As I inch my way north, I'm discovering state parks with historical significance that I never knew existed, and the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is certainly one of them. The Park honors the composer of Florida's State Song, and has been along the banks of the Suwannee River since 1950.
While the campground resembles most Florida State Parks, just a short walk up the road and I felt like I was on a small prep school campus. There's a 200 foot high, 97-bell carillon tower that houses a small history museum, rings each quarter-hour for the time of day, and also plays a variety of Stephen Foster tunes (there are 201). As a camper, I was pleased that this only occurs in the day time, but I will never get the tune of Beautiful Dreamer out of my head.
The museum, which houses exhibits and dioramas depicting scenes from some of Foster's most popular songs, is a little hokey. I just loved it! Artists also demonstrate old and new crafts, and there's a variety of special musical and other events throughout the year. My next visit will be to attend The Florida Folk Festival held every Memorial Day weekend, and now in its 65th year.
Outside the gates of the Park is the town of White Springs, once a "spa village" of grand hotels and resorts. Now half the population it was in the mid-19th century, it relies on agriculture, timber and tourism along the Suwannee River. I enjoyed my four days in this uniquely historical setting.
A little bit of Stephen Foster trivia
During my March madness search for tent sites, I discovered this pristine location in Flagler County known as Princess Place Preserve. Overlooking the brackish Pellicer Creek which flows into the Matanzas River, the 1,500 acre preserve has the oldest living structure in the county, a hunting lodge built in 1887 by Henry Cutting. After his death, his wife Angela married a Russian prince, and hence, became known as the Princess.
My travel plans were to mosey my way up the coast from Central Florida while watching the weather report to the north. As I started searching for a camping spot within my usual two-week window, I was taken by surprise. There was absolutely nothing available within a two-hour radius of the Palm Coast, so I started frantically making phone calls. A conversation with an Ocala National Forest ranger set me straight -- it was Bike Week in Daytona (no, not bicycles), and there was not a spot to be had within 100 miles. Thanks to this same gal, I found Rodman Campground, just south of the nondescript town of Palatka.
My first 36 hours were drenched in rain, followed by sunny days and cold nights (yes, below freezing) but the campground was a very pleasant place with new facilities and a very cordial staff. While I biked very little this week, I did walk nearly 25 miles of trails, and made a great discovery.
Did you know that there's a Florida National Scenic Trail? I certainly did not, and it's a 1,400 mile, non-motorized hiking trail that was conceived in the 1960's, and stretches the length of Florida. It begins to the south at Big Cypress National Preserve near Miami and ends to the north at the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola. You can backpack and camp straight through the middle of the entire state. I'm game!
Sidebar: I'd love to tell the story of Marjorie Harris Carr of Boston, but instead I'll send you here for details well worth reading.
My week in Cocoa had its ups and downs as I disliked the overly-commercialized area but enjoyed visits to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Port Canaveral, and the incredible Kennedy Space Center.
The town of Cocoa has a lovely riverfront park and downtown village area that caters to tourists and residents alike, but the remainder of Cocoa is a run-down, unwelcoming place. When you cross the causeway to the ocean, the towns of Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral are overrun with a mish-mash of buildings, too much retail, and traffic. If you like Old Orchard Beach, ME, Ocean City, MD or Myrtle Beach, SC, then you'll like it here. I'll pass, thank you.
Overall, this section of Brevard County is not very bike friendly with the exception of a 14-mile stretch along the Indian River that passes through Cocoa Village, and the small town of Rockledge. It was scenic with historic sites along the way, but watch out at the causeway crossings.
The absolute highlight of my week was a nine-hour day at the Kennedy Space Center where I ran around like a child at a carnival. I also cried four times from the absolute optimism and pride that we had at the beginning of the space program, and at that time, for our country. Too much to say, but many photos to share.
The last three weeks since I "crossed to the mainland" have flown by as I've enjoyed two weeks in a new campground, followed by a comfy AirBnB in the center of town. Trust me, I did hit the beach a few times to cycle and sunbathe, nap and read. Yet, I really enjoyed being in town and definitely explored new sights I'd not seen in the past.
The town of Sebastian has been a fishing village since the 1870s, and I love the early history that I recently learned. Thomas New, a retired minister from Detroit settled here in 1881, and filed to start a post office under the name, New Haven. However, he got into legal trouble for "misuse" as a postmaster and was removed (a man after my own heart). The town was then named after St. Sebastian, and officially founded in 1882.
While I really enjoyed my time camping, I'm now ending a week of house sharing with another traveler -- she's a gal from Massachusetts who's a Virgo, a former teacher, now a writer, and drives a Honda Element. She's contemplating what type of bike to buy now. I can't make this up.
Tomorrow, northward to the Space Coast for 10 days of tourism.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover