Dan's Day Trips Returns
Cedar Key is a name just about anyone recognizes and many have visited in North Central Florida. But if all you've done is shop and fish, you are missing out. If you haven't experienced dolphins, lots and lots of birds and a bit of history, it's worth a return trip.
It was another beautiful afternoon on the Gulf Coast. But there's so much more to do than just splash along the shore. Take a boat out and live a little.
Captain Doug Maple of Captain Doug's Tidewater Tours has been leading tours in the area for seven years. He takes us off the beaten path to the deserted isles like Cedar Point stretching up and down the coast.
"This is the kind of stuff you see often in movies or books but very few people get out here and get to see it up close and personal the way we do."
Or how about seeing dolphins up close and personal? Maple says there about 100 wild bottlenose dolphins that live in the area year-round. And most days it isn't difficult to spot a few playing in the water.
But don't keep your eyes on the water. Look to the skies for another view of unspoiled nature. Thousands and thousands of birds come every year to Seahorse Key to nest. Egrets, pelicans and the graceful frigate birds.
At 52 feet above sea level, Seahorse Key is one of the tallest points along the Gulf Coast. The lighthouse here was built in 1853 and used until 1917. Now it serves as a dorm facility for UF students doing research projects.
The lighthouse is open to the public just three days a year and Saturday July 7th is one of those days.
Atsena Otie key is the only island of the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge open to the public. Maple says the first settlers came here to cut down the massive southern red cedar trees that filled the island and turn them into pencils. It was a booming business until 1896 when a catastrophic hurricane roared through.
"Wind speeds were said to be 150 or more with a storm surge of 20 plus feet," says Maple. "Things were already in a decline because of over-harvesting."
You can take a ten minute walk through the woods to see some of the old ruins. The path ends at an old cemetery with a few dozen tombstones. But beware because from June to August the mosquitos are almost unbearable.
"As you wander through the graves you'll notice life expectancy wasn't too great," Maple says. "Of approximately 35 graves, 4 are older than 50."
Unfortunately it was time to head back. But after our day on the water, it's easy to see why Maple decided to settle here after 27 years as a police officer in Georgia. Maple says his first-time patrons are rarely disappointed.
"They are almost always pleasantly surprised to see not only the natural beauty of the islands and the refuge but the quaint town setting itself with its shops and restaurants and hotels," Maple says. "It's a little something for everybody that appreciates peace and quiet in nature."
A special thanks to Doug Maple of Captain Doug's Tidewater Tours for taking me on the boat.
If you're ready for this adventure, take State Road 24 out of Gainesville to Cedar Key.
Captain Doug is one of a couple tour operators that would love to take you for a cruise on the water leaving from the city marina. Prices start about twenty dollars a person.
If you are interested in Captain Doug or another operator, these two websites are helpful:
If you liked seeing the dolphins in the wild, you're going to love next week's day trip. We're off to another island, this one on the Atlantic, where you can get an unforgettable up close and personal experience with dolphins.
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV20 News