Manatee Park and Festival

One of the more exciting features of the “Nature Coast,” as the natives have dubbed this area, is the natural habitat known by the mouthful Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  Ellie died in 2009 at age 65.  Among other accomplishments, she taught mathematics to children in Tibet and served as a fisheries biologist in the state of Washington.  Best of all, however, was convincing her father, Phil Felburn, founder of one of America’s preeminent trucking companies, to create the foundation which, under her leadership, has endowed or contributed to untold numbers of conservation and education organizations.

Homosassa Springs is about 15 miles southwest of Beverly Hills.  The Park runs along the shoreline, encompassing 200 acres of which 5 are waterways of the Homosassa River.  The Park includes dozens of outdoor wildlife exhibits ranging from black bears and bobcats to alligators and waterfowl.


Manatee at the surface

What it’s best known for, however, is one of the very few winter habitats for the West Indian Manatee.  These gentle creatures can’t exist in waters less than 72o,   and that’s the minimum temperature of the lagoons within the Park.  So they hover and huddle there by the hundreds (thousands?) during the winter months.  You can see them from the raised boardwalks and bridges meandering through the grounds, or you can view them in an underwater observatory near their preferred habitat.  Seeing them underwater, however, can be blurred by the 34 species of native fish that swim by.

Manatee nose up

Take a deep breath!

Feeling ambitious?  You can actually rent a kayak, wetsuit and snorkel or scuba gear and swim with them.  Or get up close on one of the dozens of tourist boats that circle very gently through their habitat.  The Park is also equipped to care for them in a “hospital” enclosure.  Downtown Crystal River hosts a two day Manatee Festival each January, with music, entertainment, endless rows of vendor booths and themed events.


Lu the Hippo

Lu the Hippo

But wait . . . there’s more.  The manatees share their celebrity with of nature’s giant mammals:  Lu, the resident hippopotamus.  Born in San Diego on January 26, 1960, he is a retired movie star, having appeared in flicks and TV shows as part of the Ivan Tors Animal Actors troupe.  The troupe’s winter home was the land now occupied by the Park, and he kinda hung around when it was sold to the state in 1989.  He almost was deported with all the other animals, because the park is dedicated to native species.  But Governor Lawton Childs granted Lu honorary citizenship, allowing him to stay.   His birthday is the occasion of a major celebration each year.

We’ll be covering the Park each year.  There’s always more to see, and we wouldn’t miss the manatees.

Citrus County and its Seat

Beverly Hills, Florida is located in Citrus County. There are thirteen cities and towns in the county, in addition to another dozen or so subdivisions and neighborhoods. There are also six lakes, seven rivers and innumerable streams, ponds and marshes. Oh, and don’t forget the Gulf of Mexico. No wonder it’s dubbed itself the Water Lovers Florida.

Orange groves

Box labels — notice the “Ferris” Groves!

But there’s one thing in Citrus County you’ll barely find: citrus. It wasn’t always that way, of course; groves abounded in the nineteenth century, and it was near the end of that century (1887) that the county was born, sliced off the top of Hernando County.  Six year later, a long hard freeze over the winter of 1893-’94 wiped out the crop, and it never recovered.  Three things saved the county: the discovery of phosphate in the ground, the location and climate as a retirement haven, and the heavy tourism influx to enjoy the scenic – and sea-nic — attractions.   Among the many festivals are those that honor the Manatee, which hibernate in abundance  in its warm sheltered waters; the Cooter, an indigenous large fresh water turtle, and Strawberries.  A premier attraction is the head of the Withlacoochee State Trail,  a 46 mile long route of the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad that is now a premier hiking and biking trail.

The county seat is Inverness, a small, mostly urban city with approximately 7,500 citizens covering 8 square miles.  It was incorporated in 1917 and was named by a lonely Scotsman who viewed the shores of its largest lake, Tsala Apopka, as reminiscent of the lochs and moors of his native land.   

Elvis Exhibit

Elvis in “Follow That Dream”

In 1961, Inverness had a famous visitor: Elvis! He brought along a large entourage and trucks full of equipment to film one of his most successful movies, Follow That Dream. Originally written as a story of New Jersey sharecroppers, Hollywood decided that a Florida version would be more attractive.  By the time Elvis left the building – and the city – he’d shot enough scenes in the Old Courthouse to fill 10 minutes of the final cut.


Old Courthouse Courtroom

That selfsame Old Courthouse dominates the town square and is not the Heritage Museum.  Originally constructed in 1912, the Courthouse gave way to a modern update one block away in 1978. The Old Courthouse became the headquarters of the Citrus County Historical Society in 1985.  In that interim, it has suffered many awful modernizations, and the new occupants set a goal to restore its original grandeur.

Elvis, again, came to the city’s rescue — indirectly. By reviewing those final scenes in the movie, the restoration committee could see first-hand what the building looked like then. Coupled with archival plans and specs, they were able to produce details that otherwise would have been lost. After $2.5 million and 7 years, the project was unveiled in October, 2000.  Not surprisingly, Inverness holds an Elvis Festival every year. The 100th anniversary in 2012 was the inaugural year of a new, home-grown musical, When Elvis Came to Town. Even with added performances,  the show was repeatedly sold out. But it ran again in late April at this year’s festival and will, I’m sure, continue indefinitely.

Great Seal

State Seal in the floor

Back to the Courthouse. It is now a combination of historical society offices and exhibits.  The old Tax Appraiser/Collector Office now holds a permanent exhibit called A Long Way Home, chronicling the history of the County through the 19th and 20th centuries. The Sheriff’s Office holds Footprints in Time, a look at La Florida dating back to the end of the last Ice Age and highlighting the effect of each of its successive waves of occupants.  In another room, the three Seminole Wars, between ca. 1814-1858 receive significant attention and salutes the Natives’ courage.  One of the exhibits tells a prehistoric story through dialog between two animated creatures; it was produced by a local middle school class.

A rotating gallery featured an exhibition called Humanity Beyond the Barbed Wire: Hitler’s Soldiers in the Sunshine State. On loan from the Florida Holocaust Museum, it tells the story of the 10,000 German POW’s (out of nearly 400,000 across the U.S.) that were housed in 26 Florida camps. It graphically displays the bifurcation between the Nazi propaganda of hate and the actual humane treatment provided by the captors. In fact, many of the Deutschlanders actually had employment outside the compounds and later refused repatriation.

New Winter Quarters

During the course of our three year odyssey across the U.S., we stopped traveling for the winter in three different locations.  We stayed in each one — Gulf Shores, AL, Corpus Christi, TX and Tucson, AZ — for three months.  In each case, we either had made a prior visit to the spot or got a strong endorsement from fellow RVers along the way.

We had no idea where to spend the 2012-13 winter until we met John and Myrna Bird while visiting Hannibal, MO last June.  They not only had a rig like ours but were on the way back from a Wyoming rally sponsored by the manufacturer.  Friendship evolved quickly, and, before we knew it, we were on the phone to their recommendation in Beverly Hills, Florida.

Beverly Hills is a party of Citrus County in west Florida.  It’s 60 miles due south of Gainesville, 20 miles southwest of Ocala and about 80 miles each from Tampa (south) and Orlando (east). Directly to our west is Crystal River, and then water — a series of rivers, streams and ponds meandering to the Gulf of Mexico.  Sandy Oaks RV Resort is a 200+ acre playground with approximately 175 sites and oodles of things to do.

When we drove in on January 2, John and Myrna had obviously paved the way for our arrival — we wound up in one of the most ideal sites on the property.  It is huge, airy and very close to two dog parks.  There were approximately 350 people RVs and mobile homes in the park, and they are like a family. Constant activities, such as sports, fitness, exploration, self-improvement and crafts, were interspersed weekly with great parties and entertainment.  Motorcycles, golf carts, bikes and kayaks are everywhere.  The amenities are wonderful:  pool, well-equipped clubhouse with kitchen, separate TV den, big laundry, driving range and equine facility.  Approximately two dozen permanent mobile homes occupy the perimeter.

Many of the sites are improved by the tenants with landscaping, decoration, utility buildings and the like; since they spent half their time there annually, they personalize them at their own expense.  At least a third leave their RVs on their sites all year. There’s almost an average of a dog per site, and policing their sanitary habits is respected throughout.

If you can’t find enough to do on-site, the surrounding area is rife with restaurants, attractions, facilities of all types, and every store known to mankind.

We know we’re going to like it here and are already thinking about a repeat performance.

“Midnight” Traveler

Shortly before we left Churchton for “winter quarters” in Florida, we received notice that a young Schip, rescued by Jan McAfee in central Georgia, was being adopted by our dear friend Fran Lindstrom in Sarasota.  We quickly agreed to alter our course to a route further inland to provide transportation for the little guy.  And what a reward it provided.

Don and his Godson

Don and his Godson

Midnight had just sacrificed an un-savable leg at Jan’s clinic, but he acted as though he had always been a tripod.  He and Schip-Dude immediately hit it off; they played and played until both were exhausted.  Midnight was also had a charming licking/kissing repertoire that immediately endeared him to us.  In fact, we wished we could keep him.  Except for a little carsickness on the first day, he was a wonderful traveling companion. Soon after our arrival at Sandy Oaks, we met Fran in Homosassa Springs at the home of another abundant rescuer, Karen Myles. Midnight was suddenly confronted by an additional 7 friendly faces.  Fran trains all of her rescue Schips as therapy dogs and also specializes in agility and obedience. Midnight is no exception; we get frequent progress reports.  Because obedience is controlled by hand signals, Fran is especially welcome in deaf groups, where the children delight in their ability to participate.

We let him go only on the promise that I was officially his godfather.  And so it is.  We’ve seen Midnight once since, at a SchipNic in Valdosta Georgia, and he remembered us with his typical enthusiasm.

Introducing the NEW

It’s a bit anticlimactic.  Some of you have surely happened upon our new Schipperhaven site by now.  It became public in June, 2013, basically still a “beta,” but numerous things have stood in the way of a proper and consistent update.   I hope this is the time to reconcile that!

What’s it all about?

The New Site contains the same basic categories as the previous site – Schipperke Rescue, Travels and Nantucket Lightship Baskets.  To that, we’ve added an active Lifestyle category, included under the title About Us, which will contain some facts, some stories and some philosophy.

So much for same old…same old.  There are many new features that we believe will make it more interesting and more informative for you, as well as easier to use.

Easier to use . . . that’s a key phrase.  The New Site has been developed in Word Press.  As such, it will be much easier and quicker for me personally to update it and keep subject matter timely.  On the Old Site, the only work I could do myself was to add chapters to the Travelogue.  Any information involving other subjects had to be prepared and forwarded periodically to our developer, Anna Amendolare, for incorporation.  Now all of the posting capability is in my hands.

And it now has a theme.  As the headline suggests, we have characterized the past decade as a turning point in our lives, a Lifestyle Evolution.  It helps both you — and us — understand why we’re doing what we’re doing – and how rewarding it is!

A roadmap.

The black menu bar below the heading allows simple navigation of the site.

Home:  Returns you to the front page

About:  Puts you on the page that tells you about us and our goals, as well as covering events that don’t fall under the three site subjects.

Schip Rescue:  Puts you on the page that provides background on our Schipperke activity and fund-raising efforts

Travels:  A page providing details about the extent and documentation of our RV travels

Baskets:  Background and description, as well as availability and teaching of Nantucket Lightship Baskets

All Posts:  Accumulation page for all posts – more details below

The Journey:  A link to the separate website that contains the story of our three year Odyssey (2009-12)

Every page is divided into two parts.

Home Page: 

The wider, left-side part of the home page, titled Chronicles,  introduces each category and gives you an opportunity to understand it in greater depth by clicking on the individual elements.

The narrower, right side part, labeled What’s New, is a dynamic series of posts about ongoing events and happenings about any and all of the four categories.  The three most recent posts, regardless of category, will be introduced and briefed in this column.  By clicking on their headlines, you’ll be passed on to the full story.

Subject Pages:

The left side of each subject page contains the core information about that subject.  Here you’ll find the general rap – the static copy, if you will.  Unlike in the past, however, it will be less static —  updated more frequently. Those of you familiar with the  Old Site will find a lot of the same subject matter you’ve already been through. But the layout and writing are better!

The right side contains all of the “What’s New” posts about that subject.  Click on the headline of each story to open it up.

The right side may also contain additional features.  For example, on the Schipperke page, you’ll find a rotating picture show for each of our dogs.

One final note.  The New Site begins on December 27, 2012.  We arrived home from our three year journey on October 1, 2012 and spent the next 85 days moving back into our house, buying a car, visiting with our children and grands, and preparing the rig for the next phase in our travels.  We left Churchton on December 27 and took a leisurely six days to arrive in Beverly Hills, Florida on January 2.  This trip was different; having just purchased a new car, we opted not to leave it behind.  So Dot followed me all the way down.