Lakeland, one of Florida’s hidden gems

 

In just under an hour drive from Tampa, Lakeland is a city that is worth a daytime visit. The city is known for Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, an affinity for swans and an abundance of lakes.

 

Lake Mirror, downtown Lakeland. Photo by Emily McCain

The swans in Lakeland serve as unofficial mascots. You can find them as statues, in the city logo and at almost any of the city’s 38 lakes. But what most people don’t know is that the swans are local royalty.

Sleeping swan at Lake Morton. Photo by Emily McCain

In the 50s, the local swan population slowly disappeared. When two former residents heard about the swans’ disappearance, they appealed to the Queen of England for help.

Queen Elizabeth agreed to donate two swans from the royal flock living on the River Thames. She only asked that the city pays for the crating and shipping costs. $300 later, two white mute swans were on their way to Lakeland.

Today decedents of those swans can be found all around the town. One place you can visit to see them is Lake Mirror, right in the heart of downtown.

Lake Mirror is a popular place to hold events, weddings and just enjoy a nice walk. The lake is surrounded by the historic Francis Langford Promenade. The promenade is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The cobblestone promenade is named after Francis Langford, an actress and singer from Lakeland. The walk along the promenade is about a mile. It includes the community theater, a children’s park, a garden bistro and a lakefront botanical garden.

If you really want to interact with the swans, make the short walk from Lake Mirror to Lake Morton. This lake is where most of the swans can be found and where most people go to feed them.

Make sure you bring some change with you because around the lake you’ll come across a few swan feed dispensers. The city installed the dispensers to help manage what the swans are fed.

Many people like to bring white bread to feed the swans but it can be harmful to the birds in large amounts. If you don’t have change for the dispensers, you can bring things like lettuce, spinach and whole oats.

If you’re coming to town on a Saturday, start your day at the curbside farmers market. It stretches through downtown right alongside local restaurants and coffee shops.

Mitchell’s Coffee House is just a step away from the market. They’ve been serving gourmet coffee and pastries in town for two decades. You can even bring in your own mug and they’ll hold on to it for your next visit.

If you’re looking for a more eclectic atmosphere, then stop by 801 E Main. Named for its physical address, this open-air café was once a gas station. The marketplace features three distinct brands inside.

You can visit The Poor Porker food truck, where you can get coffee and beignets. You can sit outside to eat or head inside toward the Bar Calexico.

Strawberry Chocolate Beignet from The Poor Porker. Photo by Emily McCain

The bar serves local beer and specialty drinks and acts as a live music venue. While inside you can also stop in at Bearcat and Big Six trading post.

For more drinks, you can head down to Cob and Pen. The gastropub’s name comes from the local royals. A male swan is called a cob and a female is called a pen. The pub offers 16 rotating drafts and over 200 bottled beers.

Cob and Pen Gastropub. Photo by Emily McCain

The pub offers a one of a kind atmosphere. Housed in a historic Tudor home, it offers high ceilings, bay windows and a large outdoor space for lawn games.

Before leaving, make sure you stop by Florida Southern College. The college is the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world. You can tour it yourself or sign up for one of the daily tours offered by the college.

Buying local this holiday season is good for the environment and the community

As the holiday season approaches, Americans will begin to purchase more gifts and perishable goods than any other time of year. Choosing local vendors could have a positive effect on the environment, as well as the local economy.

Luckily, Tampa Bay offers lots of local shopping options that reduce buyer’s carbon footprints and benefits the area.

Sustainable produce and dairy options are offered at places like Sweetwater Organic Farm and Tampa Bay’s Farmer Market.

Buying produce, goods and meat from a high traffic supermarkets may mean that your fresh breakfast is coming from hundreds of miles away, and could of been held in storage for days.

It may also mean that Christmas gifts contributed to the global crisis of industrial pollution.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, industrial pollution is responsible for nearly 50 percent of American pollution.

Local businesses mainly hire Tampa Bay residents. These business owners are mostly locals, who contribute to the Tampa community through their consumer choices and donations.

The profits from large retailers like Walmart, don’t linger in the local economy, but go to the top of the business’s pyramid.

According to the  Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, local businesses generate 70 percent more local economic activity than large retailers.

Not only this, but supermarkets and malls get their products from over long distances. Large scale businesses burn lots of  fossil fuels through the processing, packaging and shipping of goods.

Locally sourced retailers cut out most of the shipping and transporting fuel use because the items are sourced in Tampa.

Consignment shopping is also good for the environment because it eliminates waste.

Local plants, flowers and garden decorations are available at Parkesdale Farms. Photo by Abby Baker.

“If you want to buy gift or even some groceries for yourself, places like Parkesdale here is going to give right back to Plant City,” said Parkesdale Farms consumer Josie Carlson. “You know, they give a lot to charities and all around here.”

Between Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other festivities around wintertime, entertaining in your home requires more than a few trips to the grocery store.

If meat and dairy is on your menu, considering local, organic farms could be healthy for you and the planet.

Buying local meat is Eco-friendly. Photo by Abby Baker at the Hay Exchange in Plant City, FL.

Farms like TrailBale farm, Chuck’s Natural Food Market and Nature’s Harvest Market offer poultry and red meat that has not been treated with unnatural chemicals and is fed a natural diet.

On top of this, large factory farms contribute to pollution and water waste.

According to the EPA, animals on American factory farms produce around 500 million tons of waste annually.

Smaller, sustainable farms offer meat that is raised in a way that doesn’t destroy the land and water it utilizes. Buying from these farms also supports the farmers that use these green tactics.

Supporting these green business owners strengthens the local economy at the most basic level, but with years of participation in local buying, big changes could be made to the U.S. economy.

“I buy most of my fruits and veggies here (Parkesdale),” said Carlson. “Really, it’s a little cheaper and I think the food tastes cleaner.”

If you’re looking for Tampa Bay shops to shop locally, these options will keep your local shopping cart full.

  • Blind Tiger Cafe in Ybor City offers an assortment of coffee and tea.
  • Penelope T is an upscale Tampa boutique that offers classy apparel and jewelry.
  • Paper Street Market in St. Petersburg offers vintage furniture and home decor.
  • Secondhand Savvys in Brandon is bursting with slightly used clothing and home goods.

Military sonar disrupts whales

Bardock, Wal Cuviera, CC BY 3.0

 

It is no secret that everyday human activity is continuously destroying the Earth’s environment and atmosphere.

A recent study suggests that carbon emissions and disposed trash in the oceans, among other prominent forms of pollution, are not the only factors contributing to environmental peril; something unexpected is now harming animals in the ocean.

In a study conducted by Erin A. Falcone et al. and published by Royal Society Publishing, it is shown that mid-frequency sonar used by the military to track submarines is beginning to negatively affect Cuvier’s beaked whales. The scientists tagged and studied 16 whales off the coast of Southern California and noticed this species of whale will beach themselves when they come in contact with these mid-frequency sonars. Upon further study of the beached whales, scientists discovered what resembled decompression sickness. This discovery is groundbreaking, as it was believed that decompression sickness — more commonly known as the bends — was not possible in marine mammals.

According to the study, scientists had a difficult time researching these whales due to the amount of information that is unknown about them. They have not been observed much over the years, and their basic behavior was relatively undocumented prior to the beginning of the studies regarding the beaching of these whales due to sonar contact. Cuvier’s beaked whales are known “to perform a stereotypic [sic] pattern of deep, foraging dives separated by a series of shallower, non-foraging dives,” per the study. Two specific whales were tagged for controlled exposure, and upon exposure to the mid-frequency sonars, the whales were observed to completely change their behavior. At times, they stopped foraging mid dive. On other occasions, the whales would dive deeper and longer than normal and rush back to the surface too quickly. The whales, in some instances, were known to stop diving completely. One rare occasion showed a whale completely unaffected by the sonar; however, this whale was farther out of the sonar’s range.

After compiling the data regarding deeper dives made by the whales post-contact with the mid-frequency sonars, these were the results.

“Deep dives became longer as the distance to the nearest mid-power MFAS decreased. Using the Complete dataset [sic], the mean deep dive duration was predicted to increase with proximity to mid-power MFAS from approximately 60 min to approximately 90 min beginning at around 40 km. The SOAR dataset [sic] predicted that the mean deep dive duration returned to MFAS-free levels by approximately 20 km, after increasing to approximately 107 min with mid-power MFAS at approximately 5 km. The second-ranked models added distance to the nearest high-power source, with a comparable AIC weight for the Complete dataset [sic] (0.224) but a weight roughly half that of the best model in the SOAR dataset [sic].”

The study also showed data about length of surface intervals as well.

“Surface intervals tended to be longer, but also more variable in duration, during either type of MFAS use. This effect was most apparent on SOAR, where predicted surface time during confirmed MFAS-free periods was brief and constrained to a very narrow interval, relative to both periods with MFAS use on SOAR and periods with no reported MFAS use in the Complete dataset [sic].”

The study concluded the sonar is — in fact — the cause of the behavioral changes in Cuvier’s beaked whales. Although high frequency sonar was tested as well, the mid-frequency sonar showed higher levels of response. The full study can be found here.

Tampa Bay’s Best: The Florida Aquarium

Florida Aquarium employee Eric Hovland and guest Angela Moody share a passion for marine life and the environment in which they live.

Hovland has seen The Florida Aquarium blossom into the popular Tampa attraction that it is today.

“I’ve worked here at The Florida Aquarium for going on 22 years in May and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Hovland said. “Seeing the facility grow over the years and being able to work with all of the diverse species of marine life on a daily basis has been a dream come true for me.”

Located in downtown Tampa, right next to Port Tampa Bay, The Florida Aquarium offers its patrons a unique experience that is unlike any other aquarium in the United States.

“I had no idea until I got here that you could dive with sharks at this aquarium,” Moody said. “I’ve never heard of anything like that at any other aquarium I’ve ever been to.”

The Florida Aquarium was the first aquarium in the nation to offer an uncaged dive with sharks experience.

“We have the sand tiger sharks and all of our diverse fish that you can get to know,” Hovland said. “Learning about sharks can really accelerate when you can see sharks being sharks.”

People from all over the world travel to Tampa, which in turn brings many diverse people and cultures to The Florida Aquarium.

“Whether they’re getting off a cruise ship and stopping in for a visit, we really do get a diversity of the world’s culture,” Hovland said. “It’s nice to see our impact reaches much further than just the Tampa Bay area.”

For more information, please visit flaquarium.org

Manatee Viewing Center Expects Bigger Crowds In 30th Year

 

Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center employee’s Jamie Woodlee and Bob Rast both share a common passion for the protection of Florida manatees.

Woodlee has worked for TECO’s Manatee Viewing Center for more than 30 years and has seen the facility grow into what it is today.

“I’ve actually been with Tampa Electric for 30 years, and started right away in their environmental department,” Woodlee said. “It’s just been an amazing experience being able to see how far we’ve come since I first started here.”

Located off of Dickman Road in Apollo Beach Florida, the TECO Manatee Viewing Center offers guests an up close and personal view of manatees in their natural habitat. According to tampaelectric.com, Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach delivered reliable electricity to the community for 16 years before the commercial operation of Big Bend Unit 4 in 1986. It was that year where people first took notice of manatees arriving in large numbers in the power station’s discharge canal.

“We get visitors from all over the world,” Woodlee said. “We get anywhere from 150,000 to over 300,000 visitors in over five-in-a half months.”

The Manatee Viewing Center’s mission is to educate the public about the Florida manatee and its habitat. The center is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary, which has interactive exhibits and staff members educating visitors of all ages about the life cycle of the manatee and the challenges it faces.

Rast said when the waters of Tampa Bay reaches 68 degrees or colder, the manatees would seek refuge in the Apollo Beach area.

“They are a unique creature,” Rast said. “When the weather gets chilly and the manatees get cold stressed, they come here to get warm and recharge their batteries so to speak.”

Rast has worked for the TECO Manatee Viewing Center for over 16 years and has extensive expertise on manatees in the area.

With tourists and locals flocking in from November 1 until April 15, the Manatee Viewing Center is ready for another year of big crowds.

“We are this quiet little gem of a place that is really starting to get out there,” Woodlee said.

Tropicana Field Stingrays Find New Winter Home

 

The stingrays from Tropicana Field are making the Manatee Viewing Center their winter home.

Tampa Electric built a stingray touch tank at the Manatee Viewing Center, which is open from Nov. 1 through April 15. The stingrays will be in the Manatee Viewing Center for about four months. After winter, half of them will return to the Tropicana Field, while the others will stay in the center.

Steven Clemmer, who has worked at The Florida Aquarium for five years, emphasized the importance of kids playing and enjoy nature in a natural environment.

“Many children are afraid of touching the stingrays at the beginning,” Clemmer said. “However after they see us touching them, they feel more comfortable. It is kids’ natural curiosity to want to learn and try new things, even more so in a friendly environment.”

They are expecting over 5 million nature lovers this year, many of them children. The Florida Aquarium staff members are in charge of teaching about these animals.

“We have a lot of school groups that come here and it’s a cool thing because most of them don’t know this is here,” Clemmer said. “So, it is a good surprise whenever school groups do come because they get that hands on experience touching the rays. All our volunteers and staff members are qualified and knowledgeable.”

For more information visit tampaelectric.com/company/mvc 

USF Riverfront Park Offers Relaxing Escape For Students

Bonnie Buchanan, a student employee at USF Riverfront Park, and Olivia Parrillo, a Riverfront Park visitor and fellow USF student, both love the outdoors.

The students frequently visit Riverfront Park either to work, relax or enjoy the outdoors when they have time off school.

“It’s good for people to come out here and get in touch with nature and not be staring at their phones the whole time,” Buchanan said. “It’s just a really good way for students to enjoy what Florida’s wildlife has to offer.”

Riverfront Park is located in Tampa, close to a mile from USF’s Tampa campus. The park offers canoeing and kayaking rentals, as well as many other outdoor activities.

“I definitely would recommend it, it’s worth every penny, especially when you are on a college budget,” Parrillo said. “It’s worth the $10 for either two people or three people in a canoe or kayak.”

Riverfront Park is also home to a vast array of Florida wildlife.

“A big variety of wildlife, we definitely see a lot of alligators in the river and on the bank,” Buchanan said. “Definitely a lot of bird watching, different kinds of egrets.”

Buchanan has been a Riverfront Park employee for six months and graduates in the spring of 2017.

“My favorite thing about working at Riverfront Park is teaching the ropes course and seeing people face their fear of heights,” Buchanan said. “It sure beats sitting behind a desk all day.”

Riverfront Park is open Monday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival & Run

The 50th annual San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival & Run took place over the weekend in San Antonio.

There were many different activities, games and events for attendees to enjoy. Some of these events included shows like Cowboy Tom’s Wild West Show and the Croc Encounters demonstration. Rock climbing, corn hole tournaments and wooden gopher tortoise races were open both days, while the Rattlesnake Run only occurred on Saturday.

Children and their parents were both able to take pleasure in the festival. One child in particular was quick to express his favorite part.

“Well the first thing we’ve done,” Owen said, “we got loads of candy!”

The Croc Encounters show drew an exceptionally large audience. The crew brought four large alligators that were between seven and eight feet in length, one medium sized alligator and two small alligators.

“Croc Encounters is an animal rescue,” said John Paner, manager. “We do educational programs with the animals, we take them to events, we do shows with the animals, we do traveling exhibits.”

Another popular attraction was the pumpkin patch, where families were taking advantage of the great photo opportunities. One local resident spending time in the pumpkin patch was excited to bring her children to the festival again.

“We actually haven’t been for a few years,” Sarah said, “because my son was playing football so we kind of always had a football game, but this is our first time back in quite a few years.”

Over the two days it was open, the festival brought in a great number of people. As of now, it is planned to be held again next fall.

Kayaks Allow for Interaction with Wildlife on Weeki Wachee River

The Kayak Shack is a small business that is located on the Weeki Wachee river. Visitors from all over the world come to The Kayak Shack to visit the crystal clear spring. One can rent kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards seven days a week from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.

The Kayak Shack has been operating since 2009. Owners Jonathon and Amber Cone have been running this small business since its inception.

“[When] we started out we weren’t running our shuttles to the top of the river.” said Jonathon Cone. “It was mainly beach people coming over from Rogers Park to rent kayaks here; they would do it hourly…and started out with 16 boats and absolutely…this entire area has gotten extremely popular; …each summer it’s busier and busier; spring break and even the winters are…starting to pick up.”

Now, they have two transportation buses and over 30 kayaks to rent out.

Once you’ve rented one of their boats, they transport you to the top of the river. Then, paddle about five miles back to The Kayak Shack where your car is parked.

While paddling along the river one may many fish, birds, and perhaps even a manatee.

“We see manatees to the point where you’re kinda used to those, even though they are really cool,” said employee Jason Burry.

You can also go swimming in the nearly constant 72-degree water, jump out of trees or swing on a rope swing.

Visit their website or call and make a reservation in order to schedule a rental.

website: www.weekiwacheekayakrental.com
phone: (352) 610-4169

A Factory’s Support For The Children

A Factory’s support for the Children

Pam and Tom Cronin, owners of the Shell Factory, spent years renovating and redesigning the park with families in mind- especially the kids. Field trips to the park are welcomed, and the Cronin’s are willing to help teachers overcome any obstacles to make the trips possible for the students.  

“When Lee county stopped supplying school buses for the kids for field trips, Tom and Pam Cronin decided they would do it. So we pay for all the kids to come here,” Anne Sheridan, the Shell Factory general manager, said.

During these sponsored field trips, students get to experience nature up close in the Nature Park. According to the website, the Nature Park includes over 400 wild animals; aviaries filled with different types of birds, tortoises, turtles and iguanas; an Eco Lab for exotic snakes and more. Gator biscuits are also available for visitors to toss out to the alligators that live within the park.

Our Nature Park Environmental Education Foundation has raised capital sufficient to fund field trips for over four thousand school children who otherwise would have been unable to visit the attraction,” The Cronins said on their website.

The park, however, is still growing and changing every year.

“As a work in progress the Nature Park is always expanding, improving, and acquiring new inhabitants,” according to the Shell Factory’s website.

Pam and Tom also host special events outside of school functions on the property. Weddings and corporate meetings can utilized one of two special rooms in the park- the Dolphin room and the Party Room- as well as birthday parties or other celebrations.

The factory was voted best shell store by North Fort Myers in both 2014 and 2015. Years in the making, the Shell Factory has become one of the best places in South Florida for locals and tourists alike.

shell

Photo courtesy of flickr.com