Bella Vida by Letty

central florida

Wekiwa Springs Florida State Park

Wekiwa springs florida state park

Some of the best natural attractions Florida has to offer are its cool refreshing springs. Springs are the point where groundwater flows out of the ground where the aquifer surface meets the surface of the earth and Florida has one of the largest concentrations of springs on earth. There are many beautiful clear freshwater springs throughout central and north Florida. I was blown away at my first visit to Rainbow Springs Florida State Park. So much so I am determined to visit more of them.

Wekiwa Collage

The springs are great for cooling down, swimming, picnicking, paddling, canoeing, camping, hiking and nature watching. The best time to visit is summertime because these bodies of water remain relatively cold, about 72 degrees year round. It is the perfect way to keep cool on a hot summer day.

wekiwacanoe

Florida Springs are a great alternative to pricey theme parks.

Wekiwa Springs is only a 40-minute drive from Orlando theme parks located in the town of Apopka. We visited during the week but if you are heading out there on a summer weekend call in advance. They do close their gates when they reach capacity. Admission is only $6.00 per vehicle. A big difference from pricey theme parks and we had just as much fun.

Wekiwa 3

Wekiwa Springs has a very large walled off swimming area unlike other springs. You are allowed to canoe, kayak, paddleboard other areas just be respectful of nature. There are alligators everywhere. In addition there are miles and miles of hiking trails. Be aware that Florida has a large black bear population. If you plan on hiking go prepared. The only hiking I did that day was on the boardwalks scattered around the swimming area. I saw raccoons and a variety of birds including a few gorgeous swallowtail kite.

If you visit during summer weekends arrive early.  We spent an entire day swimming, canoeing and exploring the trails.  They have a gift shop and small concession stand which serves snacks, burgers and hot dogs. Or you can bring your own picnic.

Have you been to Wekiwa Springs?

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Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins

If you’re on the road exploring central Florida, Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park is a great place to stop stretch and picnic.  The historical site is located in Homosassa Citrus County.  I was surprised to find the site is so small you can explore it in under 15 minutes.  It was interesting to see something from so long ago survive the harsh Florida climate.  The best part for me is just across the street.  There is a very lovely place to picnic.  You will find covered picnic tables and lots of shade provided by tall moss covered trees.

About the Site

It is preserved sites like this which reveal Florida’s true history and are worthy of contemplation.  This small site was part of a 5,100 acre sugar plantation owned by US House Representative and first Jewish Senator David Levy Yulee.  (Though after his marriage he became a Christian.)  His plantation along the Homosassa River was built and maintained by slaves.  These slaves built the mansion, the mill and in addition raised sugarcane, citrus and cotton.

The steam driven mill operated in the mid 1800’s and supplied sugar products to the southern troops during the Civil War.  His mansion at the plantation became a stockpile for ammunition and supplies.  Union Naval force burned the home to the ground in 1864.  The mill escaped damage but never resumed operation.  The only things remaining today is a 40 foot limestone masonry chimney, iron gears and a cane press.  It is a remainder of the technology used in the 19th century.

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins

About the Man

Born 1810 in St. Thomas he was sent to the US to study in private schools.  He became an attorney and headed to the Spanish South becoming one of Florida’s first pioneers.  While in office he fought for the causes of the southern states, including slavery, and he fought for Florida’s admittance to the Union.  Due to his support of the Confederacy he was prisoner at Fort Pulaski in 1865.

While his ethics are questionable his greatest accomplishment was the establishment of the Florida railroad system.  One of the reasons he believed the railroad was important was to create economic development that would lead to white immigration to the south to ease the racist fears of Africanization, having a majority black population.  Using federal land grants an extensive system of railroads was created through wilderness including a line from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico.  This enabled delivery of mail and goods across the state.  And though it seems like a conflict of interest to me he later went on to become President of three Florida Railroad Companies.

In 2000 the Florida Department of State looked beyond the atrocity of being a slave owner and designated him as a Great Floridian for his works in the railroad industry.  Plaques in his honor were installed at the Fernandina Chamber of Commerce and the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins.

Visit Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins and learn how Florida became what it is today.  It is free to visit.  A short self guided tour is made possible with the assistance of informational signs along a concrete path.

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins

Have you visited these ruins?

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“Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.” Rumi

“Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.” Elizabeth Gilbert

“Maybe it’s not in the perfection of life that things make sense, but in the chaos.” Rachel Van Dyken

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