Piddlin’ Around on the Gulf Coast

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Allan and Ann, our friends who live in Venice, Florida, invited us to visit them again before we left Florida. We thoroughly enjoy their company so we returned to see them and to explore some other great places in the area.

One of the first places that we went was the new Atlanta Braves spring training facility. It is named after a local heating and cooling company, Cool Today, and the Braves will have their first full spring training season next year. It is a very nice venue in Venice, Florida. David was very excited to see it.

Later we went to a rookery near our friends’ house. It was amazing to watch all of the different birds nesting on an island in the middle of a small lake. David and Allan had a great time photographing the snowy egrets, blue herons, comorants, anhingas, ducks, and other waterfowl. Ann and I enjoyed bird watching too.

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The following day we drove to Sarasota to visit the city and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Located on the Sarasota Bay and Hudson Bayou, these extraordinary gardens were originally the home of William and Marie Selby. Although they were born in Ohio, they relocated to Florida in the early 1920s. Even though they were very wealthy, they built a modest Spanish style home beside the bay. They both enjoyed boating and being outdoors. Marie’s passion was gardening and she set out to create and design a fabulous garden that surrounded their two-story home. She was also a charter member of the Sarasota Garden Club.

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Shaving Brush Tree – Central America

Upon her death in 1971, she willed the property to the city and stipulated that it be a botanical garden for the public. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens officially opened to the public in 1975. Today the Gardens have been expanded to 15 acres and they have a fabulous collection of flora from all over the world. We particularly liked the Tropical Conservatory that featured many orchids and Polynesian Rainforest plants. Throughout the Gardens, there was beauty on display everywhere.

In addition to the Selby House, the Gardens acquired the Payne Mansion on the adjacent property. This building serves as a museum. When we visited, there was a special exhibit called “Gauguin: Voyage to Paradise.” This features Paul Gauguin’s woodcut prints and wood engravings. In addition, there were some photographs of Tahiti from the time period that Gauguin was on the island.

The Selby Gardens are a “must see” if you are in the Sarasota area. It is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend some time reflecting and relaxing plus the views of the Sarasota Bay are splendid.

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One of the state parks that David and I wanted to visit while we were in Florida was Myakka River State Park. Located about nine miles from Sarasota, this state park covers 37,000 acres and is one of the largest and oldest in Florida. Since it was not too far from where we were staying, we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the park.

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Many people contributed to the establishment of Myakka River State Park. In 1910, Bertha Palmer purchased large tracts of land in Florida. When she passed away eight years later, she gifted some of her land to the state. The state then purchased additional acreage and decided to develop a state park along the Myakka River. During the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built a Visitors Center, picnic pavilions, cabins, roads, and trails. In 1941, the Myakka River State Park opened to the public.

 

There are so many things to see and do in the park like biking, hiking, bird watching, boating, alligator viewing, etc. Since we were only going to be there one day, we decided to do three things in the park: to visit the boardwalk, to climb the Canopy Walkway, and to take a boat tour. We began by driving around the lake to the boardwalk where we saw a number of birds and we also spotted an alligator in the lake.

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From there, we went to the trail leading to the Canopy Walkway. The Walkway is a 100 foot suspension bridge that is 25 feet up in the tree canopy. From the Walkway, you can see birds and other animals that live in the tree tops. The walkway is strung between two wooden towers. The tallest tower is 74 feet high and from the top platform, you can look out over the entire park and see some of the park’s wetland areas. This unique experience is free with your park admission fee.

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For an additional fee, there are a couple of tours that you can take. One is a tram ride and the other is a boat ride out onto the lake. We chose the latter since we had gone on a tram ride at Highland Hammock State Park recently. We boarded a pontoon boat and it took us on a 45 minute tour of the lake. While on the lake, we saw a number of alligators, a group of feral hogs, and many birds that were along the shoreline. The rangers told us that they have counted hundreds of alligators in this lake. After we returned to the dock, we walked along the edge of the lake where we observed some roseate spoonbills eating in the shallow waters. We also walked to the weir where we discovered some enormous alligators basking in the sun along the river bank. If you want to see alligators, this is definitely the place to go.

The park also has several camping areas and five rental cabins. There is a picnic area near the boat launch as well as a snack bar and gift shop.

David and I were very happy that we got to visit Myakka River State Park. Hopefully we can come back another time and explore it some more.

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We had a great time in the Venice and Sarasota area. Many thanks to our friends Ann and Allan for taking us to some very fun places.

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