realistic. This show, the middle one of the day, was “Wonders of Weeki”, is about the history of the spring and how the business first started and how it changed through time. It was hard to get good pictures of the mermaid’s because I was towards the back and off to one side not getting really good seat because it was almost a full house. 20200313_133208I did get some better pictures on the second show that I attended. Which normally wouldn’t be able to do with regular crowds, but seeing it was so quiet I walked right in on the 2:30 show and I got a much better seat. Between the first and second show I also had time to attend a Ranger program about the wildlife in the area of this spring. The programs, in general are geared towards children and are a little corny but there’s still fun to attend and quite well done. The Ranger talked about the different species and brought out examples and explain how they would live in the area. The kids really had fun and so did I. The last critter to be brought out was this alligator and after the program, the Ranger let anyone come down and touch it and answered more questions. 20200313_144030

After this program I had just enough time to walk right back and get in on the third mermaid show of the day. The first and third shows, of the mermaid shows are the story of “The Little Mermaid”. As I said I got a better seat and got some nicer photos of the pretty girls dressed as mermaids. 20200313_15021920200313_150227As I’m sure you know the story of “The Little Mermaid” is she is celebrating her 16th birthday. And meeting I young sailor that falls off the ship. 20200313_150505

She wants to be able to go on land and be with her sailor. To do this she must meet with the “Black Witch of the Sea” and asked for her to get legs. Here she is swimming to the deeps and then meeting the Black Witch. 20200313_15073920200313_151659

The performers do a very good job and it is very well choreographed making it quite entertaining. After each of the shows you can meet a real-life mermaid for a photo op. Under normal conditions this little girl would’ve been able to get a hug from the real-life mermaid, but they were already starting to take precautions and distancing people. 20200313_153421

By the time I got back to the park later that Friday afternoon the state already made the decision to stop all of these kinds of programs and close all rental facilities. They also closed all the museums and visitor centers in the Florida State Park System. In a matter of less than a week. The Florida Parks System went from allowing campgrounds and Day-use Parks to stay open. To all parks and public beaches being closed. And after more time they stopped all seasonal rental properties from being allowed to be rented out. The very next day, Saturday after my last outing to Weeki Wachee. I went to the store and stocked up on all my essentials for self-isolation LOL. 20200318_141252

But who knew things would even get tighter and crazier? I was supposed to be leaving Bushnell on April 10th, (to go up to the Tallahassee area), for my nephew’s destination wedding. The plan was I was going to be there from the 10th through 26th of April, before moving on. My youngest daughter Jennifer was going to come down from Wisconsin, on the 14th and spend a week with me. But as of Sunday, March 29 everything was put on hold. Because I was a resident volunteer, I was being allowed to stay at the park I was in at least till the end of April, but I was ready to move on. I reached out to the park manager Julie at Hamburg State Park in Georgia, where I volunteered before, to see if she would like me to come up as a volunteer. You see as up to now, Georgia State Parks are staying open for camping. They have closed all the museums and visitor centers and other buildings to the public and are asking everyone to keep social distancing. But for now, they are keeping the campground’s open, but that might change anytime. Julie had a spot for me and was more than happy to have me come help out. So, on April 2st, I made the six-hour trip up to Hamburg State Park where I will be staying for the on determine future. I’m happy to be able to be here at this park, because it is much larger with more opportunities for Maxine and me to get out and enjoy nature, and still keep a safe distance from everyone. So that’s it a wrap up of my “Winter in Bushnell Florida”. “Best Wishes” and “Hope Everyone’s is Staying Safe and Healthy” in these difficult times, Rick


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s