Florida Tourism - Changing Faces
By: Jennifer Harpez
It’s funny how it’s
turned out. I was born and raised in Florida, just miles from
several major tourist destinations, including Cape Canaveral
and Disney World. These days, I return to Florida a couple times
a year to visit my family, and end up playing the role of a
This time of the year
is one of those times. It’s March in Colorado - the middle
of winter. Year after year, it never fails, I find myself daydreaming
of being in Florida, until I finally breakdown and purchase
an airline ticket. Today, as I sit at my desk, I’m reminiscing
of running down River Road in Cocoa, Florida, with the warm,
humid air rushing against my face. In December, my husband and
I did, indeed, take an exhilarating run on River Road. This
historic road is a mighty curvy road that follows the Indian
River for miles. The east side of the road borders the river.
The west side is bordered by beautifully refurbished early 20th
century estate homes. The length of the road is strewn with
all varieties of palm and Spanish moss-draped oak trees. I’ve
discovered that the city of Cocoa, along with its intriguing
history and delightful streets and shops is just one of the
many treasures to be discovered in Florida.
I’ve learned this
and more about Florida visiting in the last few years than I
did in the first 18 years of my life as a resident. I began
partaking in ecotourism tours in Florida a few years ago and
quickly learned that Florida tourism has evolved. Visitors now
come from around the world not just to experience the magic
of Disney, but to take in Florida’s natural beauty. They
visit the state to experience its open marshland, forest, and
state parks. They come to discover outdoor adventure and activity.
They travel via air boat in its rivers to view wildlife. They
travel via sea kayak upon its surf to experience the thrill
of its ocean shores. I continue to learn more and more about
the soft adventure opportunities available within the state.
Today, Florida tourists are lucky to have the chance to travel
by foot, along the state’s numerous forest trails. I recently
received a copy of Footprint, the newsletter of the Florida
Trail Alliance. “Wow,” I thought. I didn’t
know that Florida had such an organized and managed trail system.
Being an avid hiker in Colorado, I was thrilled to learn about
this system of trails.
The Florida Trail is a
1300 mile long trail system, with points from just south of
Pensacola to just south of Miami. Travelers along the trail
will find chances to mountain bike, camp, and wade through waist-deep
water. If nothing else, this is what Florida tourism should
be about, I’ve thought to myself. The trail takes hikers
through primal wilderness where wildlife is more prevalent than
human life, and ecosystems are allowed to thrive. The Footprint
states that in Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve, along the Lower
Suwannee River, “twelve different natural communities
have been identified…” In addition, the trail offers
opportunities for various levels of hikers, from easy to navigate
flat ground, to the more advanced sandy beach-like sections.
The most adventurous can take on a long distance expedition
over miles and miles of the trail, which is what I hope to do
someday. I send kudos to the Florida Trail Alliance for maintaining
the Florida Trail. Ultimately, they greatly contribute to Florida
tourism and the economy of the state.
As a Florida tourist I’ve
deep sea fished off Cape Canaveral, sea kayaked in Daytona Beach,
hiked in the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, kept a keen eye
for wildlife in the Banana River, observed the distinguished
birds of Pelican Island, run on the shores of Cocoa Beach, and
spent quality time in historic downtown Cocoa. I’ve only
begun my journey as a Florida tourist, though. As I learn of
the many opportunities for sport, nature loving, and adventure
in Florida I continue to plan my next adventure. Soon, I will
windsurf in the Gulf’s salty waters, snorkel in the Keys,
airboat through the Everglades, hike with my brother in the
“hills” of the Apalachicola National Forest, and
will even consider sky diving off the coast, with a bit of persuasion.
My past encounters, and
the knowledge I’ve gained over the past few years, has
helped to solidify the pride I feel for my hometown origins.
More than ever, I am proud to have grown up in Florida, and
to now have the chance to contribute to Florida tourism. The
feelings that I’ve developed inspire me to continue to
travel to Florida, not only to spend time with my dear family,
but to act as a visitor. I am excited about my future visits
to Florida. As a Florida tourist, my mind is open to learning,
and my spirit is open to experiencing the natural and historic
wonders abundant in Florida. As a result, I can hopefully inspire
others to be a part of Florida tourism, and all of the beauty
that comes with it.