I really hate being redundant, but once again, another month has ticked away here in sunny Florida. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m retired, or that I try to stay somewhat active and engaged, or simply just the wonderful warmth of the Florida sun that makes the time fly by so fast. But alas here we are, at the end of Mar, leaving only a short while before I start heading north. But as always, it’s been a fun and entertaining month. The picture above represents the various Access Passes you can get from the National Park Service. I mentioned in a recent post that now that I have turned 62, I’m eligible for the lifetime senior pass, which I was very excited about. So, I ventured to the closest national park to pay my one-time $80 fee for the pass, but was instead offered a similar lifetime pass for free. More on that story below.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Apollo Beach
Nestled to the east of Titusville, FL and north of Kennedy Space Center is the 140,000 acre wildlife refuge known as Merritt Island. It is home to over 1000 species of plants, 115 species of fish, 68 amphibians and reptiles, 330 birds, and 31 species of mammals. Many of the mammals living there are listed as endangered by either state or federal sources, and include sea turtles, alligators, osprey, bald eagles, and the manatee to name a few. With public access to all these areas controlled in various ways, the refuge is part of a very substantial area of relatively undisturbed wildlife habitat. It’s a beautiful, lush, untouched area made up of saltwater estuaries, freshwater marshes, as well as dunes and scrub. Sadly, like many other visitor centric venues, several areas were closed including the canal bridge and the manatee observation deck. In fact, even the ranger/visitor center was closed. Good thing my brother had researched that before we left for the trip.
Besides visiting these national areas, my other motivation was to purchase my senior lifetime National Park pass. I’ve purchased the annual pass for the last couple of years, and have enjoyed taking advantage of it by visiting several national parks. Now I get to make one more pass purchase that will last me the rest of my life. In addition, the senior lifetime pass also affords me 50% discount on all national campgrounds (national parks, COE sites, etc.) – many of which I’ve stayed in during my past several year nomad life. So, getting a significant discount on those site fees will be a welcomed benefit. So, seeing that the Merritt Island visitor center was closed, we decided to venture further north and visit Apollo Beach. I inquired at the entrance gate about purchasing a Senior pass, and was then asked for my drivers license ID to verify my age. Now, I happen to also have the Veteran stamp on my drivers license to indicate my armed services past. When the gate ranger noticed that stamp, she indicated that I did not need to purchase the senior pass, that I was already given access to all the parks for free as a veteran. I replied to her that I was aware that I had free access, but the veteran status did NOT include the discounted campground rates. Accordingly, I was ready and willing to pay the $80 for the lifetime senior pass. Well, she indicated otherwise, and proceeded to get me a lifetime access card, but not the senior one, and not even the veteran one, rather, she presented me with the disabled access card, which is in fact a lifetime pass and also participates in the campground discount. I was weary of this, thinking that this access card was only for permanently disabled people, but in the back of my head, I thought maybe they were issuing it in lieu of the senior pass for veterans. Well, I didn’t argue with her as the disabled pass is free to those eligible, and I thought maybe she new better than I. Well, I did some further research later in the evening when I got back to my brothers place, and I have found absolutely no reference to where the disabled pass is being issued to veterans. So, I do believe she was actually mistaken. I do feel guilty about getting the disabled pass as I certainly would not otherwise be eligible for it. I’m going to double check the next time I visit a national park visitor center, and if it turns out that she was in fact wrong, I’ll likely turn in the disabled pass and go ahead and purchase the lifetime senior pass. It’s the right thing to do, and I’m sure the $80 will help with park maintenance and such. So, we’ll see. More on this story in a future edition.
While my brother and I were running around visiting these national park areas, we stopped for lunch at a pretty cool biker bar in the area of Daytona. In fact, it happened to be bike week that week, so the area was crowded with amazing scoots. This venue had welcome signs to attract their event clientele, but also displayed interesting warning signs to ensure everyone remained civil. Turned out to be a very good lunch though!
Visiting Friends & Family
March was another month filled with opportunities to visit with friends and family. I once again connected with my first Air Force assignment roommate Scott and his wife Terry. I had first reconnected with him back in 2018 when I RV wintered here in Florida. It had been upwards of 40 years since I’d seen him then. It’s nice that we didn’t wait that long again to see each other. He recommended a lunch place in Plant City that had world famous Cuban sandwiches, and strawberry/banana shakes. It was a great choice – they were both delicious. After that, we travelled a few miles down the road to a market that also specialized in Strawberry Shortcakes. Cause we surely needed to have dessert after the huge lunch we just had. Plant City, you may recall from a post I made several months ago, is known as the winter Strawberry capital of the world, and represents over 75% of the 8,000 acres of strawberry production in the state of Florida. So, there’s lots of things strawberry related here. In fact, the market also had strawberry infused sweet onions – which are onions planted between strawberry plants which helps with insect control, while also reportedly giving the onions an extra bit of sweetness. So, I bought one and turned it into sausage, onions, and peppers. Granted it was good, but I was not able to detect even the faintest hint of strawberry in the flavor. So, tourist item? Perhaps so!
My nephew Marc and his fiancee Rena and her two daughters Lilly and Bella, were visiting with my brother (his dad) for a few days. It had been years (decades?) since I had seen him, so all my other brothers and I decided we should meet up for a Sunday brunch so we could get to see them. He’s a successful IT security analyst, and she’s a nurse. They will all be heading overseas soon for a couple year work assignment, and are making the rounds to visit with much of their families before they depart. Rena was such a pleasant person, and her two daughters are the cutest, and nicest teens/tweens you could ever meet. It was wonderful seeing Marc again after all these years, and also nice meeting up with his soon to be family. I also had the pleasure of meeting Leaf and Teddy – the ever present and totally accessorized companions that travel with the girls. They even had their own table setup for brunch. Too funny and too cute!
I also got to enjoy my new paver patio and fire pit on a couple occasions this month. My brother Dave and sister-in-law Deb came down for the day for a visit. We had a nice lunch at the local family diner, and then enjoy a somewhat nice campfire afterwords (pictured left – lower right). I say somewhat because it was the first time that I got to use the new firewood that I recently purchased. Turns out it’s still a bit wet, so it was not burning as well as it should have. Oh well, it was a good try. A couple weeks later, my other brother Gerry came out for a weekend visit. We enjoyed a nice campfire on Friday night (I bought some grocery store firewood this time) which turned out great. The next day we went to the farmers market in the morning, then back into downtown for a Mexican dinner, then to see the early evening downtown car show, then off to the little theater to see this months play titled Exit Laughing. It was a fun weekend and I look forward to more when I get back to FL in the fall and winter.
What’s New Downtown
One of the things I really like about Lake Wales is the ever present drive to both beautify and grow the downtown. A couple months ago I featured the latest mural that was painted on the side of a building in downtown (seen here at right) by artist Gillian Fazio. That mural is now the backdrop of a new monthly event called the 3rd Thursday Market. Complete with various food trucks and other delectable venues, this first ever market event was a hit. And, one of the vendors was selling Whoopie Pies, so I of course had to support the local economy and purchase a couple of them. With their peanut butter flavored filling, they were delicious!
I’m anxiously awaiting the grand opening of a new downtown venue called The Ranch Taproom & Coffeehouse. It will be nice having a brew house that makes both beer and coffee. I’m hoping for a low-key casual atmosphere with perhaps music or other special guests to provide some entertainment. Guess we’ll see when it opens. And oh, I also read that our artist friend Gillian has been commissioned by the owners of The Ranch to do her magic inside the venue. I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s done there also.
Well, as much as I’v been enjoying writing these monthly Lake Wales home-base updates, I look forward to a change of scenery and perhaps resuming my blogs with a bit more of a travel theme. I’ll be leaving here on Apr 13, and working my way up north to Maryland for the summer. I’ll be making four stops along the way, and hope to do a bit of sightseeing in those areas. That will then provide the fodder for something a bit more different than yet another Lake Wales update. So, we’ll see next month what adventures I can muster up and write about.
Lastly, I enjoyed spending a few days with my brother Gerry at his place up on the Space Coast. There was a SpaceX Starlink launch scheduled that I was hoping to view and capture on my spotting scope from the vantage point of his ocean side balcony. Sadly, the launch was scrubbed so I was not able to get it this time. So, something to put back on my bucket list for when I return in the fall. Till next time, be safe and happy travels.