Family Reunions in the Great Outdoors
Whether or not your family is made up of hard-core nature lovers, Florida's outdoor venues provide the perfect backdrop for family reunions. Think of your reunion as a backyard cookout - kicked up a notch. At the following locales, you can gather on the beach for a barbecue, or take a group hike along a nature trail. At the end of the day, retire to a rustic lodge or a campground. If your family loves the great outdoors, the Sunshine State is the perfect choice.
American Beach: This historically black beach on Amelia Island, founded in 1935 by A.L. Lewis, is "almost back to what it used to be," said MaVynee Betsch, a historian and environmentalist who's also the founder's granddaughter (Betsch passed away in 2005). She was referring to a time when American Beach was one of the only African American-owned beach resort community. Today, families who have rediscovered the beach's charm are holding family reunions here. There aren't many amenities, though, other than the beautiful beach, which can make for a relaxing escape.
St. Andrews State Park: This park, located in Panama City, features a mile and a half of beachfront on the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon. Here your family can boat, hike nature trails, bird-watch or fish from two piers. The concession rents canoes, kayaks and snorkeling gear. The place is ideal for watersports lovers. Fox, deer and alligators are common sights.
For reunions, there are eight picnic pavilions that are first come, first served. There are also three picnic areas (the boat basin and jetties picnic areas have grills) and a 176-site campground with electric and water hookups. It costs $28 per night (not including tax) to camp and reservations are highly recommended. There are three stores (open from March to Labor Day) selling bait, some grocery items and snacks.
Fort De Soto Park: This park, located near St. Petersburg, features more than seven miles of waterfront and beautiful white sand. Coastal geologist "Dr. Beach" ranked it "America's #1 Beach"for 2005. The park - actually five interconnected islands - features a 2.25-mile canoe trail, nature trails, a boat launch, two fishing piers and two swim centers with a food concession. You can rent canoes, kayaks and bikes.
The 236-site family camping area has picnic tables, grills, water, electricity, washers and dryers, modern restrooms, play areas and a camp store. The camping fee starts at $33 per night including tax and reservations should be made up to six months in advance. For large reunions, there are 15 picnic pavilions - one with seating for 200 and the rest with seating for 100. They can be reserved up to one year in advance for a fee. There are grills at the pavilions and at the park's other picnic areas.
Wekiwa Springs State Park: This state park in Apopka is home to varied flora and fauna - know that gray foxes, bobcats, raccoons, opossums and black bears have full range of the park. The park offers camping, fishing, hiking, swimming and canoeing. The picnic area has pavillions and there's a playground, volleyball and horseshoes; the concession rents bicycles, canoes and kayaks. The museum and visitors' center has exhibits and historical information about the park and the Timucuan Indians that once inhabited the area.
The park rents out its recreation hall and its dining hall (with kitchen), for $200 and $300 respectively. Both can accommodate up to 150 people. Two picnic pavilions - each holding 100 people - can be reserved for $75 per day per pavilion. There is electric and water, as well as a double charcoal grill. The family campground features 60 sites with water and electricity.
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park: A visit to this park, located south of Tallahassee, should include seeing the springs and river from one of the park's tour boats. This tour of the beautiful Wakulla River features up close wildlife encounters seldom encountered anywhere else. Wildlife includes alligators, turtles, white-tailed deer, wading and migratory birds and wild turkey. The park features a full service lodge, restaurant, giftshop, nature trails, a swimming area and picnic areas with shelters, tables and grills.
For your reunion, consider dining or staying at the rustic lodge, located just up the hill from the springs' edge.