By Mark McCullough
Our family vacation involves a trek to Grandma’s place in Florida each year, and we make a point to search out the “real Florida,” which means bypassing the theme parks. On our most recent Florida vacation, we visited the manatees at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on the Gulf coast.
Florida is blessed with many unique natural areas, and the state park system is excellent. During the winter, manatees congregate around the many warm-water springs that dot the northern and central parts of Florida. These mammals rely on the springs to maintain their body temperatures during the cold snaps that chill the Gulf of Mexico.
Due to their gentle nature and need come to the surface to breathe, manatees are unfortunate victims of accidents with motor boats. At Homosassa, the injured manatees are cared for until they are well enough to join the wild population once again. The park is a great spot for a family vacation, as it’s as kid friendly as it gets, with a manatee show that features a “salad bar” with carrots (their favorite), lettuce, cabbage, etc.
The park features a submerged observation deck that puts you next to the manatees and a variety of fish. Additionally, the park features Florida panthers, bobcats, red wolves, and, of course, alligators — all easily viewed from a nice walking path. So if you are looking for a “real” Florida vacation, I’d suggest putting this special place on your list.
Mark McCullough, father of three children under age 6, often reminisces about his former life as a raft guide and rock-climbing instructor. Now his outings are more subdued, like canoeing along the tidal rivers in Virginia’s historic triangle of Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg.