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article imageTravelling along Florida's 'Suncoast' Special

By Larry Clifton     Aug 20, 2009 in Travel
Friday, July 24th was a breezy day with relatively moderate temperatures and a bright sun occasionally shaded by puffy white cumulus clouds.
The usual July thunder showers stayed well out to sea. Billy Robinson killed the engine as Jimmy Schneider and I tossed the front and rear anchors in near unison to hold the hulking pontoon boat in position near the Homosassa River springhead. In the heart of Florida’s Nature Coast at the northern fringe of the Tampa Bay community, the short but scenic Homosassa River is a pristine snapshot of Florida.
The headwater springs of the Homosassa River near the town of Homosassa in Citrus County allow for the cohabitation of freshwater and saltwater fish. The mineral content in the spring water resembles minerals found in salt water and some species of salt water fish tolerate broad changes in salinity resulting in this unusual mingling of species. The freshwater fish you'll find in the Homosassa River include bream, largemouth bass and gar. Some of the saltwater species you'll see include jacks, mullet, sheepshead and snook. Homosassa River is also a haven for manatees, Florida’s beloved sea cow.
As grandsons Mason and Collin climbed down the boat’s swim ladder into the water, I positioned myself beneath the ladder for safety and to encourage them to ignore the chilling body-shock of the 72 degree water. Their father treaded water a few yards away and beckoned them to join him; Billy seemed as anxious to pull his mask down and snorkel this paradise as his two sons.
Soon, Collin plunged past me. At first his dry life-vest kept him high in the water and he kicked and paddled so hard it looked as though he would walk on water. His brother Mason soon joined him and eventually their respective 6 and 8-year-old bodies adjusted to the water temperature and everyone emptied from the boat to dig in the sandy bottom for Bay Scallops, take in the underwater scenes or just relax on floats.
During our invigorating day on the Homosassa, we saw occasional fish hawks diving on squadrons of black crows in battles for preferred treetop perches, a lone manatee repeatedly surfacing and diving during its steady swim toward the gulf, and large fish schooling by us with indifference including a few graceful dolphins that rolled through the surf just forward of the bow. The combination of warm sun and cold water soon melded into that familiar and soothing contrast that typifies swimming in the spring-fed rivers and tributaries of Florida’s Nature Coast.
Growing hungry, we pulled up anchors and headed for the Homosassa Riverside Resort around 1PM. To get there, one must navigate around Monkey Island, a small island that is home to a small family of monkeys whose descendents were brought here as test animals to perfect the polio vaccine. They were later removed from a local tourist attraction and given their island home where they have thrived for generations.
Since Monkey Island is part of the Riverside Resort property, owners past and present took on the care and feeding of the monkeys. The restaurant at Riverside where we had lunch was built in 1960 and is currently owned by Gail Oaks and her family. The Oaks’ have been feeding and providing care for the animals for the past 13-years. Gail says that the monkeys are moody and sometimes it is better to just feed them and leave. Other times they are interactive and monkey around playfully. Diners can watch them swing from ropes, bath in the cool Homosassa waters and hang by their tails from tree limbs as they dine.
We headed for a new spot to snorkel and dig for scallops after lunch. Stepdaughter Kim Robinson sunned on a float and my daughter-in-law Tracee Robinson swam with Mason and Collin while my wife Leigh basked in this bonding of family and nature from the boat. The excited squeals and laughter of children echoed off the tree lines and the relaxed conversations of adults emanated from boats anchored nearby. As I surveyed the scene, it occurred to me that if it never gets much better than this, that’s okay.
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