Off the Beaten Path from West Palm Beach: Belle Glade, Fla.

    Gary McKechnie

    With Lake Okeechobee providing fish as well as fertile ground, settlers have established towns and cities along its shores for centuries. It was in 1928 when the founders of Belle Glade put down stakes where Calusa Indians had once lived. Nearly a century later, the lake and the rich soil that nourished its agricultural industry and inspired its motto – “Her Soil is Her Fortune” – remain vital to the town. When you’re here, you’ll see how the lake and the land influences… everything.

    1. A Shore Bet

    From above, the sprawling Belle Glade Marina Campground on Torry Island looks like a Venetian scene with an assortment of canals, channels, inlets, bays, docks, piers, and boat ramps. At surface level, there’s a bait and tackle shop and marine store. Together, it offers everything anglers need before setting out to land catfish, shellcrackers, bluegill, crappie, and the lake’s legendary largemouth bass. The adjoining city-owned campground has everything you need for an extended stay: 350 campsites, tent camping, boat ramps, and picnic facilities. There’s even miniature golf and, within walking distance, the challenging 18-hole Sugar Cane Golf Club designed by Gary Player.

    2. Park It

    At 64 acres, Glades Pioneer Park is a super-sized area with more than enough room accommodate a variety of outdoor recreation. Kids and adults have access to four basketball courts, fields for baseball and softball, a mile-long bicycle path, an exercise course, walking path, tennis courts, volleyball courts, picnic facilities, a playground, a brightly-colored interactive splash park with tipping buckets, a kid-friendly swimming pool, and an aquatic center.

    3. Floating on Air

    If you’ve only seen Lake Okeechobee from the shore, you haven’t really seen Lake Okeechobee. Even if you arrive without a boat in tow, there’s still a thrilling way to get on the lake: Black Gold Airboat Tours. Departing from Slim’s Fish Camp on Torry Island, you’ll board the low-draft vessel, put on noise-blocking headsets (airboats are loud), and feel the G-force and exhilaration as the captain revs up the propeller and rockets along the shoreline and into the open water. When it’s time to see something (and there’s always something to see), the captain becomes naturalist and educator as he explains the wildlife and history of the area, its people, and its resident wildlife.

    4. Gotta Fly!

    Slightly more thrilling than seeing Lake Okeechobee from the deck of a speeding airboat is speeding through the air at 120 mph as you freefall towards earth. That’s what awaits you when you take off with Skydive Palm Beach, which departs from the Palm Beach County Glades Airport just a few miles north of Belle Glade. After training for the tandem jump (you’re secured to a professional instructor), the jump plane ascends to 10,000 feet… and that’s where you get out. The freefall lasts for close to a minute before the parachute’s deployed and you spend a leisurely five minutes under canopy as you take in the views from above – all the way from Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades to the white sands of Palm Beach.

    5. It’s Showtime

    Palm Beach State College is the most prominent educational institution on the shores of Lake Okeechobee, and it features the area’s most prominent cultural institution as well. Since 1982, the elegant 466-seat Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center has presented programs chosen for their variety -- concerts, plays, musicals, art exhibitions, lectures, dance programs, dramas, stand-up comedians as well as a professional guest artist series, and family series. Throughout the year, the center hosts programs for local school children to show they raise more than crops in Belle Glade. They raise bright kids.

    For more information, visit Belle Glade.

    Want to read about more hidden Florida gems? Check out these articles:

    Columbia County

    DeSoto County

    Freeport

    Glades County

    Hamilton County

    Hardee County

    Hendry County

    Highlands County

    Holmes County

    Immokalee

    Jackson County

    Madison County

    Okeechobee County

    Pahokee

    Putnam County

    South Bay

    Suwannee County

    Union County

    Places to Remember

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