ABOVE: A gator cruises the water at sunset at Trout Lake Nature Center (photo supplied by TLNC)
Heading into the great outdoors has never been more popular. Surrounded by its many trails and peaceful lakefront boardwalk, Trout Lake Nature Center (TLNC) has been adding activities for nature lovers eager to be outside. The 230-acre property in Eustis also features a swinging bridge, museum, a picnic area, educational displays and the expansive canopy of a majestic grandfather oak. Here are some of the activities the popular nature center is hosting to lure nature lovers to explore the outdoors: SUNSETS AT THE LAKE TLNC has extended hours on Thursdays to encourage visitors to come out to enjoy the stunning sunsets at the lake. Guests are asked to depart by dusk. NATURE WALKS Visitors can opt to hike the walking trails on their own or join the Wednesday Morning Nature Walks on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month at 9 a.m. BIRDING On the first Saturday of every month there is a Birding and Nature Walk starting at 8 a.m. NATURALIST PRESENTATIONS his month’s Friday Night Naturalist presentation on February 19 is "Gardening For Your Health" by Elizabeth Salazar. The outdoor presentation starts at 6 p.m., weather permitting. $5 donation PACK WALK Visitors can enjoy some quality time with their well-behaved leashed dogs on Saturday, February 20, with a guided walk on the trails. The walk starts at 10 a.m. and there is a $5 donation. NATURE SPROUTS PROGRAM This is a free, fun and active program created for two- to five-year-old children and their favorite adult. It’s held on the fourth Wednesday of each month from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. for a positive nature experience to little ones. Kids respond with wide-eyed awe, as they are introduced to the creatures that make their home at TLNC. (Currently this program has been suspended due to COVID-19) FIELD LEARNING EXPERIENCES TLNC offers activities February 27 1-3 p.m. Activities for school age children and up on February 27 from 1 to 3 p.m. $10 donation. TLNC’s Education Building recently installed a new photography exhibit, “Florida’s Enchanted Waters,” featuring a collection of images of Florida’s springs, swamps and seas as well as the wildlife found at the park. The exhibit by Linda Wilinski will be up until March 1, 2021.
Trout Lake Nature Center is located at 520 E. County Road 44 in Eustis. General admission at the nature center complex is donation-based and funds programs, new exhibits and staff costs. TLNC’s regular hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (extended hours on Thursdays to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.) TLNC is closed for maintenance on Mondays. Phone 352-357-7536 or go to www.troutlakenaturecenter.com/events for more information. For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, this month, click here. Discover the area's online event calendar here. Also download the area's free mobile app.
ABOVE: Honeymoon Island State Park (Florida State Parks photo)
One of the best kept secrets from Central Floridians is the unspoiled treasure a mere 130 miles west of Mount Dora just off the coast from historic Dunedin. A scenic causeway connects the mainland to Honeymoon Island State Park. with four miles of some of the most unspoiled white sandy beaches in the state.
So pack your beach chairs and sunscreen and head out for an island escape just a few miles from Tarpon Springs. There is even a Pet Beach at the park in case you want to take Fido along. Just be sure to follow the leash requirement.
Besides just chilling with your feet in the sand and your eyes on the surf, here are some other things to enjoy while visiting Honeymoon Island:
EXERCISE: Peace and solitude can be enjoyed by walking or running the two-and-a-half-mile sand spit by parking at the northernmost parking lot, then hitting the beach and heading north. The sand spit has grown during the past forty years from a few sandbars to over two miles of the most pristine beach found anywhere in Florida.
The Osprey Trail, a three-mile trail through one of the last remaining virgin slash pine forests, and four miles of beach are also perfect for runners and walkers.
For anyone wanting some exercise on the water, kayaks are available for rent at the island’s concession or visitors can bring their own to explore Pelican Cove which lies between the sand spit and nature trail.
For pedal-powered fun, beach cruisers and multi-passenger surreys are available for rental and can be ridden on the paved trails throughout the island.
BOAT RIDE: Visitors can also take the 20-minute ferry ride from Honeymoon Island Docks across St. Joseph Sound to Caladesi Island. Boat is the only way to get to the pristine island which received the #6 rating for Best Beach in the U.S. in 2020 by Dr. Beach. The ferry departs Honeymoon Island Monday through Friday starting at 10 a.m. and Saturday and Sunday starting at 9 a.m. every half hour or as weather permits.
SHELLING: The island provides exceptional shelling and visitors can eat up a chunk of their day wandering the beaches as they collect the natural treasures.
FISHING: Anglers can put their lines in the water and try to hook spotted sea trout, mackerel, snook and many other species of saltwater game fish.
WILDLIFE: Animal lovers will love the many species of native birds that can be spotted, including osprey, great horned owls, oystercatchers, snowy plovers, least terns, roseate spoonbills, great blue herons and snowy egrets.
On land, visitors can spot lumbering gopher tortoises, armadillos and raccoons along the nature trail and picnic areas.
SHOPPING & DINING: Take a pit stop after the beach to the tree-lined streets of charming historic Dunedin. Main Street is sprinkled with quaint shops and diverse eateries. Mount Dora Buzz recommends Casa Tina for their great vibe, perfect margaritas and incredibly fresh and authentic Mexican food. The Mole Poblano Enchiladas are arguably the very best in Florida.
ISLAND HISTORY: In the early 1940s newsreels, ads and magazines touted the island's undiscovered beaches for newlyweds and honeymoon-type huts with thatched roofs were built for vacationing. As a result, the name was appropriately changed from Hog Island to Honeymoon Island. After the huts fell into disrepair during World War II, they were razed and the 385-acre island was converted into a pristine State park.
The Honeymoon Island State Park is located at #1 Causeway Boulevard in Dunedin and is open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. The cost to enter is $8 per car.