Natural Florida - Citrus County
By: James Richardson
Travelers through the state of Florida are familiar with the phrase, "the Real Florida", but few places in the state offer so many opportunities to see Florida in its natural state. Citrus County, along the Gulf Coast just north of Tampa, has about forty six per cent of its lands set aside to preserve the natural beauty of the area. This environmentally conscious Florida county has much to offer the traveler who wants to enjoy an unspoiled visit to the Sunshine State. The same traveler will have an almost endless list of outdoor adventures awaiting - from historical excursions to underwater encounters, from hiking and biking at a linear state park to golfing on the greens - in this back-to-nature section of Florida.
The Manatees and Other Natural Attractions
This area's most famous attraction is really an endangered specie, the manatee, and a two thousand pound gentle giant of a mammal. Drawn to the warm waters of the spring-fed rivers of Citrus County, the manatees are year round residents to the area. Combined with the opportunity to swim with the manatees, and the clear shallow waters, the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers are very popular with divers and snorkelers. Many of the outfitters offer dive tours to visitors for an opportunity to play with the manatees.
Without diving, there are other ways to see the large curious manatee. At Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, visitors can see manatees up close and personal. The state wildlife park is on the Homosassa River, which is fed by one of the springs maintaining great temperatures for the animals. The park offers opportunities to see many native Florida animals, but the manatee is the main attraction. A couple of times daily there is a 'show' hosted by a wildlife specialist to tell about the manatee. This affords visitors good views of these large animals. The wildlife park has an underwater viewing area that allows for great chances to see fish and an occasional manatee very close up.
There are about twenty-five parks and wildlife viewing areas in Citrus County's 683-square miles. Within the county there are the Chassahowitzha National Wildlife Refuge, the St. Martin's Marsh Aquatic Preserve (23,123 acres), and the Withlacoochee State Forest (42,000 acres). These preserves and refuges give visitors excellent opportunities to view wildlife of many species. If birdwatching, studying nature, or just watching wildlife is an interest, this is the place to visit.
The Outdoors and a Little History
Besides wildlife watching the outdoors in Citrus County offer visitors opportunities for other forms of recreation. Fishing is great in the area waters. There are fifty-two miles of Gulf coast, 106 miles of rivers, and 19,111 acres of lakes. Freshwater species include large-mouth, small-mouth, and sunshine bass, speckled perch, catfish, and bream or bluegill. Saltwater species often caught are grouper, redfish, snapper, tarpon, sea bass, sea trout and cobia. There are a number of fishing guides to assist in outfitting a fishing adventure while in Citrus County. Snorkeling and diving, boating, canoeing and kayaking are also popular in the clear rivers and lakes. Rentals are also available for these activities.
Several facts. There are no fewer than eleven golf courses in Citrus County. The average annual temperature is 70 degrees. There are 294 days of sunshine. There is no reason not to golf here.
There are miles and miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Citrus County's portion of Withlacoochee State Forest contains 41,222 acres and a forty-seven mile trail. As part of the Florida Rails-to-Trails Program, the Withlacoochee State Trail is a 'linear' state park. The trail surface is asphalt its entire length and is twelve feet wide. There is an adjacent horse trail beside the pavement. Equestrians are requested not to ride on the pavement. The trail passes through a variety of terrain - from upland mixed forests to wetland areas.
The railroad bed that serves the trail was formerly constructed in the late 1800's. Entrepreneur Henry Plant was determined to continue the railroad line to Inverness in Citrus County. That would complete the Plant System's West Coast Route (which became Atlantic Coast Line in 1902, the Seaboard Line in 1967, and finally CSX Transportation in 1980).
Due to a decline in railroad use beginning in the 1960s, service was abandoned and the tracks were removed. The 47-mile corridor was one of the first purchased under the Florida Rails-to-Trails Program and is now managed by the Florida Park Service. Reminders of the trail's past activity include cement mileage and whistle markers, a trestle over Lake Henderson near Inverness, and the Inverness depot, which was built in 1892.
The Citrus County Courthouse in Inverness is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1912 and is unique for its diagonal placement in the historic courthouse square. The restoration of the copper-clad cupola and clock tower has just been completed. Interior restoration is soon to be completes including the courtroom, which was seen in the 1961 Elvis Presley film "Follow That Dream."
A unique addition to the area is worth a visit. The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame is located in Hernando, five miles north of Inverness. The museum commemorates the life and legendary accomplishments of one of the greatest baseball players of all time - a batting average on .406 in 1941, since 1930 the only hitter to reach the .400 mark for the year, six batting titles, had a lifetime batting average of .344 and had 521 homeruns.
Rock Crusher Canyon
Of special interest to RVers and campers is Rock Crusher Canyon, a campground in Citrus County near Crystal City and Homosassa Springs. The brainchild of its owner Stan Olsen, the park has all the amenities for a true RV resort. Located in and taking its name from a limestone quarry, it has been developed to utilize the quarry's features to the benefit of visitors. Special touches by the developer make Rock Crusher Canyon unique among campgrounds.
The resort was formally opened October 7 of 2000. There are four hundred RV sites, each one leveled without the use of pavement. Each site is cable TV ready, with internet and telephone connections (with site to site dialing capabilities) and offering 50 amps of power.
The focal point of Rock Crusher Canyon is Florida's largest natural amphitheater. The Amphitheater features a ninety-foot craggy canyon wall as a backdrop to the largest covered outdoor stage in the state and has excellent acoustics. Festivals and concerts are held in the amphitheater and feature popular artists from various musical venues. A covered pavilion (not just another pavilion -- this one seats 1500 in style) offers quality food and a full bar while being entertained surrounded in a natural setting.
Rock Crusher Canyon is not just another RV park. This resort can accommodate large groups comfortably. Its amenities are numerous and the services offered are worth investigating. This would be an excellent home base for tours to anywhere in central Florida, or just stay here. It has everything.
The Citrus County area of coastal central Florida is a nature-lovers paradise. Because nearly forty-six per cent of the land area is dedicated to the natural world, there are great outdoor opportunities. Wildlife watching. Diving. Fishing. Hiking. Golfing. Just relaxing. Citrus County.
For more information:
Homosassa Springs Chamber of Commerce
3495 S. Suncoast Boulevard
Homosassa Springs, FL 34448
Citrus County Tourist Development Council
801 S.E. US Highway 19
Crystal River, FL 34429
Rock Crusher Canyon
275 South Rock Crusher Road
Crystal River, FL 34429