Drive down the road under a canopy of trees stopping for Gopher Tortoises at the crossing on the way to O’Leno State Park at 410 SE O’Leno Park Road in High Springs. The site originally a town named Leno established in the mid-1860s. The town prospered until the railroad went around the town. By the 1890s, it became a ghost town.
Library and Museum
Step inside the museum and read about the early years of the men in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The site originally purchased as a forestry training camp. In the early 1930s, the camp became a state park one of the original nine parks built by the CCC.
A small nature center that houses the King and Red Snakes, both non-venomous and the Logger-head Musk Turtle. Two Gopher Tortoises eyeing each other in the turtle pen. A Mounted Florida Bobcat, Barred Owl and an Armadillo. The Florida Bobcat remains elusive, the Barred Owl found during twilight hours. While hiking in the woods you might come across an Armadillo.
Relax along the river’s edge and admire the Magnolia and Cypress Trees. Walk along the boardwalk to the suspension bridge stopping in the middle of the bridge to take photos looking out at the Santa Fe River. The bridge built by the men of the CCC. Hike on one of the many trails through pine forests and hardwood hammocks.
Have a picnic or a barbecue. A playground for children and a designated swimming area. I recommend the park, a lot to see and do. Fees and hours of operation on the website.
Orlando Wetlands Park a 1600-acre park at 25155 Wheeler Road in Christmas. Take a tram tour with a park volunteer who points out different species of birds, many trees and aquatic plants. The Sabal Palm, Florida’s state tree produces berries that birds eat. The Bulrush and Cattail plants both aquatic plants can grow up to ten feet tall in shallow water. Over seventeen hundred alligators inhabit the park. Sometimes the eyes and snouts of alligators is all you can see the rest lies hidden just beneath the water. Listen to the grunting sounds of the pig frog.
Stop by the interpretative exhibits area and pick up a map and guide. Read about the different plants, mammals, fish and birds in the wetlands and a history of the early pioneers in the town of Christmas. While hiking in the wetlands you might come upon these different species.
Stroll along the dirt path in the wildlife garden and enjoy the different native plants that attract the many species of birds and butterflies.
Inside the educational building resides an alligator, a Striped Mud Turtle and a Florida Softshell Turtle. The alligator is on loan from the alligator farm. When he gets too big for the aquarium, he goes back to the alligator farm. Descriptions of the turtles, their diet and habitat found next to their aquariums. Private owners donated the mounted animals on display. Other items on display in the center. Birdhouses, books, t-shirts and postcards for sale.
I recommend the park; the park volunteers are knowledgeable. Free entrance to the park, donations accepted. Hours of operation on the website.