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Coach Safari at Forever Florida Wildlife Conservation Area
There are many places in the world where you can try out Ziplining, but Florida isn’t one that springs instantly to mind. However, there is a new Zipline Safari in St Cloud, just south of Holopaw off the US441. Not only do they offer ziplining, but for the less adventurous you can take a two hour trip on a coach safari, using a specially designed ‘swamp buggy’ which takes you deep into the ‘Forever Florida’ wildlife conservation area.
The tour vehicle holds 32 people and is open sided, with a covered roof, and very high off the ground. The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and many have degrees in biology or ecology. This conservation area covers over 4, 700 acres of natural wetlands and forests, as well as marsh and cypress domes, pasture and natural streams. In fact there are nine distinct ecosystems, which are home to nearly two hundred species of birds, plus numerous species of flora and fauna. Such animals as white tail deer, alligators, black bears and even the endangered Florida panther roam these pristine acres.
‘Forever Florida’ was founded by Dr Bill Broussard as a living monument to his son, Allen, who sadly died very young. Allen was a wildlife ecologist who passed away from an infection following a heart transplant . He was just 29. At the time he became ill he was in a Doctoral programme at the University of Illinois. Previously, at the age of 19 he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, and had undergone extensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy to cure him of this deadly disease. He had shown a strong interest in nature from a young age, and he absorbed information about the habitats and characteristics of animals.
Allen Broussard was truly talented, and after a two year break, during which he was treated for the cancer, he decided that he wanted to do field research and become a college professor. Sadly his ambition was not to be fully realised as he suffered a near fatal and unexpected heart attack, due to the after-effects of his chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Although they managed to patch up his heart, he later died following a heart transplant. It was his wish that the wonderful countryside should be protected and nurtured. His father, Dr Bill Broussard is a 10th generation cattle farmer who believes we have not put enough value on natural areas. His hope is that visitors will leave ‘with an understanding of how important it is to try and preserve natural areas. ’
Should you choose to take a coach safari you will board the open-air safari coach which is five feet off the ground, giving you the opportunity for an amazing view of everything, plus great photo opportunities. This is one time you must take your camera. The tour is hosted by a guide who is an expert, and who will tell you all about the amazing countryside you are about to visit. There are two tours each day, one at 10. 30 am and one at 1. 30 pm.
The tour starts with a trip through the Crescent J ranch, where you will also see Spanish Colonial Cattle and Cracker horses. These horses are unique to Florida and were brought over to Florida by Ponce de Leon and other Spanish settlers in the 16th century. Today’s horses are direct descendents of these lovely animals.
Accompanied by your guide, your journey then continues into the Forever Florida Wildlife Conservation area, which is a complete contrast to the flat grassy ranchland, and which has remained largely untouched by man. Indeed it looks pretty much as it did in 1808. It is here that you are likely to see native Florida animals such as white tail deer and wild turkeys. You may also be lucky enough to see alligators, armadillos, gopher tortoises, turkeys and maybe even a Florida panther. The narration offered by your guide really is the highlight of the tour. These guides are passionate about the conservation area, and have a deep knowledge of the local ecology, which they are desperate to preserve. They will probably show you the damage caused by wild hogs which were abandoned by the Spaniards when they discovered that there was no gold in Florida. It is estimated that there are 800 wild hogs on the preserve, and they cause considerable destruction. They trap some of these animals which are then either relocated or given away for barbeques!
One of the highlights of the tour is a stop off at the floodplain forest, where you are invited to take a stroll along a boardwalk which borders Bull Creek, a stream with transparent tea-coloured water. It may not look too inviting but it is apparently clean enough to drink .
After your coach adventure you can relax at the Visitor’s Center where there is a free petting zoo and pony rides costing $8. The tour itself costs just $25 for adults, with children over 6 being $20. Children under the age of six are free. There is a restaurant on site called the Cypress Restaurant, which serves country-style cooking. It is open daily from 11. 00 am to 4. 00 pm, or from 9. 00 am until 4. 00 pm on Saturday and Sunday. It serves a range of starters including Chicken Wings and Tenders, plus soup and salad. Entrees include catfish or BBQ pork, plus burgers, deli sandwiches or subs, so you won’t go hungry.
This is certainly a very pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon, and it is very much removed from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. If you would like to experience something a little different, but at the same time relaxing and educational then the Safari Coach could be just what you are looking for.
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