Deep in Lithia lie the 6312 acres of mostly forest that make up Alafia River State Park. This is a popular place for bicyclists. Off the sides of the mixed-use trail are countless bicycle trails. These trails are narrow, twisted, and very hilly due to the entire place having been used as a phosphate mine in the past. Mountains are a rarity in Florida and this is one place for mountain bikers to get their fix. They are rated as “epic” by the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association).
I did not know any of this before I went and I don’t have a bike; I went for the extensive walking trails, which are shared by bicycles, horses, and also tortoises. Soon after leaving the trailhead, I rounded a corner and saw a tortoise coming from the other direction at a decent speed. Only when I got close did it take any notice of me and this was just to slow down a bit every time I moved. I completely forgot that my new phone can take video, so instead all you get is a photograph. I also took a picture of a navy blue dragonfly that miraculously held still as I approached and I saw a large spider.
The trails were a bit confusing. Even though they are marked, they are not always marked at every intersection, and there are many side trails not on the map. Most of these are bicycle-only trails, but it is not always easy to tell. After getting lost several times over I found myself near where I started. Since I was more tired than I expected that day, I decided to leave early without seeing most of the park. On the way back to the parking lot, I saw two tortoises where before there had been one. Very cute.
Alafia River State Park also has a nice campground, nice picnic spots, and fishing ponds. I’ll have to go back when the weather is cooler and I have more energy.
14326 South County Road 39, Lithia, Florida
My favorite thing about Hammock Park is the covered platform I can watch the boardwalk from. There are also several trails, a small playground, a butterfly garden, restrooms, and disk golf available. The day I went to the park the butterfly garden was still flooded from the recent storm so I can’t say much about that, though I did see a couple butterflies elsewhere in the park. From the boardwalk itself one can look down and see fiddler crabs and turtles. The playground features a pyramid of ropes that shifts around as you climb it. You haven’t lived until you’ve climbed something that moves as much as you do. The gravel fill below it I discovered was strangely bouncy. Upon closer examination I determined it was made of little bits of rubber tires. I suppose it makes for a softer landing when you inevitably fall off the ropes.
It seemed boring at first. When I first arrived, I took the trails around the eastern perimeter of the park. There were benches named after various people. There were numerous puddles and muddy spots that slowed me down. These puddles had tiny tadpoles! The larger puddles had larger tadpoles! This redeemed what was otherwise a boring area. A drier trail was completely blocked by fallen trees. I climbed around and over the first two only to be utterly defeated by the third. The only redeeming feature there was the patch of plants I found with touch-sensitive leaves. The sun was hot and there was less shade than I like. I was starting to think the park might be a dud. I was very wrong. Read More
Five Galleries: The Dunedin Fine Art Center boasts five galleries, a gift shop, the Palm Café, and a lounge area in the central lobby complete with art books, couches, and a piano. It is located on Michigan Avenue right near the Dunedin Community Center, Highlander Park, and Hammock Park. There is good parking. By one entrance is the alien machinery pictured above. By the other entrance is a long tile mural built over the course of several years by many children of different ages from different schools in the area. The center is open seven days a week and paid for largely by donations.
Thought-Provoking Exhibits: Of course, it’s what’s inside that counts. I caught them on a transition day when only two of the five galleries were open. The Entel Family Gallery hosted an exhibit called Dignity: Tribes In Transition. It was a collection of photographs of indigenous people from around the world, often in a mixture of traditional and modern dress. Pictures of people are interesting because unlike landscapes or abstract sculptures, people have dreams, thoughts, goals, aspirations, and can interact in their environments in complex ways. What were they thinking? I could not tell. There were several plaques on the walls explaining what the project was about. They referenced a UN declaration in the seventies to protect the rights of indigenous people, though I question what else the declaration might have had in it since the four nations to vote against it (New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States) are not exactly known for human-rights abuses (relatively speaking). Another plaque stressed the importance of learning the culture of our ancestors. It suggested that in order to know where we are going, we must know where we come from. I’m not sure I buy that argument. Another plaque suggested that trees feel pain and that Africans have somehow known this all along. The jury is still out on that. The exhibit certainly got me thinking, which I’m guessing was the point.
Pretty Pictures: The second exhibit (Harmonic Divergence) featured works inspired by music. There are two paintings that stand out to me now. At first glance, it looked like a swirl of color probably representing music was escaping from a trumpet or horn of some kind. A drum and harp floated nearby. Upon closer examination, I decided it looked more like the horn was escaping from the swirl. Do instruments make music or does the potential for music encourage the invention of instruments? I’m probably thinking too much. The other painting I liked was a borderline impressionistic scene of a man with a guitar-like object and four women in hats. There were large flowers in the background and fruit on the table. The women appeared to have their eyes closed, probably enjoying the music. It was all very colorful. The instrument itself had several regions of different colors on it. There was just enough consistency in the highlighting to discern the direction of illumination. I liked it.
1143 Michigan Boulevard, Dunedin, Florida
Written By Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com
On the back side of Sun City Center plaza, lies Nearly New. This is where one can find inexpensive clothes of every variety packed inside. Around every corner is a great deal on something you didn’t even know you needed. There are several rooms containing goods such as clothing, bedding, shoes, books, decorative figurines, jewelry, appliances, and clocks. Outdoors on nice days along the back side of the building there can be found furniture and sometimes other items such as golf clubs or walkers. There are blouses and jeans for three dollars and chairs for twenty-five dollars.
Nearly New keeps its prices so low by using volunteer staff and all merchandise is donated. They provide value to the community in multiple ways. They provide low-price goods that help struggling families afford things they need. They provide a place to get rid of excess items for those that don’t need them. They also provide a friendly place to volunteer. Finally, the money raised funds the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, an alliance of nine local houses of worship that grants money to various charitable causes in Hillsborough County (almost half in the form of scholarships).
Nearly New is open every Saturday from eight until noon. During the winter months, it is also open Wednesdays during the same hours. Donations can be dropped off any weekday between eight and three.
1515 Sun City Center Plaza, Sun City Center, Florida
Not every adventure has to be big or far away. In most communities there are small hidden places of solace if you know where to look, both official and unofficial. In Sun City Center is the Window in the Woods, a bird observation shelter sponsored by the Eagle Audubon Society, an organization formed in 1982 dedicated to preserving wetlands and conservation education. They often do field trips. The unmanned shelter has windows on all sides as well as a deck with benches. It is surrounded by various birdfeeders and birdhouses among the trees. A short distance away lies a pond where I have seen in past visits a turtle, an alligator, and an anhinga. On my most recent trip I only saw blue jays, cardinals, and a bright red dragonfly.
The trail to Window in the Woods begins next to the RV storage place in back of the community garden off Del Webb. It runs along a raised bed of sand and shell fill next to swamps and along a golf course for part of the way. Continuing past the bird observation shelter, there are a few benches alongside on which to rest. One overlooks another pond. One sits in the shade of moss-covered trees. The trail finally ends behind the health center of Freedom Plaza, an assisted living community. If you live in Sun City Center and just need to get away for a couple hours, this is the place to do it.
1516-A Del Webb, Sun City Center, Florida
The Downtown Dunedin Deli and Grill names all its burgers, sandwiches, and salads after American states. There is the Connecticut grinder, the Massachusetts salmon wrap, the New Mexico cemita, the Virginia seven-layer salad, the Louisiana muffuletta burger, and more. I was hungry after exploring Hammock Park all day and decided on a Connecticut grinder. It was much bigger than I expected. It came with salami, capicola, provolone, lettuce, pickles, banana peppers, and minced olives. It was very good – much better than Subway (don’t tell Subway I said that). I also had an ice water and a Kahwa espresso with cream. It was the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. I was unable to finish my sandwich and took it home along with some coleslaw. I suspected that it was not really all that good and I only thought so because I had been running around in the hot sun for hours, but after pulling it out of the refrigerator for a snack that night I realized it really was good.
730 Broadway Street, Dunedin, Florida
Some parks have playgrounds and some have pools (liquid playgrounds). Highlander Park in Dunedin, Florida has both a pool and a playground. It also has a collection of giant, whimsical water sprinklers. I watched as a yellow trough repeatedly filled with water and turned over, splashing the ground below and restarting the process, creating the potential for a game of timing. Water meanwhile fell in a continuous sheet from a mushroom-like object. I imagine it might be used a special zone in tag safe from the dreaded “it.” It could also serve as a sort of “cops and robbers” jail. So many ideas of how it might be used in play come to mind. Where were these places when I was little? Why have I never seen anything like this before visiting Highlander? I suppose there can only be one. Highlander Park is also home to several ball fields and the office of the Dunedin Nature Center. It is near Hammock Park and the Dunedin Fine Art Center.
1937 Ed Eckert Drive, Dunedin, Florida
When I have business in the area, I like to walk through the William F. Poe plaza to look at the plants, fountain, and architecture. There are many semi-secluded nooks at different levels connected by stairs. I don’t usually stop, but others do, sitting on benches or at tables outside the café. There is also a covered footbridge overhead connecting the bank and the leasing company. This area is mostly in shade and surrounded by trees. It always makes a nice place to spend one’s lunch break.
What I did not know until recently is how much Tampa history is connected to the place. It was the starting point of the 1909 auto race from Tampa to Jacksonville. Later in 1980, a forgotten Seminole-War-era cemetery was discovered during construction of an adjacent building. Finally, the plaza was built and named after the former mayor Bill Poe.
The plaza is located between East Jackson Street and East Whiting Street and between North Tampa Street and South Florida Avenue.
Located at the intersection of North Tampa Street and East Kennedy Boulevard, Solstice is a twenty-eight foot metal sculpture created by Charles Perry. I always think it looks like it is about to unravel or roll away. I can definitely picture some mad scientist harnessing lightning with it to open a rift to a dimension full of goblins or something. Could this have been Perry’s plan all along? Placing it in a place like Tampa known for its frequent thunderstorms? I can almost see the goblins now climbing up the sides of the surrounding skyscrapers, cackling and stealing babies. I really should pay more attention to traffic.
I like the flow and the symmetry of the piece. It is rumored to be named Solstice because it casts a perfectly circular shadow on the solstice. That seems harmless enough.
See list of public art in Tampa
Every night Miami Avenue comes alive with music and dancing while patrons enjoy wine, beer, and snacks. This is a place to celebrate the arts and there are paintings, jewelry, and crafts for sale. New is the book nook, celebrating the art form of literature and providing a platform for local authors from across the Tampa Bay area to show their work. This provides value to the community in two ways: It provides readers with new reading options they might otherwise miss and it provides authors with an easy way to build up readership and prestige before they make it big.
311 First Street, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida
Written By Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com
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