Out & About at Stephen Foster State Park
As mentioned in our previous post, we revisited the attractions at Stephen Foster State Park as well as explored some new ones. In the midst of all the fun stuff we had a not so so fun experience, nothing terrible but more of a nuisance. Read on to learn about that.
First we’ll cover the fun stuff!
Stephen Foster Craft Square Blacksmith Shop
After visiting the Cousin Thelma Boltin Craft & Gift Shop in Craft Square, we wandered down to the blacksmith shop. Jim, a volunteer from the Adirondacks, showed us the process required to make knives and other items using a coal (coke) fired forge. Today he was making items from recycled steel cable that probably previously supported telephone poles. It was fascinating watching him. He made us an “S” hook, showing us how he heats the metal in the forge, holds it against the anvil (this one dated back to the 1700’s), then hammers it into a square profile and forms the hooks, then heats the straight part until using his tools he is able to twist it.
Another project Jim showed us was forging a railroad tie spike into a knife. And yet another project he described, again using the utility cable, was making a high strength knife with a forge welding technique using borax as flux. The metal is heated and folded over and over many, many times, “welded” by working it with the borax. Jim indicated this was a process similar to how the famous and mysterious Damascus steel was forged in Middle Eastern sword making.
Jim has only been a blacksmith for about 5 years but only on a part time basis. Interesting to hear that he is the founder of the Adirondack Folk School in Lake Luzerne, New York. He explained that he wanted to find a way to revitalize the economy in the historic downtown district of Lake Luzerne as well as rekindle interest in the crafts.
His school which opened in 2010 is located in the former Lake Luzerne town hall building which originally was an Odd Fellows lodge built in the 30’s. This historic building now houses a number of class rooms and offers over 250 classes in Fiber Arts, Basketry, Woodworking, Ceramics, Woodcarving, Felting, Quilting, Fly Tying, Gourd Art, and more. Pretty interesting guy!
Stephen Foster Museum
Everything we saw this year was pretty much the same as last year. Loved looking at the handmade dioramas dedicated to the Stephen Foster songs again. The work and craftsmanship required to create each one of these is phenomenal. Only raw materials can be used, each item is attached by hand, and moving parts such as the paddle wheel on the Belle of the Suwannee turns at the exact speed as the original. What a tribute to Stephen Foster!
For details about Stephen Foster, the museum and carillon, you can read the detailed post that we wrote last year. Looking at the photos we took then versus the photos that we took this year, they are pretty much the same.
One thing was different though this year, during an afternoon visit to the museum, a man and a woman were giving a concert, each playing a dulcimer. Not knowing anything about dulcimers, I picked up one of the flyers about one of the players, Michael Vickey. Michael is a Florida Old Time Music Champion for both the Hammered Dulcimer and the Mountain Dulcimer as well as a member of the Good For Nuthin’ Band. In the photo on the right, he is playing the mountain dulcimer, a hammered dulcimer is on the stand in front of him.
The hammered dulcimer was brought to North America by European immigrants in the early 1700s. It is is a stringed instrument with the strings stretched over a trapezoidal sounding board. Typically, the hammered dulcimer is set on a stand, at an angle, before the musician, who holds small mallet hammers in each hand to strike the strings. He didn’t play this dulcimer while we were there.
The mountain dulcimer, first made by early settlers who migrated to Appalachian area, is a fretted string instrument of the zither family, typically with three or four strings. Nice, easy to listen to music.
Stephen Foster Carillon
The 200 foot campanile and 97 bell carillon which was installed in 1958 is one of the largest musical instruments in the Western Hemisphere and the world’s largest tubular carillon because of the number of bells. Except for a period of time when it was silenced during the early 1980’s due to the enormous maintenance cost of the aging system, Stephen Foster’s melodies have been majestically ringing throughout the park four times a day. In between the playing of the melodies, the bells chime every 15 minutes. Nothing better than sitting outside or taking a walk listening to the bells chiming a Stephen Foster song.
White Springs Heritage and Welcome Center (Note this has been closed permanently)
Every time we drove in or out of the historic little town of White Springs, we would pass by the White Spring Heritage and Welcome Center. Finally I told Rob that I wanted to stop there to see what that was all about.
One half of the building was a gift shop with many arts and crafts by local artisans on display and for sale. Some pretty neat stuff. The other half of the building had the usual brochures and information that you typically find in a welcome center.
The town of White Springs on the banks of the Suwannee was incorporated in 1885. It gained popularity back in the 1800’s after Bryant Sheffield purchased 1000 acres on the Suwannee that included the second-magnitude springs (magnitude is determined by the size and flow rate of the spring), thought to have healing waters. He built the original log cabin Springhouse.
By 1880 when Florida’s timber boom had arrived and cotton was king, White Springs was Florida’s first tourist destination boasting more than 500 hotel and boarding house rooms, river boardwalks, two moving picture shows, a roller rink and the elaborate multi-level spring house. In 1903 the original log cabin was replaced when “Minnie Mosher Jackson built the concrete and coquina wall still standing along with a four-tiered structure that included treatment rooms, a concession area, and an elevator.”
The remnants of the structure still remain – we walked down from the parking lot to take a look. Interesting structure, hard to envision what it really was like back in the early 1900’s. You can read more about the history of the Springhouse here.
Big Shoals State Park
On one bright, sunny day, we decided to take a drive over to Big Shoals State Park which has the largest whitewater rapids in the state of Florida, earning a Class III Whitewater classification when the water level is 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level (which it was on this day). A popular place attracting both thrill-seeking canoe and kayak enthusiasts.
After leaving the campground, we headed out on US 41 but then neither one of us saw County Road 135 so we missed the turn because of road construction. But luckily we quickly realized our mistake and turned around.
Finally we turned onto SE 94 Street which was a well maintained dirt road. Four miles later we were at the parking lot where the trail head for the Big Shoals hiking trail (yellow blaze trail) began. It would be about a 1-1/4 mile walk to the rapids.
The trail was marked as being moderately strenuous but I think that was only because of all the tree roots along the trail. We had to keep our heads down to watch where we were stepping to avoid tripping. Because the river was so high due to recent rains, we could see a strong current flowing.
Along the way I had checked my c:geo app on my phone to see if there were any geocaches to be found along the way. Yippee, there were two. The first one was located about half way along the trail, a fairly easy find.
Wow, suddenly we were there at the overlook of the rapids! Impressive? Heck yes! Hard to capture in a photo but here’s a short video.
Never seen tea colored rapids before. Tea colored? Yes, the waters of the Suwannee River are brown, stained from the tannins of the cypress trees and oak leaves. Doesn’t look too inviting for swimming (especially with the alligator sign)! Not that swimming in the rapids would be a good idea anyway unless you get dumped from your canoe or kayak. Water must be too cold, no kayakers in sight. We stayed there for a bit watching the rapids and listening to the roar of the water.
Right near by we found the second geocache, this one a little more difficult but maybe we’ve found enough of them now to have a sense of where to look. After that eureka moment, we could have continued on the trail past the rapids but we decided to head back to the car. Well worth the hike!
When we arrived at the car, Rob decided that we should find the paved Woodpecker bike trail over to Little Shoals. Only a 3.5 mile ride (one way) he told me. Hmmm 3.5 miles, I can do that I told myself, not thinking that that really meant a 7.0 mile round trip.
So off we went winding our way through puddles (it had rained the day before), across bridges and through woods and groves of palmettos. It was a nice but somewhat tiring (at least for me), slightly uphill ride especially after all the walking we had been doing.
Does this go on forever I wondered. Ah, at last we were there. Huh, this is it?? Not quite what we expected – it was a picnic area, not Little Shoals. From the map it appeared that getting to Little Shoals would require more biking or walking along the Mossy Ravine Trail (marked as a Mountain Biking Trail on the map). Ah, no thank you! So off we went in reverse, retracing the bike path back to the car.
Now for the not so fun part…
When we left the parking lot near the trail, we heard a “clinking” noise which Rob figured was just a stone in the tire tread. Then as we got closer to the campground, not only did the clinking noise continue but now it was accompanied by an unusual “whooshing” sound. It was a regular symphony orchestra of noises! Turned out that the “whooshing” noise was just a long branch that was caught under the front of the car. Back at the campsite, Rob checked out the tires. Oh, oh, the driver side rear tire had a 1/4″ diameter x 1″ long machine screw stuck in it. Oh great, wonder where we picked that up! Luckily the tire wasn’t losing significant air. Not sure why but we’ve had rotten luck with tires in the past year!
Shucks, too late to do anything about it that day – let’s have a campfire to contemplate the situation. We’ll worry about that ol’ tire tomorrow.
The next morning the tire had only lost a little air so we headed over to Live Oak to the Walmart Tire Express, stopping for breakfast at the Dixie Grill Restaurant where we both had bacon and eggs, homefries and toast. Little greasy but good.
At Walmart, Rob had the technician check to see if the tire could be repaired. Since the nail was in the outermost edge of the tread, it was considered a side wall penetration so they couldn’t/wouldn’t repair it. They didn’t have the particular Michelin tire in stock but they could order it and have it the next day around 11:00 a.m. So the next day, it was back to Walmart we went. Luckily, it wasn’t crowded so we were out of there within an hour with a new tire and $170 poorer. Oh well, stuff happens!
That wraps up our stay at Stephen Foster. On Saturday, January 31st, it was time to hit the road again.
Ouch, on the tire, but nice way to relax in your comfy chair by the fire and Sparky. The breakfast looked yummy–our kind of food.
Your blog is fascinating.
Thanks for the compliment. Yes, the tire definitely was an ouch – we just replaced the tires back last September so it was pretty new.
Bummer about the tire, but at least you were able to get it replaced without too much inconvenience. We really must put Stephen Foster on our bucket list. So much to see. What a great introduction you’ve provided!
Thanks, Margery! Definitely a neat state park with a lot to see and do. I forgot to mention in our post that there’s also a historic walking tour of the town of White Springs that might be interesting. We didn’t get a chance to do that.
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