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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015
Out and about

Cruise back in time

Hernando Today correspondent

Published:   |   Updated: May 24, 2013 at 01:05 PM

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What better way to enjoy an evening than leisurely gazing at river waters while sipping and sampling a variety of wines and cheeses, and all the while enjoying a tranquil pontoon boat cruise.

Sounds like a great date night too.

An evening pontoon boat trip is scheduled to depart at 4:40 p.m. Saturday from Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park for a three-hour excursion down Pepper Creek to the main spring and fish bowl area of the park.

Susan Strawbridge, park services specialist at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, said, "There you will learn about the area's history while you enjoy a taste of wine, cheese, crackers and an assorted fruit bowl. Grape juice and water will also be available. Gary Ellis, Director of Gulf Archaeological Research Institute, will speak about the early peoples of this area. Then, park volunteer Bert Henderson will do a presentation on the area's history since the 1800s."

Gary Ellis, director and archaeologist from the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute in Crystal River, has researched the coast and its sequence of human cultures for more than 20 years. During the cruise he will talk about the Nature Coast's rich natural history.

"Archaeological resources support an extensive prehistory dating from as early as 12,000 B.C. to the European Contact period in the early 16th century. The panoply of past cultures includes simple hunter and gatherers to fairly sophisticated mound-building cultures all of whom relied heavily on the bounty of the coastal estuarine environment. Together we will explore the evidence from the past, how that is studied and interpreted, the implications of such studies on present day populations, and learn how we connect the past to our future," said Ellis.

Bert Henderson, Ellie Springs Homosassa State Park volunteer, will then discuss a timeline of important dates that affected the Homosassa area beginning about 1800 to the present.

Some interesting quick facts about Florida include: On Feb. 22, 1819 "The Florida Purchase Treaty" was signed where Spain ceded over Florida to the U.S. assuming $5 million of legal claims by U.S. citizens against Spain. On March 30, 1822, Florida became an organized incorporated U.S. territory. And later, on March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the Union.

One of Florida's historic figures, David Levy Yulee, became a Florida territorial delegate to Congress in 1841, who later became Florida's first U.S. senator in 1845. Yulee later employed workers to build a sugar mill near the Homosassa River in 1851 which operated until 1864 and is now known as the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park in Homosassa.

From 1887 to 1888, the Silver Springs, Ocala and Gulf Railroad Company opened a new line to Homosassa from Dunnellon, thus opening up trade along the Homosassa River area along with fishing and hunting tourism opportunities for the area.

During the 1920s, Florida experienced a great land boom. Investors and developers came in large numbers to buy land. In 1924, one such man named Bruce Hoover from Chicago founded the Homosassa Development Company, buying up land around Homosassa Springs. The train often stopped at Homosassa Springs to let passengers see the crystal clear waters of the spring. Hoover built a bridge and observation deck over the springs for visitors to view the beautiful spring and its many fish.

Henderson said, "My discussion will continue through time and include the Homosassa Park beginning as an attraction in 1945 and ending with the purchase of the park by the State of Florida in January of 1989."

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park's 210 acres is home to many species of wildlife, include black bear, bobcats, cougar, deer, alligators, grey fox, otters, turtles and numerous birds. The park is also a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned West Indian manatees.

Tickets for Saturday's evening cruise may be purchased at the park's visitor center, located at 4150 South Suncoast Boulevard (U.S. Hwy 19) in Homosassa. Tickets are limited and are $25 each, so early purchase is recommended. Please arrive by 4 p.m. as tickets must be presented before boarding the boats.

In addition, four prints of a painting of Florida manatees, entitled "Hope Renewed," will be offered as door prizes at the event. The prints are signed, initialed, numbered, and dated by artist Barry Barnett.

In the event of rain, a rain date of June 1 has been scheduled.

For more information, contact the park (352) 628-5343 or visit

Hernando Today correspondent Heather Francis can be reached at toheatherfrancis (at)

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