I enjoyed my recent visit to the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs. This park is definitely "off the beaten path" and I'm going to make it my mission to encourage more people to discover it. Here are my top 10 reasons to visit:
1. New Mountain Bike Trail Loop
A nine-mile single track mountain biking and hiking trail developed and sponsored by the Suwannee Bicycle Association opened a couple of years ago. There was already a double track 10-mile trail that overlooks the river.
2. Antique Arts & Collectibles Day
Discover blacksmith, pottery, stained glass, basket making, weaving and painting by artists using time-tested skills.
3. Quilt Show & Sale
Workshops, keynote speakers and demonstrations are the highlight along with the 200 quilts on display.
4. Dulcimer Retreat
Jam session, concerts and workshops provide a unique opportunity for fans of this sweet-sounding instrument.
5. Christmas Festival of Lights in December
Three million lights fill the park until 9 p.m. On the first evening of the festival, a parade and bonfire for roasting marshmallows are among the highlights. And did I say shopping? The Stephen Foster Center has a fabulous giftshop for artwork and crafts.
6. Wild Azalea Festival
The azaleas create a riot of color throughout North Florida. At this springtime event, the blooms are accompanied by artistic performances, storytellers and dancers, along with regional foods.
7. Take a hike!
Hike the many trails through the park including one of the most beautiful sections of the Florida National Scenic Trail, also known as the Florida Trail. During the spring, splashes of pink azalea and dogwood trees in bright white are seen against the mossy oaks. Close to the river, the cedar trees provide shade. The beauty is breathtaking.
8. Take a paddle on the Suwannee
The natural beauty of this unspoiled region of the Sunshine State quietly replenishes the soul. It’s no wonder that the nostalgic tune, "Old Folks At Home," initiated tourism to Florida.
9. Carillon Concerts
At the park, a 97-bell carillon plays more than 200 Stephen Foster tunes. The museum traces the history of the man known as the Father of American Music. Stephen Foster wrote many tunes that fully are part and parcel of American culture, including "Jennie with The Golden Hair," "Camptown Races" and "Oh Susannnah."
10. The Florida Folk Festival
This event welcomes thousands who come to listen to old-time music every Memorial Day weekend. Forget the electronics, stash the Blackberry and simply enjoy the harmony as musicians play on stages named Under the Oaks, Azalea, Gazebo, Old Marble and other folksy-sounding monikers.
I enjoyed hearing the variety of folk music at this year's Florida Folk Festival, including a couple of soulful renditions of Florida's State Song, "Old Folks at Home." Here's a YouTube video that I found particularly charming, from a musician I had never before heard, Karl Denver.
See you way down upon the Suwannee River Trail!