When last we updated our travels, we were in Lake City, cooling our heels waiting for our truck to get repaired. Watching the experienced tow truck driver load our 22-foot, dual-wheeled truck on the back of his flat bed truck was a bit exciting – the rear passenger wheels didn’t quite fit and were riding on the flat bed rail – yipes! No problem according to the driver – he took it easy on his way to Rountree Ford.
Rountree was quite helpful- first in getting us on their work schedule immediately, then in arranging for the tow truck and sending us to Enterprise Rental Car. Both businesses partner with Rountree with all billing done by the Ford dealer – very convenient one-stop shopping for us. We picked up a rental car then we made arrangements to stay an additional two nights at Casey Jones Campground while awaiting the truck repairs – the staff was very helpful and accommodating – one less thing for us to worry about.
In April, we’ll be staying at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center campground in White Springs, Florida. White Springs was less than a 30 minute drive from Lake City so we headed out there to check out our future campsite to make sure our rig would fit – no problem at all – most of the sites are quite spacious. We had a small world moment while looking for our loop – we spotted friends Bill and Jann walking back to their rig, with laundry in hand. You can imagine their surprise when we knocked on their door – none of us knew we’d be in the area that day. We visited for just a short time and saw their new dulcimers – Bill’s that he found on Ebay and Jann’s dulcimette – both beautiful looking instruments with good tonal quality.
The Ford dealer had our truck back to us after two days. The problem turned out to be a bad injector (four of the eight injectors had already been replaced under warranty years ago) which contaminated the oil and EGR systems requiring them to be flushed out. After settling up our bill (yipes), we drove back to the campground – we’d leave Lake City the next morning.
We’d kept in touch with Jackie, the volunteer coordinator at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, who suggested we enjoy ourselves for the next couple of days after we got there and meet with her on Friday morning. We had no problem following those orders. Art and Suzan, who introduced us to the park and who are volunteering at a nearby county park, came by to welcome us. The four of us enjoyed a late afternoon boat ride then joined Gwen, Ed, Larry and Marilyn, also resident volunteers, for a happy hour campfire. Life is good! (For more information about Wakulla Springs, click here to read about the park and our visit in February 2009.)
A little bit about Volunteer Village here at Wakulla Springs State Park. Wakulla Springs is a day use park only, with no camping facilities available. About five years ago, they realized the win-win situation of having RV volunteers living on the premises and built four sites in a secluded area of the sanctuary. The assistant park ranger and the head of maintenance live in park-provided homes behind us but other than that, our only other neighbors are the raccoons, birds, fox, squirrels and occasional deer that wander through. All sites have 50 amp service, water, sewer, fire ring and picnic table. There’s also a small building that houses a washer, dryer, utility sink, telephone and upright freezer, all available specifically for the resident volunteers. There is an E-Z Go golf cart available for the volunteers’ use, either personal or for our ‘work’. On the days that we work, we can purchase discounted meal tickets for breakfast and/or lunch at the lodge – $2 for breakfast, $2.50 for lunch – wotta deal! What we are required to do in return for these amenities is to work twenty hours for the site, with each person encouraged to work twenty hours if possible. Projects are assigned based on park needs. Jackie tries to match the volunteer’s skills to the projects. In our case, we will be working on construction projects; others do carpentry; greet guests at the entry station; data entry; landscaping; or help in general maintenance areas.
There were buckets of rain on our first work day, which consisted of an orientation meeting with Jackie and getting a quick intro to the park, its staff and facilities. We would meet with Lee, the head of maintenance and our immediate supervisor, the following week. Until then, to help earn our site, we spent the first weekend picking up fallen branches around the picnic areas as well as cigarette butts. This is one of the cleanest parks we’ve been in, thanks to resident and local volunteers, and maintenance staff, who all help pick up litter.
From our meeting with Lee the following week, we learned what projects he had in mind for us during our two-month stay here. First up was to refurbish the benches from one of the park boats, the Limpkin, currently being repaired and painted in Tallahassee. The benches had been removed and were under the pole barn in the maintenance yard. Trex, a wood/plastic composite material, is being used to replace the wood. The first two benches took us awhile until we figured out a system, then we started to get more efficient and could tear apart and refurbish two benches a day. Sometimes the tearing apart took longer than the re-assembly because of the fasteners used on the original boards. We also had to make sure the aluminum legs would be in the same position with the new boards as they were with the old ones--each bench was numbered and had to be welded in a specific location on the boat deck. We finished fourteen out of fifteen benches by the end of the month. #15 had to have its aluminum legs re-welded. We hope to get that back and finished before we leave at the end of March. Last we heard, the Limpkin will not be back and reassembled before our departure but as long-lasting as the Trex is, those benches will still be on the boat next time we return here.
Several times during the month, we had to check to see if we were still in Florida – the weather certainly wasn’t Florida-like – pretty darned cold at times with nights in the mid to upper 20s! We’d bundle up on our workdays as we’d be outside the entire time. But the cold weather is preferable to muggy and buggy weather.
Surrounding state parks support each other when they have special events. We spent a sunny but breezy day at Ochlocknee River State Park in nearby Sopchoppy (don’t you love that name!) during their Stone Age and Primitive Arts Festival. Our assignment that day was to walk around the park picking up litter. The cool weather kept most people away, so there was very little to clean up. But we enjoyed ourselves, got to see another state park, and meet some neat folks, both volunteers and vendors.
We completed the boat benches by the end of the month. We enjoy the flexibility of our hours and working together. Because we were under cover, we’d work on rainy days and have fun on sunny days. We even managed to get most of our work done in three days each week, leaving the rest of the week free to explore the area – what a life!
Some of the fun things we did during February:
Dave and Mary, our friends and leaders for the Mobile Habitat build, were on their way back to Mobile after a quick visit to Georgia and overnighted near Tallahassee. We enjoyed dinner at TGI Fridays, catching up with our respective lives since we saw them last in December.
St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge has several units but we visited the main headquarters unit. A seven-mile ride from the visitor center takes you through fresh and brackish water impoundments, ending at the historic St. Mark’s Lighthouse. There are over 75 miles of marked trails in the refuge – we did some of the shorter ones, including the Tower Pond Trail. We walked through slash pine forests, oak hammocks and salt marsh. We spotted several species of wading birds and one lone raccoon, missing his tail.
Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail: This rails-to-trails path extends from Tallahassee to St. Marks, a total distance of sixteen miles. We met Art and Suzan at the Wakulla Station Trailhead and pedaled down to St. Marks, about seven miles one way. From the path, we saw backyards totally under water, evidence of all the recent rain. About twenty feet of the path still had a couple of inches of water.
San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park: About a mile from the end of the bike trail in St. Marks is this historic fort. After watching the informative movie in the visitor center, we walked the self-guided trail through the grounds.
A brief history of the park: “Archaeologists have learned that the modern history of this site dates back to 1528 and the explorations of Panfilo de Navarez. Hernando de Soto's path of exploration also brought him to this location in 1539. The site later played an historic role during the Spanish occupation period of Florida and the First Seminole War, when General Andrew Jackson briefly took control of the fort in 1818 before leaving it under Spanish control. In 1821, the fort came under U.S. Government control and was later occupied by Confederate forces in 1861.” Remnants of these occupations can still be viewed while on the self-guided trail. Be sure to check out the great photo op of the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers at the site of the early Spanish and British forts (#5 on the tour).
One day we drove to Carrabelle and saw the following:
Camp George Johnston Museum: Established in 1942 as a training base for World War II troops, Camp Johnston was an amphibious training center and later an Army Service Forces Training Center, preparing troops needed in the Pacific. More than 30,000 troops were housed there during the later months of the War.
Beginning in 1944, Camp Johnston also housed German and Italian prisoners of war, becoming the second largest POW base camp in the state of Florida. The camp was closed in 1946 and scant evidence remains. The museum, located in the Carrabelle City Complex building, has an extensive history of the various units that trained there, photographic displays of the area and life as it existed at Camp Johnston. You could easily spend hours looking at all the displays.
Tate’s Hell National Forest: We hiked part of the High Bluff Coastal Hiking Trail here, walking past palmettos, woody shrubs, slash and longleaf pines. “Local legend has it that a farmer by the name of Cebe Tate, armed with only a shotgun and accompanied by his hunting dogs, journeyed into the swamp in search of a panther that was killing his livestock. Although there are several versions of this story, the most common describes Tate as being lost in the swamp for seven days and nights, bitten by a snake, and drinking from the murky waters to curb his thirst. Finally he came to a clearing near Carrabelle, living only long enough to murmur the words, ‘My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell!’ Cebe Tate's adventure took place in 1875 and ever since, the area has been known as Tate's Hell, the legendary and forbidden swamp.”
Crooked River Lighthouse: Completed in 1895, this lighthouse is a cast iron skeletal tower with a cement foundation. After 100 years of service, the lighthouse was decommissioned and was going to be auctioned off as surplus. The Carrabelle Lighthouse Association and the City of Carrabelle obtained ownership of the lighthouse and began an extensive rescue and restoration. This historic landmark was re-lighted and open to the public by December 2007. Lighthouse tours are available on Saturday afternoons but the museum, gift shop, picnic pavilion and playground are open Thursdays through Sundays.
The world’s smallest police station: Located on US 98 in Carrabelle, this police station, disguised as a phone booth, was featured on “Real People”, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not" and “The Today Show”. In the early 1960s, a police phone was bolted to a building nearby. To protect officers from the elements, the phone was then placed in a phone booth at its current location. Vandals eventually ripped the phone from the booth, shot holes through the glass, and knocked it over. The original booth is on display in the Carrabelle Chamber of Commerce office and Carrabelle’s police station is on a nearby street.
All this sightseeing got us hungry and how can you pass up seafood when you’re on the Gulf Coast! We spotted The Fisherman’s Wife, a small red food trailer across from the world’s smallest police station, and stopped to check it out. You order at the window and can either get it to take home or enjoy your meal at one of their picnic tables with great views of this fishing port. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meals – Larry had a bucket of boiled shrimp and Lucille had some awesome crab cakes with all the fixins’ – portions were generous and the price was right – well worth a return visit next time we are in the area.
And so ends another month. We’ll be at Wakulla Springs State Park through the end of March, and then we’ll move on to White Springs where we have reservations at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center. From there, we’ll head east and start meandering up north to end up in Massachusetts mid-May or so.