For those who feel
the Orlando theme park experience is so plastic!, help is at hand. Within the Orlando metropolitan area, or just
a short ride away, are private gardens, public parks, and wilderness
tracts where cool waters, fresh breezes, and quiet forests await
to soothe the simulation- and stimulation-weary tourist.
Here I describe the Harry P. Leu Gardens, right in the heart of Orlando, and the spectacular Historic Bok Sanctuary in Lake Wales, a short drive from Orlando. Of course, these attractions involve the cunning hand of man and are, in a way, just as artificial as any theme park — although some would argue they are a good deal more beautiful.
Then there are the state, county, and city parks, many of which have been only slightly modified by humans. It comes as a surprise to many visitors that the “real Florida” (to use a phrase pushed by the state’s public relations campaigns) lies all around them. Just a short drive from your motel, you can hike miles and miles of pristine trails and never see another human, or swim in a crystal clear spring bubbling up from deep in the earth, or canoe down a river that still looks much as it did when the first Europeans arrived in this part of Florida.
This is nature, let us not forget, so in addition to sunscreen, a good bug repellent will come in handy for hikers. Be aware too that deer ticks carrying Lyme disease are found here. Common-sense precautions should be used with wildlife — don’t pick anything up and don’t feed the alligators (it’s against the law!). The words to live by when visiting these beautiful areas are: “Take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time, leave nothing but footprints.”
The parks listed here are just the beginning. If this type of unspoiled recreation is to your taste, you may want to venture farther afield — to Blue Springs State Park to the north, where manatees come to warm up in the winter, or to Homosassa Springs State Park to the west, or to Lake Kissimmee State Park to the south. An excellent (and free) guide to Florida’s state parks is available from the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks, MS#535, 3900 Commonwealth Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32399-3000. Or ask for Florida State Parks . . . the Real Florida at the ranger station of any state park. For more on Orlando’s city parks, go to the city’s web site, www.cityoforlando.net, and click on “parks.”
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