Archive for the ‘Gulf Coast Insider’ Category

Orange Belt Railroad to Paradise

Posted on: December 28th, 2016 by admin No Comments

While I sit on my porch each morning to drink my coffee I hear the historic sound of a train whistle. The train tracks are far enough away where I don’t feel the ground shaking under the house, but if I lean forward in my chair and look down the street, I can see the train appear when it crosses the street, the sound of its wheels rumbling at last reaching me. The train is modern, its engine driven by liquid fuel, and its large metal wheels rolling on standard sized tracks. While the sight is not unique by American standards, it does have history that profoundly changed the area I live in.

Railroad tracks

Before the railroad passed through the tiny Florida towns of Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, Largo, and St Petersburg, they were not much to speak of. Today, they are part of one of the most populated areas of the state and the Orange Belt railroad is directly responsible.

Once the railroads reached down into central Florida, an Russian born immigrant by the name of Peter Demens decided to use his profits from the lumber industry to build a new railroad through Florida. With somewhat capriciously gathered loans, he set forth through the wilds, building westward. The railroad reached Tarpon Springs and turned south.

The story is long, has many players, and involves a number of heartbreaking miscalculations. One such mistake was made when the founder of a small city within the county decided not to invest additional funds. The railroad passed near to the city but ended in St Petersburg, Florida instead. While St Petersburg blossomed into a major city, the other was left behind, and remains small to this day, no longer retaining the name of its founder. The other story of hard luck landed in the lap of Peter Demens himself. To build the railroad, he had piled one loan atop of the next, finally putting forward the railroad itself as collateral. and despite actually finishing the railroad, he lost it when the payments were impossible to meet. Demens left Florida to make a different fortune in California while the new owners of the railroad both struggled and prospered.

Demens had built a narrow-gauge railway and the inheritors of his dream changed them to maintain standards with the tracks with which they intersected. It is those tracks that now run to St Petersburg. On walks or bike rides through my neighborhood, I sometimes cross the tracks, and while most often I have thoughts of the day running through my head, sometimes I stop to look up and down the line and imagine the days of old when steam engines breathed life into a part of Florida that would someday be my home.

Florida has Parrots?

Posted on: December 20th, 2016 by MB No Comments

Parrots in Florida

Each morning as I sit on my porch, a screeching fills the sky. A moment later, a flock of parrots flies over. The green birds let everyone know they are coming while they apparently communicate to one another about – well, who knows what.

Parrots in Florida

Parrots arrived, or at least were noticed, back in the seventies. They took to Florida without a problem. Now several species live in the state and have no plans of leaving. In fact, their numbers are growing swiftly. In some places, they are causing problems, mostly to the utility companies who have troubles with the birds nesting on their towers and telephone poles. Some residents don’t like their noisy calls or the fact that they are an invasive species. Other people, however, are perfectly happy to have the colorful birds around.

They do possess foreign intrigue perhaps, giving Florida residents and visitors a taste of what was once only available far to the south. I for one, enjoy them. Of course, I have no power lines or environmental programs to maintain to keep my job. Each time I hear them, I look to the skies and wait for them to pass over. Their raucous calls sound like the tropics to me. Their green feathers are a nice change of pace.

Quaker Parrot

Regardless of which side of this avian phenomenon you find yourself on, the reality is that the birds have reproduced in numbers that negate any plan to get rid of them. So, as long as you are here, and you aren’t repairing power lines, enjoy these visitors who have taken the term “snowbirds” a little more literally than most.

Lighting up the Holidays at Tarpon Springs Boat Parade

Posted on: December 6th, 2016 by MB No Comments

Warm Florida Holiday

Snow Place Like Tarpon

The Central West Coast of Florida is famous for its white sand beaches, sunshine, and a bounty of vacation activities. Unbeknownst to many however, is a whole other activity that we do quite well, and that’s the holiday season. While it might seem unlikely that Florida does the festive season the way it’s meant to be, that’s okay. We don’t do it the way you’d expect, and that’s what makes it so fun.
The coast from Clearwater Beach down to St Pete Beach is actually a great place to spend the holidays. Aside from not freezing in the winter, the local populace has come up with a host of ways to celebrate the season. While snow will never be part of the scene, that doesn’t stop the holiday lights from coming up, and, perhaps to compensate, they’re done with flair.

Holiday Lights in the Garden

Christmas palm tree

The Thanksgiving to New Year’s span is kicked off at in Largo with the Holiday Lights in the Garden at the Florida Botanical Gardens light show. The gardens are an amazing display on any day of the year but during the holidays nighttime gains an added dose of awe. The exotic trees, plants, and walkways are lighted with what seems to be a million lights. The gardens are extensive and no part has been left out of the light show. Santa and his misses make an appearance for photo opportunities with the kids while the adjacent walled garden has an electric train circling the central Christmas tree. The light display truly deserves he title of must-see.

Lighted Boat Parades

lighted boat parade

The other holiday season crowd-pleaser is the lighted boat parade lineup. Florida has become famous for them and our coast definitely participates in the phenomenon. This year I attended the Tarpon Springs Lighted Boat Parade. It’s one of the regional favorites because of the accessibility to the waterfront and because of the major street event that goes with it called Snow Place Like Tarpon Springs. The street event pulls in tens of thousands who, if they choose, can stream down the street to Spring Bayou where the boat parade is held.
Spring Bayou has a waterfront sidewalk that winds along the calm waters for a very long way. Spring Bayou derives its name from the spring near its main pier. Most people are not aware it is there, flowing huge volumes of water into the bayou every day. The waterway winds around, giving spectators a choice of where to watch the parade. Banked sides add to the perfect venue, with the attendees using the grassy slopes much like a stadium.

Tarpon Springs Holiday Boat Parade

Holiday lights on boat

The first sign that the boats are approaching is the music that many of the vessels are playing. With thousands of dazzling lights, they round the bend and ply into the bayou. The event is lively, with people in the boats shouting holiday greetings and the spectators returning the hails. The highlights this year were the rowing team and a brightly lit Sea-Doo that spun in rapid circles. Cheers rose highest while the rowing team circled the bayou, going faster than the most of the boats, although the whirling Sea-Doo gained plenty shouts each time it went into a spin.

Video:

I invited some friends, one of which had never attended a boat parade! We had a good time watching the parade and over-stuffing ourselves on food from the Snow Place Like Tarpon street carnival. It made for a memorable night shared by many thousands of local residents and hopefully a good number of visitors to Florida too.

Boat Parade Tarpon

Other posts you might enjoy:

Wonders of Winter on Clearwater Beach

Sky Surfing Clearwater Beach

Treasure Island Kite Festival

 

Crossing Tampa Bay on a Bike

Posted on: November 28th, 2016 by MB No Comments

Courtney Campbell Causeway

Causeways have one purpose; or at least they’re supposed to.

Bike on Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail

When a body of water requires a long bridge, one way to avoid a costly bridge of pure concrete is to pour dirt instead, creating a long strip of land on which to put a road. To maintain the flow of water and to allow boats to pass, true bridges are built along the way. The result is several long island-like structures with a few bridges hooking them together. And, just like that, you have a road across a large body of water that previously created a barrier for motorists.

Courtney Campbell Causeway

The Courtney Campbell Causeway spans the waters at the northern end of Tampa Bay, Florida. In one of the most populated areas of Florida, causeways like this one changed a drive that used to take two or more hours into one that now takes only twenty to thirty minutes. The Courtney Campbell is one of three such long causeways that cross Tampa Bay, connecting Tampa with St Petersburg and Clearwater, as well as providing access to a dozen other smaller cities.

Waterfront Recreational Playground

While causeways were originally intended to do no more than support a road, the truth is that when you build and island, people will come. Causeways throughout the region have become recreational favorites for the people of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area. Since the “dirt” in Florida is actually sand, that’s what causeways are made of. Where sand meets water, you have a beach. It is easy to imagine why these areas become popular. Beyond the obvious attraction of sand and water is the relaxed atmosphere. Causeways are laid back areas where come-as-you-are applies. Parking often follows a similarly loose guidelines. While city codes do apply, such as no fires, for the most part you can do as you please.

Courtney Campbell trail sign

Regarding the tradition of public use and recreation on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the cities of Clearwater and Tampa agreed. Like the great railroad built across the USA, the two cities built bike paths from their shores toward the opposite city, meeting halfway across Tampa Bay. The effort resulted in a ten-mile bike path linking the two cities together. The Tampa side completed in 2013 and the Clearwater side in 2015. The news was greeted by locals with enthusiasm. The drive between the two cities had always been known as a scenic drive, treating visitors who land in the Tampa airport with sweeping water views on their way to the beaches that are across Tampa Bay. With the new bike and walking path, the vistas were now open to everyone.

Sunset on Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail

Making the most of the Courtney Campbell Causeway Trail

When I heard about the trail opening last year, I put it on my list of things to do. After moving much closer to the trail, I set out to see it for myself. The ride turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected. The levelness of the trail was, perhaps, the greatest bonus. With little effort, I crossed half the causeway in the blink of an eye. Because I went after work, the November sun was setting while I rode, offering a view even better than I imagined. The trail is a great place to take in the view, blow off the stress of the day, bird-watch, and, of course, get some exercise. If you are a cyclist or an avid walker who is visiting our area, you might want to put this trail on your list.

Courtney Campbell sunset

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Ditching a Car for the Ferry to Clearwater Beach

No Roads Found to Caladesi Island

Pinellas Trail Bicycle and Walking Path

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Big Florida Hunt of 1869

Posted on: September 25th, 2016 by MB No Comments

The year of the big hunt was 1869. Florida had been part of the United States for only 48 years and Pinellas County was just getting its start. In fact, it was not yet called by that name. It was a wild, and as yet untamed area in that year. Wild animals roamed freely; too freely for those trying to settle in the area, and into the development of the area emerged the idea for a major hunt. To picture the area properly, however, you must first undo the infrastructure that spreads across what is now the state’s most populated area.

pinellascounty_2-700px-framed

Pinellas County’s namesake was the pine tree, its name originating from the abundant scrub pines that grew across the area. It was a very different place back then, the only roads carved through the palmetto palms, oaks, and pines. After clearing, carts and early automobiles still had only the soft sands of Florida to drive across. The hot and humid weather offered no reprieve, other than measures pioneers built into the homesteads, such as breezeways, doors facing the prevailing winds, and kitchens built separately from the houses. Mosquitoes did as they pleased and the original population of alligators ruled the inland waterways.

heritage-village-cabin-aged

Ranchers discovered Florida and liked it. Grass grew in a frenzy, invigorated by frequent rains, providing ample food for cattle and horses. In fact, the first cowboys in the Unites States worked their trade in Florida. With livestock came the struggle against predators. Panthers and black bears roamed the region, unchecked by the fledgling settlements that sprung up.

Florida_black_bear

While Fort Harrison occupied a central location, the region had yet to gain its first incorporated city. The road from Tampa, then known as Fort Brooke, was long and arduous. Despite the hardships, people continued to arrive to settle. Just two decades earlier, the U.S. had opened the way for land grants in the regions not yet settled with the Armed Occupation Act. The American Civil War had just ended four years earlier and the people were eager to create new opportunities.

heritage-village-house-aged

So it was that the people of future Pinellas County decided to make the land more inhabitable for people and livestock. Hunting parties were organized with the goal of eliminating the threat of bears and cougars. One can imagine that ranchers joined the ranks eagerly. The sound of gunfire would have echoed across the palmetto palm flats and through the forests of tall scrub pines. In the end, the two species were driven back, leaving the peninsula that forms the shape of Tampa Bay open for development.

Florida_panther

In the present, the region has grown into the most populous area of the state of Florida. The well-known cities of Tampa, St Petersburg, and Clearwater occupy the terrain now, drawing new visitors regularly to their beaches and other attractions. The sandy roads of old are covered by pavement but still sometimes travel past broad swaths of pine and palm forests. Kitchens are now inside the house, chilled by the wonder of air-conditioning. Horse and cattle ranching still thrive in Florida but have moved to other parts of the state where the lands are broad and open. But what of the Florida panther and black bear? They survived the attempted extermination, though in greatly reduced numbers. The black bear inhabits scattered forests throughout the state while the panther has been relegated to the most southern regions where the fairly untamed wilds of the Everglades and its adjoining wilderness areas create a safe habitat. Through management, their numbers continue to return from the brink, leaving those of us in the present with the satisfaction that a piece of our world’s natural past yet survives.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Curious History of Philippe Park

Florida Springs

Where the Heck is Pinellas County and Why Should I Care?

 

Save

Save

Beach Temperatures on the Central West Coast of Florida

Posted on: August 29th, 2016 by admin No Comments

Clouds over beach

How Warm is Florida?

We get a lot of requests for info on what the temperatures are here in Clearwater Beach, Florida, as well as our area in general. While you might think they are mostly aimed at finding out how warm it is here in the winter, a lot of them want to know our summer temperatures too.

Beaches of Tampa Bay

This coastline, in general, is called the Central Gulf Coast of Florida. Our portion of that coast is the beaches of the Tampa Bay area which border the Gulf of Mexico. That encompasses the beach towns of St Pete Beach, Clearwater Beach, and all the beach communities between. It also includes the beach parks of Egmont Key, Fort Desoto, Caladesi Island State Park, Honeymoon Island State Park, and Anclote Key Nature Preserve.

Clearwater Beach morning clouds

Summer on the Florida West Coast

Summer is where we will start. To shortcut the conversation, our summers are hot. It’s Florida. June, July, August, and September are the hot months. No surprise there. According to the U.S. Climate Center website, our average summer temperatures are 89 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit/32 Celsius. Of course, that’s the average. It does go above and below those numbers. Add the humidity brought to us by the Gulf of Mexico and it feels quite warm.

Hyatt pool deck view

 

The saving grace from the heat is the same thing that makes it feel warmer, and that’s the Gulf of Mexico. All you have to do to cool off is dive in. But there’s more to it than that. The Gulf is not quite as cool as you would imagine. In the summer it reaches the mid-eighties. This summer we had a few days of ninety. That was warm but it only lasted a short while and then the water perceptibly cooled off – down into the eighties that is. Despite how warm that sounds, it’s still refreshing to dive in and it does cool you down.

Winter trips to Florida are famous. People come here to escape the winter chills of the north, from both the U.S. and Canada. But how warm is it exactly? There’s good news and bad news. The bad news first. To someone who lives in Florida, it gets cold! The good news, to someone from the north, it’s not cold at all. December, January, and February are the coldest, with a bone chilling 55 degrees Fahrenheit/12 Celsius. Winter water temperatures range around 70 Fahrenheit/21 Celsius.

Swimming Gulf of Mexico

While we joke about how cold it is here we know that it’s really not. However, we once in a while get a person who thinks we enjoy eighty degrees all year long, and that’s just not true. We experience winter, just on a very mild scale. The truth is that our winter is very refreshing. After a summer of high temperatures, a cool winter is actually quite welcome.

The remaining months between summer and winter are some of our favorites. Oddly, they are not as popular with visitors. If you lived in Florida and knew how amazing the weather was, you’d wonder why that was true. It’s not chilly, it’s not hot. We refer to that as very nice weather. The temperatures range between 65 and 85 Fahrenheit/17 and 20 Celsius. They are very enjoyable months to be outdoors.

Clearwater Harbor sunrise

As for rain, we do get that. For nine months of the year we get rain like everywhere else, which is to say, every now and then, whenever nature feels like it. In the summer, however, the weather gets very predictable. The days start sunny, then in the mid-afternoon the clouds gather. By about 5pm, it’s time for a rain storm, often a thunderstorm with dazzling lightning. By 6pm to 7pm, the rain is gone and its time to walk the streets again in the remaining hours of daylight. You can almost set your watch by it. While odd weather is always a possibility, that is pretty much what to expect. So will it rain on your summer vacation here at the beach? Yes, it will. Will it ruin the day? Not at all.

Clearwater Beach rain

That’s the summary of our weather here on the Central Gulf Coast of Florida, especially in the Tampa Bay area and its beaches. The reality is that it’s pretty nice just about any time of year, so long as you’re not expecting something else. So if you are coming to visit us, you now have a better idea of what to anticipate. That often makes for a better stay.

Sunny beach day Clearwater Beach

Other Posts You might enjoy:

Paradise Lost; A Beach in Peril

Wild Winter Wonders on the Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Barrier Island Breakdown

Clearwater Beach Summers

Posted on: June 19th, 2016 by MB No Comments

Summer time at the beach is hard to beat. When that beach is especially beautiful, it’s even better. Clearwater Beach is great to visit any time of the year. Each season has its own perks. If you arrive in one season, you are likely to be envious of those who visit in the others. Perhaps that’s human nature. But let me describe why the summertime in Clearwater Beach will make you happy.

Clearwater Beach with tons of shells

Hot Summer Days

If summer at Clearwater Beach has a downside, it’s the heat. It gets hot here and you might sweat. And there you have it. That’s the downside. But then, that’s why the beach is so great! Three things make this beach enjoyable on a hot day.

  1. You can beat the heat by swimming! The water feels great and a dip into it will refresh you. By observation, the people who go into the water don’t come back out again for quite a while. A walk down the shore on an average summer beach day will find lots of heads and shoulders bobbing above the waves. If you don’t want to go in all the way, the Gulf of Mexico also feels great on your feet.
  2. The breeze coming off the Gulf of Mexico usually cools down the beach by about seven to ten degrees -at least that’s how it feels. There are days where walking on the sidewalk will warm you right up but a walk along the shore just moments later feels just fine. The sea breeze is a blessing and smells good too. And really, wouldn’t you prefer walking on the beach?
  3. The sand at Clearwater Beach is white. While the sun does warm it up, it never becomes too hot to walk on. Even on the hottest day you will never have to hop and skip across heated sands. That also means the heat reflecting off the sand is far less.

As far as problems go, beating the heat at the beach is pretty fun to solve.

Clearwater Beach outing

The Joys of Summer at the Beach

Now let’s look at the upsides of going to the beach in the summer.

  1. In the summer you will find more people enjoying the traditional beach outing. That means taking the family to the shore with a cooler and spending the day having fun. Catching sun is no problem and you will never have to worry about bringing a jacket along. The days are longer too. By our count, that makes for more beach time. I think anything you enjoy doing in the summer might just be better at the beach.
  2. The Pier 60 Nightly Sunset Festival operates all year round, yet, somehow, it seems to have a bit of extra magic in the summer. With the long days and blazing sunsets, the fun-seeking crowds show up to see the street performers and to pick up a unique souvenir from the Pier 60 vendors. For whatever reason, the crowds just seem to cheer the performances a little bit louder in the summertime.
  3. The dolphins of our coast also like the warm summer days. Whether the dolphins would agree with me or not, I don’t know, but it seems easier to get them to play in the wakes of the boats in the summer. I’ll let the dolphins have the last word on that because you can successfully spot them on dolphin tours all year long. On a recent dolphin tour in June, we saw quite a few.
  4. The best thing about summer at Clearwater Beach, however, has got to be the colors of the water. In the summer, the sun shines directly down, piercing the water and lighting up the white sands underneath. That creates a dazzling turquoise color that people love to see. But it’s not just the turquoise that makes the Gulf of Mexico special in the summer. When the waves roll into the sand around your feet, it is remarkably clear. Whether it is the angle of the sun, the amount of light, or some other factor, the summertime waters at Clearwater Beach are remarkable.

So, there you have it. The beach is an awesome place to go in the summer. Now that I’ve said it, it seems kind of obvious.

Perfect waters at Clearwater Beach

Paradise Lost; A Beach in Peril

Posted on: February 18th, 2016 by MB No Comments

Honeymoon Island State Park Beach

4 Million Dollar Face Lift

Honeymoon Island BeachHoneymoon Island received a face lift last year designed to restore its remarkable beaches so that visitors could enjoy the shores that have thrilled beach-goers for decades. Stone jetties were added and sand was pumped onto the shore. The beaches looked fantastic and were ready to move forward, allowing visitors to enjoy the famous Honeymoon Island Beach into the future. The reality, however, has turned out quite different. A trip to the beach just two days ago revealed a troubling picture.

The Perfect Beach

Perfect beach Honeymoon IslandTen years ago when I first toured Honeymoon Island, I was taken by its swaths of white sand, beautiful palms, and ample space for visitors. The beachfront was lined with parking lots that filled up on busy weekends, the sands occupied with happy visitors. I joined them, sunning and swimming at the beach with friends and taking long walks to the north and south along the white-sand shores.

Destructive Storms

Coral rock beachEven then I heard concern voiced for the island due to the shifting sands. Over the years I watched the beach change but after a rather heavy set of storms, I returned to find the sand gone, with the substrate of coral rock in its place. The beach had been carried away so deeply that one section of parking lot had been undercut and collapsed. It was then that the serious efforts to save this cherished beach began in earnest. That led to last year’s jetties and sand replenishment. Logic, a visual study, and the experts agreed that the extra sand would be held in place by the rocks. In fact, the anticipated  sand movement should have piled up against the rocks, allowing nature to create even more beach area. Alas it did not prove so.

No More Beach Walks?

Honeymoon Island beach walkDuring the recent visit, I found most of the beach I had known missing, and certainly no large swaths of sand. January and February had brought high winter tides, which are normal, but the tides were also accompanied by high winds, perhaps associated with the El Nino conditions. The sand that was pumped onto the beach has been effected, and much of it seems to be gone. When I walked north, I saw that during recent high tides, the waters of the Gulf had washed completely across the beach into the inland waterways and only a few, very small areas of beach had remained above the waterline. Honeymoon Island parking lotThe waters reached the parking lot as well, with large pools collected in the low areas of pavement. I cut my walk north short because the rising tide met with the inland shrubbery, leaving no space to walk.

Startling Beach Erosion

Eroded beachBoardwalks led out onto the sand in the past. Those boardwalk ramps have now been shortened, with the ends fenced off and the beach access provided via stairs leading off the sides instead of the ends. When I walked north toward the dog beach area, I was alarmed to find the surf rolling into the mangrove bushes which had once been some fifty yards up the shore. The evidence of shifted sands was everywhere, which included washes of sand pushed inland alongside of uprooted bushes. Dog beach is now divided by a miniature estuary that runs about two feet deep. I will admit, the dogs didn’t seem to mind.

Return of the Natural Beach?

Honeymoon Island jettiWhat will the future of Honeymoon Island be? A placard on site suggests that the island is attempting to revert to the shape it had before development. After watching the sands at the various islands moving about, it seems that letting nature take its course is not a bad idea. As this Herculean effort to restore the beach proves, nature is going to run its course regardless. The question still remains, however, as to whether or not the beach will continue to wash away. Rock barrierThe rock barriers are still in place. Will the calmer summer tides and currents pile the sand back up? The island was created by natural forces so its disappearance is highly unlikely. As for the beach, it seems that a game of wait and see might be in order. I, for one, hope to see natural forces bring the sands back. Wishful thinking? Let’s hope not.

Central Gulf Coast Beaches to Visit

Clearwater BeachArea beaches that are surviving well are Anclote Key, Caladesi Island just to the south, and, of course, Clearwater Beach which has done quite well. Clearwater Beach, may, in fact, be the recipient of some of those migrating sands. Islands south of Clearwater Beach were replenished in the past and casual observation suggests they are remaining intact. If you are looking for sandy beaches in the area to visit, both natural and developed, those would be the locations to visit.

Honeymoon Island Beach

Honeymoon Island dog beachHoneymoon Island was one of the top beaches in the area and a favored seashore for spending the day in the sun and surf. The park’s allure for locals and tourists will continue but without the swaths of soft beach sand that once drew crowds, its future attendance will undoubtedly suffer. The saving graces of the island park include a nature center, picnic area, dog beach, a ferry to a neighboring island, and a nature trail that has remarkable bird watching opportunities.

Best Wishes for Honeymoon Island

Will the county try again to save the beach? Will the erosion create a much different island shape than the one we know today? Will the beach save itself? Or will the jetties create the intended effect and capture the shifting sands?  Those of us who love Honeymoon Island State Park will keep a close watch on its progress and hope for the best.

Honeymoon Island

Save



submit to reddit

Subscribe to feed

Archives

Blog Traffic

Pages

Pages|Hits |Unique

  • Last 24 hours: 692
  • Last 7 days: 6,616
  • Last 30 days: 30,032
  • Online now: 2

Get on our email list!

Receive weekly updates on vacation rental deals and discounts!

Subscribe to our mailing list

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers