~Sunday, February 19, 2023~
It’s amazing how much different the climate is just being 150 miles south of the Tampa area; a more humid, more tropical vibe. But then again, we shouldn’t be too surprised since Collier Seminole is situated in one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world. And we won’t be short on activities as there are a ton of biking trails, kayak routes through swamps, airboat tours, fabulous beaches, botanical gardens and food festivals (at least this weekend). In fact, we’re hitting one today……the 52nd Annual Everglades Seafood Festival in Everglade City.
Yesterday, we got a little tip from our campground gardener, Henry, that if we chose to go to the festival, to drive as far as possible, then park and ride our bikes
the rest of the way. So that’s what we did. The drive took us about 30 minutes from our campground and we found perfect FREE lawn parking just 5 minutes from the event while others were shelling out $5 to $20 to opportunistic shop owners to park in their lots. The line to get in was quite long as the hot Florida sun beat down on us. But the volunteers were on it where we got our festival bracelets in about 5 minutes.
The turn-out was excellent with a predominant 40 to 50 year-old crowd. Our impression was that most of the people there were Floridians so it was neat to share a little cultural experience with the locals. Lots of motorcycle groups and music fans.
The bands were excellent. Wes Shipp and Whey Jennings, the grandson of country legend, Waylon Jennings, were top notch as the event’s headliners. The food booths consisted of the normal greasy fair food, but if you’re going to call your event a seafood festival, you better have some pretty awesome fish. We couldn’t decide between the $30 fried Grouper or the Gyros that were only $9. We can see spending $30 on an entree at a restaurant, but at a food festival? Even though it wasn’t seafood, the Gyros won
out and they were deeeelicious! And what would a festival be without a little mechanical bull-riding? It was nice to see the volunteers go easy on the younger kids, even giving them another chance if they fell off too early. And the number of booths were endless from t-shirts to handmade furniture. Our favorite was the Tiki Booth sign guy. I imagine he sells a lot of these in Florida especially. Colorful and clever with his aphorisms, and only $25.
I would have bought one in a second had we had the perfect tiki setup.
We appreciated any sun protection the scattered clouds offered us.
It was that hot. But we also got relief when we met a very friendly gentleman handing out hand fans that also served as a little advertisement for the local museum. He happened to be the curator for the Museum of the Everglades which was also part of the festival. The museum was formerly an old laundry building, now packed with interesting artifacts and displays from early Native American times to current day. It’s even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And it was packed with information as we learned so much about what brought the Everglades region to what it is today. Take the airboat for instance which is generally credited to inventor Alexander Graham Bell in 1905. However, in 1920, aviation pioneer and South Florida developer Glenn Curtiss built the first airboat created specifically for the purpose of navigating the area’s grassy wetlands. We also learned some interesting facts about W.D. Collier who is no relation to Barron Collier (who started Collier County and for whom our campground is named after). Along with his parents and 9 siblings, Collier arrived in 1870 aboard a schooner on a voyage to Key West to a nearly deserted island. After his father purchased many land rights, William would eventually establish Marco Island’s first store and 20-room hotel. But it was his contributions to the community, serving as county commissioner that led to Marco Island’s first “Tourist Park”, a drive-in campground if you will. We even saw the Everglades Choo-Choo which was a “swamp buggy” that had ridden
all over the Collier County swamps from the 1940’s thru the 1970’s. Economically, there was great opportunity for many who settled here well before it became the popular tourist attraction we know today. Non-native settlers were drawn to the area not just for selling pelts and hides, but for raising a wide variety of crops from the rich fertile soil. One of the most fascinating stories was about the building of the Tamiami Trail which our 7,271-acre park sits on, otherwise known as Highway 41. This 264-mile long road took 13 years to build, officially opening in 1928 as a way to connect Tampa to Miami (a cross-state highway), thus the name Tamiami. And one of the most vital pieces of machinery that aided in building this highway was the “Walking Dredge” , invented in 1924 for the purposes of “walking” over the vast expanses of wet and swampy land where wheeled machines could not. Who knew we’d be combining history and a food festival?
After a full-day of excitement and the heat, Jeff and I somehow managed to cook a fabulous meal of fish tacos. It was a dual effort which is sort of rare for us since there’s usually only room for one in the kitchen. But we made it work. While I made the guacamole from our HUGE Antillian Florida avocados, the chipotle/adobo mayonnaise sauce and the coleslaw, Jeff was in charge of frying the tortillas, and grilling up the Tilapia with his oh so special spice rub. Fresh and oh, so yummy!