You can be environmentally aware and also budget-conscious on your next trip to Florida. Here are some low-impact choices.
Stay at a State Park
Florida is home to 160 state parks, and one of the best bets for families is Northwest Florida’s St. Andrews State Park, located near Panama City – at the tip of a peninsula on the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon. For about $30 a night, stay at a clean, well-maintained and – if you’re lucky – waterfront full-facility campsite (the water and electric hookups, picnic table, grill and access to bath houses are all included).
But a vacation here is about a lot more than just a comfy campsite. It’s about some of the most stunning shores – and sunsets – in the state. Here, you’ll experience firsthand the area’s clear green waters, sugary white sands and picturesque dunes. Days on the beach can include surfing, swimming, snorkeling, shelling and SCUBA diving.
Even the most active families can’t run out of activities here, whether it’s biking the two-mile paved road, birding (print out and tote along the park’s bird list at www.floridastateparks.org/standrews) or walking shaded nature trails on the lookout for alligators and white-tailed deer. In spring and summer, concessions include rental kayaks and snorkeling equipment, as well as a boat shuttle to the park’s very own undeveloped, beautiful Shell Island.
If camping’s not your thing, you don’t have to miss out on a state park stay. Several offer RV camping, cabins and even lodges.
Be a Trail-Blazer
Whether you like to kayak or canoe, bike or hike, ride horseback or inline skate, Florida has the trail
for you. Plan a vacation around experiencing one of the state’s paddling, paved or natural trails and you’ll enjoy some of its most spectacular scenery along the way. Try biking the 38.2-mile Pinellas Trail, which runs from St. Petersburg north along Florida’s central west coast and brings you by gorgeous beaches, lovely parks and charming neighborhoods and towns (like Dunedin and Tarpon Springs, to name two).
Once on this paved trail, some parts make it easy to forget you’re in the middle of an urban area. Trail-side amenities include overpasses to keep traffic at bay, bike racks, benches, water fountains and
restaurants. You don’t even have to bring your own bikes or skates – you can rent them at one of the shops along the trail.
And if you’d like to cool off with a dip in the Gulf of Mexico, just pull over at a beach – including those at Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island state parks. In 2008, Caladesi was ranked the best beach in America by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, a.k.a. Dr. Beach. It’s accessible only by boat, but a ferry runs from Honeymoon Island.
Split up the hefty mileage with overnights spent at designated Florida Green Lodgings, which can be found in St. Petersburg, Largo and Clearwater, as well as in some of the beach communities located a bit off the trail.
Florida’s fantastic beaches are a huge draw for visitors and part of what makes Florida great. Help keep them beautiful and safe for wildlife by planning a trip around volunteering at a beach cleanup. Volunteering is a fun (and free) way for the whole family to bond, and for children to learn how
important it is to protect the Earth’s resources.
Each fall, visitors can participate in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup (traditionally held the third Saturday in September), which involves removing trash from beaches and waterways around the world, including at several sites in Florida.
Also, the Surfrider Foundation (whose mission is to protect and enjoy the world’s beaches, waves and oceans) has chapters all along Florida’s coast that offer regularly scheduled beach cleanups. Search for a chapter near your destination at www.surfrider.org/chapters.
Eco-Friendly Travel Tips
Prevent pollution by properly disposing boat sewage; use the nearly 400 pumpout stations located throughout Florida.
Be a Green Guest
In hotels, take short showers and turn off the water while brushing your teeth. When you leave the room, turn off the TV and lights.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
Observe this old adage when camping. Whether it’s trash or spilled or leftover food, if you brought it along, take it with you when you leave.
Look, but Don’t Touch or Take
While sightseeing, or visiting attractions, feel free to examine – but do not touch – cultural and historic structures and artifacts.
On long drives, lower your gas consumption by keeping tires inflated. Also, don’t idle and don’t overfill the gas tank. Drive at the speed limit.
Do Right by Wildlife
Never disturb, follow, approach or feed wildlife. Feeding wild animals, birds and reptiles can hurt their health, alter their natural behavior and expose them to predators and other dangers.
For more tips, check out the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s website at www.dep.state.fl.us/green/tips.