WIMAUMA – Just five miles south of Sun City Center, Little Manatee River State Park is concealed behind acres of floodplain forest and low-lying hammocks. Since its purchase by the state in 1974, the park has served as a haven for avid outdoor enthusiasts.
For some reason, however, it’s always been a well-kept secret from the rest of the South Shore community.
Park ranger Christy Burch plans to remedy this oversight by hosting what she hopes will become an annual event at the park. She and park volunteers are inviting residents to explore the park’s many resources during its first Spring Fling on Saturday, April 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“This is designed to be an ecofriendly family event to promote all the activities the park has to offer,” Burch said. “Our mission is to provide recreation while showcasing our natural resources. So this event will give us a chance to introduce residents to this great venue.”
The Spring Fling will feature more than 25 vendors and exhibitors, including The Florida Aquarium, Florida Forest Service and special guest Smokey Bear, as well as the Suncoast Beekeepers Association and Save the Manatee Club.
Local artists also will be on hand, displaying handmade jewelry, wood carvings, natural artisan soaps and candles, wildlife paintings and cigar box guitars.
The event will feature live music by singer/songwriters Bud Buckley of Venice and Joe B. of Palmetto, Florida Cracker rope-making demonstrations, outdoor yoga sessions and native wildlife provided by the Justin Mathews Wildlife Rescue, the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center and Save All Birds Rescue.
“We’ll have a number of activities for kids near the park playground, including fish printing, a puppet show, face painting and a kids coloring contest,” said Burch.
Throughout the day, families can participate in park ranger-guided hikes and horseback rides, and explore the river’s marine life by trying their hands at dip netting.
Pretzels, lemonade, Italian ice, Little Manatee River shirts, hats and koozies will be available for purchase from the Friends of the Little Manatee State Park. The Sweet Day Native Nursery in Parrish will be on hand with native plants for sale.
“We’re looking forward to showing the community all we have to offer,” Burch said. “This park is such an affordable way for families to reconnect and get active in a beautiful, natural setting where they can learn about nature and appreciate native wildlife.”
Burch’s own appreciation of Florida’s 170 state parks began at an early age. Her father was a park ranger and she literally grew up at state parks.
“My dad was a ranger for 35 years at various parks throughout the state, including Wekiwa Springs and St. George Island state parks,” she said. “I really grew to love our parks.”
Burch became a second-generation park ranger in 1999 and was assigned to Little Manatee four years ago.
“I’m a big fan of the state park system,” she said. “It’s part of my legacy, and that’s why I’m anxious to promote this park. Every park is different so I want residents to see what Little Manatee River State Park has to offer.”
Among the services provided at the park are bicycle, canoe and kayak rentals; 6.5 miles of hiking trails; 12 miles of equestrian trails and four equestrian campsites, each with two horse stalls; 34 recreational vehicle campsites with electricity, water, restrooms and showers; a primitive campground and a youth or group campground; a picnic area by the river equipped with pavilions, picnic tables and grills; and the opportunity to cast a fishing line into the river or one of its streams to catch bass, bream and catfish.
Little Manatee River State Park is located at 215 Lightfoot Road, off U.S. 301 in Wimauma. The Spring Fling is free but the cost to access the park is $5 per vehicle.
For information, visit the park website here or call (813) 671-5005.
D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]