CCC in Florida: O’Leno State Park

The Civilian Conservation Corp, started during the Great Depression to employ young men ages 18 – 25, worked on environmental conservation projects including building shelters and other buildings in over 800 parks nationwide. Nine of those parks are state parks in Florida, including O’Leno State Park. We camped at eight of the nine parks and definitely need to schedule a trip to see the ninth.

Prior to becoming part of the Florida parks system, O’Leno had a varied history. Once a thriving town called Keno on the banks of the Santa Fe River, the name changed to Leno as it grew because Keno indicated gambling. The reason for the demise of the town is a familiar one in Florida: the railroad bypassed the town and went to Fort White. The wooded location on the river remained popular for picnics, called Old Leno then, and the current name is believed to be a contraction of that name.

The small museum building at O’Leno holds a treasure trove of information on the CCC and their work. Most visits we arrived and left too early to visit it, but on this one we discovered it open. Though small, the amount of interesting exhibits and information makes it well worth a visit. For us, we plan a second visit.

I knew the basics of the CCC from various sources through the years and knew it contributed a great deal to our parks and natural places. I never realized how much it helped the men (no women allowed in those days) who worked for the six months or more. They received room and board and $30 per month. Of that $30, $22 – 25 was required to be sent home to help support their family. During the Great Depression that $25 likely made a big difference. It also offered vocational, and even classes for those who couldn’t read or write.

In addition to the buildings, the traditional statue of the CCC stands proudly in the park. One exhibit in the museum showed a few videos and several old books written about the CCC, which I added to my ‘to be read/watched’ list. The CCC disbanded in 1942 as the funding for it diverted to war-time needs. Eighty plus years later the buildings still stand.

More Fog: Early Morning

The warm start to the west central Florida winter meant a lot of morning fog into January. Some mornings we awoke to visibility so low that the news reported driving warnings. With that much fog comes a lot of dampness.

One morning I looked out the back window and saw light attempt to break through, causing the heavy dew on the screening to glisten in a dark, rather ominous way. The reflection caught my eye, so out came the camera. The screen looks crystalline with the heavy dew hanging. In spite of a couple weeks of fog, I never saw anything like this again.

Another morning I started out the front door for a morning run, and noticed wood storks sitting atop the roof across the street and the street light pole. The saw me and never moved. I turned around from my run, took up the camera, just to see what I could get. I took several shots, but the one on the roof with the trees in the background clearly showed fog. Without the clear evidence of fog, the others just looked blown-out. I rarely see Wood storks perching in the neighborhood. Usually they are viewed from a distance across the creek. The four I saw stayed until the fog lifted somewhat and visibility improved.

Meandering at O’Leno

The cloudy morning stayed cool, and we meandered rather than hiked the trail, taking our time and enjoying the solitude and nature. Of course we stopped for the occasional photo. We find nearly everything crowded in Florida this year, traffic much heavier than we have ever seen in our 25+ years of calling this home, crowds of people everywhere, and even campgrounds never before filled at capacity and turning people away. This early morning hike before anyone else discovered our refuge provided exactly what we needed.

The River Trail follows the Santa Fe River to the point that the river disappears underground at the Santa Fe Sink. It flows underground for three miles, and resurfaces at River Rise Park flowing another 35 miles to the Suwanee. The area of underground flow contains many underwater caves, and on land it makes a natural bridge which Florida’s first federal highway, Old Bellamy Road, crossed. We walked to the sink, which looked like a large green pool. Turtles lined the fallen tree branches taking what little sun broke through the clouds.

O’Leno State Park where we followed the River Trail encompasses the now gone town of Leno. The park name of O’Leno is believed to be short for Old Leno. On our returned hike we explored some of the building and the bridge, built by the CCC during the Great Depression.

Foggy First Day 2022

Happy 2022! We woke this January 1 to fog, the same as the day before and actually for a good part of December.

Early, but not too early, we drove to a local small beach for a walk along the small shoreline and a hike on the boardwalk through the mangroves. The sun barely broke through when we arrived to find a very low tide, and in the distance Great Egrets along with other wading birds standing in the mud flats. The white of the birds, brown of the sand, and white-gray of the fog made the whole scene look a little surreal.

We discovered that the boardwalk was completely closed for maintenance, so walked the beach and enjoyed the view. As the fog closed in again, we left. A short walk on the beach is better than no walk!

Happy New Year to Everyone!

Festival of Lights

We camped at Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center State Park in White Springs, FL for a week during their Festival of Lights. We visit here every year around this time for the Festival, but decided to extend it this year. The weather cooperated, the nights stayed cool but the days warmed up to 70 to 80 degrees (Fahrenheit). In the evenings we walked from the campground to the display areas, and walked around the drive-through sections before the traffic and larger crowds arrived.

Different light displays dotted the entire area, music came from one of the buildings, most people sampled the hot cocoa and popcorn, several vendors set up tents, at scheduled times a snow machine sent snow shooting out to the delight of the children, and of course Santa made an appearance.

The gift shop and craft square remained closed this year. We hope they include them next year as the craftspeople demonstrating their talents is a favorite of ours. Another favorite, the model train exhibit, was scaled back this year. One of the participants explained that they were redoing the larger exhibit and didn’t get it finished.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Everyone!

Rainbow River

We traveled to Rainbow River State Park for Thanksgiving this year. I made the reservations late (early June) so we ended up traveling on Wednesday. A two hour drive took nearly three hours, everyone came to Florida this year.

The cold nights gave way to sunny, warmer days so we served the holiday dinner at the picnic table. Karl cooked the turkey and potatoes on the grill, I did the vegetables, gravy, and stuffing using the slow cooker, microwave, and two burner stove. We did pre-make the stuffing and gravy, our very small kitchen area only handles so much. A couple we met who camp for Thanksgiving most years told us they cook everything in advance and re-heat it on site, and it appeared several others did the same. The camping section of the park remained nearly full the entire four days we camped, with plenty of families, kids, and couples walking or biking, or heading to the river to tube or kayak.

We went to the main part of the park where the spring and gardens are located on Saturday. Even on this cold sunny morning we saw a couple of people swimming, one in a wet suit but the others in standard swimming attire. The springs maintain a temperature of 72 degrees year around, so in the water likely felt fine but that fifty-ish degree air temperature in the morning with the light breeze from the north must make getting out just a bit chilly.

We hiked the garden trails, and Karl got this shot of the water falls. Fellow campers informed us that they reserve their Thanksgiving sites 11 months in advance to get the days and sites they want, so we need to start doing the same.

Update on us: We started blogging when we started our business in 2008/09, and generally I (Kathleen) handled the writing and photography for the blog and Karl the printing, matting, and framing of our photography for the retail end of the business, all done in house. As we decreased the retail end over the past few years we started working on the blog together. I still write most of the posts (with Karl as my editor as usual), but now we share the photography that is posted.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We watched this fellow strut up and down the field of a local nature preserve, fanning his tail and preening. He looked over at us once or twice. Seeing no female turkey, it appeared like a practice run. Then, a female turkey casually walked out of the woods, totally ignoring our friend who walked over to make sure she saw him.

The symbol of Thanksgiving, and rumored once to be Benjamin Franklin’s choice for national bird (since realized to be a quote taken out of context), this bird and his lady friend walked into the woods.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Time of the Catbird

Autumn here brings the Gray Catbird. It starts with a cry or call that some say sounds like a baby or child, but most say sounds like a cat. Then come the large dark shapes rustling in nearby bushes, which usually carry berries. Sneaking up can lead to a sudden movement, a gray flash, and no more bird. Then, watching carefully as more and more appear one will stop momentarily and watch, or interrupt a meal of beautyberry to take a look.

Catbirds are part of the conversation among those of us who watch nature here. They merit mention in conversation when a person sees or hears the first of the season. As we walked along a boardwalk and passed another hiker they mention that “the catbirds are back”. An email a week or so ago from a friend confirming lunch added that the recent cold front brought the first catbird of the season for him. To clarify, actual cold fronts such as those from other climates experience are milder here. In this case the cold front meant the temperature fell from the mid-80s to the mid-70s and we had a relief from humidity for a few days.

The bird is beautiful in a monochrome sort of way; mostly slate gray with an attractive black cap, black eyes, and a russet color under its tail seen when it flies away or flicks the tail up. What I love most is its apparent curiosity. When feeling comfortable and safe, they sit on a branch or jump branch to branch, head cocked this way and that looking at us but more likely looking for something else to munch.

As we get toward May and June the numbers dwindle as they head to their summer homes. Occasionally one or two stay longer, maybe but eventually we stop hearing or seeing them, and the several month wait on our end starts until they return.

​Seminole Trail at Fort Cooper State Park

We first visited Fort Cooper State Park many years ago for a short visit, intending to return. We talked of visiting again every time we passed the sign, or saw it on a map as we planned a different trip. Finally we did it. We found it even better than we remembered, and lingered a while this time. They have wonderful hiking trails, good birding, and we found the Seminole Trail.

This four kiosk trail tells the story of the Seminole tribe of Native Peoples, relocated to this area by the government in 1823 from their north Florida homes. As they adapted to the new area, with lakes and swamps unlike their upland homeland, decisions made by the government once again called for their removal. The Second Seminole War started in 1835.

A campaign in 1836 led by General Scott marched forward. At a lake now called Lake Holathlikaha he left the wounded and sick soldiers under the command of Major Cooper, who built a fort on the lake’s edge to protect his men until reinforcements arrived. The Seminole attacked the fort, now called Fort Cooper. They laid seige for 16 days, the fort holding until the relief column arrived.

The park brochure and website contain more of the history, and the Seminole Trail kiosks start with the relocation and adaptation to this area, along with descriptions of how they lived and what they ate, through the war years. I looked further and found a free book called “Florida Seminole Wars Heritage Trail” at this link:

The trail starts with the first kiosk located near the park Rec Center. The easy to follow trail continues near the lake, and then goes to the right to the location of Fort Cooper, part of it the paved Withlacoochee trail. Spaced along the trails we found stakes with maps showing your location, a wonderful idea and easy to follow.

We found the birding very good in the area of the lake, not surprising as it is part of the Florida Great Birding Trail. Private boats are not allowed on the lake, but canoe and kayak rentals are available. We saw three more trails in addition to the Seminole Trail and the Withlacoochee Trail.

​Blue Run in Dunnellon, FL

Reviews on this city park varied so we decided to discover it for ourselves. We drove by the first day when we saw the full parking lot with cars waiting for another to pull out. We later learned that there is overflow parking on another road. We returned at 8 a.m. on a weekday expecting fewer cars but finding the parking lot nearly full already. We squeezed into an available space and began our walk.

The paved, multi-use trail lived up to the multi-use. Walkers, runners, bicyclists, and many people walking dogs meandered, ran, trotted or whizzed by. The small town feel of Dunnellon became apparent with so many of the people calling out hellos or quick comments to others, or gathering in groups for longer conversations. Of course modernization showed its face even in this remote looking area as several people walked by themselves, eyes straight ahead and carrying on a normal voice conversation on their Bluetooth (as far as we know). Nearly everyone greeted us with a nod or hello as we passed them, making it the friendliest park we know.

In those moments when we found ourselves alone on the trail the surrounding trees and swamp made us feel miles away from civilization. The park is beautiful, remote feeling, and well used by those living nearby. A park cannot get a higher recommendation than that.