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Things to See and Do in Florida
By Pete Rooney

Florida is almost as well known for its golf courses as it is theme parks and enthusiasts will not be disappointed along the Gulf Coast – Florida boasts over 1,000 courses and there are over 80 in the Naples area alone! Many hotels have their own courses and there are numerous golfing communities where you’ll find private villas to rent. The courses are open year-round but quietest during the summer months from May through to October.

The beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel are known as the "Tarpon capital of the world" and fisherman flock here every spring to fish the Boca Grande Pass. The name of the game however is "Catch and Release" as there is a 50$ state permit fee to kill a Tarpon. For those interested in sea-fishing, there are many charters and fishing trips for all levels of angler – these are available from all along the coast, including Marco Island, Sarasota, Fort Myers Beach, Clearwater and Tarpon Springs. Try your hand at hooking shark, barracuda, black fin tuna and Spanish and king mackerel. There are also miles of shoreline, countless oyster bars and acres of sea grass beds that attract an abundance of salt water fish. For the fresh water angler, Rotonda has miles of canals and numerous golf course lakes offering some excellent bass and catfish. Other popular areas include the freshwater canals in Cape Coral and the Caloosahatchee River. Local freshwater fish include bass, crappie, blue gill and catfish. If you don't fancy bobbing about on the water, there are ample fishing opportunities from the piers and bridges. Popular spots in the St Petersburg/Clearwater area include Long Pier at Redington Beach, Pier60, St Petersburg Pier, Fort De Soto Park and The Friendship Trail Park at Gandy Bridge for Spanish mackerel, red drum, speckled trout and snook.

Many enthusiasts head for Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which encompasses 110,000 acres of uplands, islands, and estuaries from Gordon Pass at Naples to Everglades National Park. There is a visitor centre between Marco and Naples, south of US 41 on Tower Road. Fort Myers Beach & Sanibel are also known for good kayaking – paddle through Pine Island's aquatic preserves for a good look at the local birdlife

Boca Ciega Millennium Park in Seminole, Pinellas County has nature trails as well as pedestrian and cycle paths. Sanibel island offers 17 miles of protected cycle paths, ideal for families. Local companies hire a range of bikes including tandems and accessories for children. Fort de Soto Park on the Pinellas Peninsula has a 7 mile recreation trail where visitors may run, bike, rollerblade or walk The Pinellas Trail is a unique linear park covering 50 miles from St Petersburg to Tarpon Spring with cycle and hiking paths Caloosahatchee Regional Park, Alva offers a 10 mile looped mountain bike trail over rolling terrain with the opportunity of spotting wild boar, deer and gopher tortoises. Bike hire is available in the park. Myakka River is one of Florida’s largest State Parks with ample facilities for walking and cycling. There are seven miles of flat, paved roads for cyclists as well as back-country dirt roads (depending on the weather). Cycles can be hired in the park. Many of the parks which offer cycle tracks have daylight hours of opening and regulations including wearing a helmet so it is always worth checking any local restrictions at the park information centres or cycle hire shops before you set off.

Florida attracts "twitchers" from all over the world, drawn by the vast array of migratory and resident birdlife.The South West Florida Birding Festival takes place on the 19-21 January 2007 providing an excellent opportunity to learn about the rich bird life of this region. There will be guided trips and expert presentations. Full details can be found on the Rookery Bay website (see below). The estuaries, inlets, back-waters and country parks provide many bird-watching opportunities along the Gulf Coast some of the most popular locations are listed here. Pelican Man's Bird Sanctuary in Sarasota is one of the largest Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Centers in the U.S., and home to over 70 species of Florida's native and migratory birds. The Rookery Bay mangrove estuary, just south of Naples, is home to over 150species of birds including bald eagles, ospreys, roseate spoonbills, black skimmers, and least terns. The Sanibel Lighthouse at the eastern tip of the island is a prime viewing spot, particularly during the October migration. Birds spotted here include warblers and Peregrine falcons. The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve near Fort Myers has a boardwalk trail and observation decks for visitors, where you can spy wild turkeys, blue jay, herons and woodpeckers as well as a variety of other wildlife.

Other visitors include bobcats, raccoons,deer and squirrel. The "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is a hotspot for migratory bird populations and serves as a stopover for a number of species, including egrets and night herons. The riverfront at Caloosahatchee Regional Park, Alva is home to blue egrets and great blue herons as well as a vast array of other local wildlife and plant species. Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area, Dunedin has an Osprey trail for a rare glimpse of these magnificent birds in their natural habitat.

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