Staring at the limestone wall surrounding Windley Key State Park in Islamorada, I can make out polyps of brain coral, tunnels dug by worms, and the filigree of sea fans– all while standing on dry …
A Tale of Two Parks near Tarpon Springs
Standing on a wooden treetop platform about 25 feet high, I am about to zip across the forest on a thin metal cable. Secure in my climbing harness and tethered to the tree by a double tweezle clip system, I hesitate momentarily before executing my Tarzan swing. Hmmm. Does the tweezle ride on the trolley that I’ll be hanging from or behind it?
I had just received 20 minutes of training from a staffer here at TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park in Dade City, FL. on how to use various lines, clips and buckles to make my way along the zip lines, rope, wood, and cable ladders that crisscross the park. But I couldn’t remember this one critical piece of information.
Just then, an eight-year-old girl with braids climbed up to join me on the platform, so, naturally, I asked her for help. She quickly corrected my set-up so that the tweezle rested on the tail of the trolley and even advised me on the proper positioning of my hands. I thanked her and swung safely through the jungle to the next platform.
Not just a zip line attraction like the ones you’ve seen elsewhere in Florida and the Caribbean, TreeHoppers is the largest self-guided adventure course of its kind in the state. Kids as young as five can complete the easiest of the eight courses which, like ski trails, range from green (easiest) to double black diamond (most difficult). Instead of a guide clipping your cables and demonstrating each element, you do everything yourself. If you have a problem or a question, just call out to a staffer for advice or –if you’re really too scared to swing through the trees–someone will climb up and escort you down.
Even though I stuck to the green and yellow courses during my visit, I found the experience exhilarating and fun. I could understand why a 12-year-old from the neighborhood who the staff calls an unpaid intern visits here twice a week for his three-hour workout.
After airborne exercise, I headed back to Tarpon Springs– stopping en route for a little refreshment at the Florida Estate Winery in Land O’Lakes, not far from TreeHoppers. It’s a popular waypoint for many wannabe Tarzans and Janes.
For more information about TreeHoppers, visit www.treehoppers.com or call 813-381-5400.
On the day after my swing through TreeHoppers, I visited a very different kind of park–Key Vista Nature Park in tiny Holiday near Tarpon Springs. This quiet, 100-acre reserve of mostly sand pine uplands is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Rocky Creek, inviting visitors to fish, swim, hike, and picnic. I walked most of its 1 1/2 miles of trails and climbed the observation tower for a scenic view of the lighthouse at Anclote Key Preserve State Park.
Key Vista is best known for bird watching; with more than 220 documented species, it’s a must-stop on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
Save for a nesting osprey cheeping in the pines, I saw few birds on my afternoon walk, but I did get to eavesdrop on an amorous gopher tortoise trying to get lucky with its partner in the scrub.
For more information on Key Vista Nature Park, call 727-938-2598.