Best Place to Hang Out with Treebeard - 2004
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
By the age of 5, most South Floridians would rather watch their television flicker than have a close encounter with nature. But perhaps because of the popularity of Lord of the Rings, it "Ent" impossible to get those kids interested in the gigantic Lofty Fig at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. How could they resist the opportunity to hang out with the shaggy monster that so resembles their beloved Treebeard? The 70- to 85-year-old giant -- like those pesky invasive Australian pines that got hacked away a few years ago -- is non-native, according to rangers at the park, but has historical value because it was likely planted by Mr. Birch, who donated his estate as a public park (opened in 1949). Since the tree is located next to a covered picnic spot ($80 to rent for a day) and a playground, you can admire its winding, cavernous trunk while you drink cold beer and play volleyball. Of course, there's always the option of sitting around the house watching Billy and Jenny's soft little arms maneuver Playstation controllers while you try to figure out how to pay for their ADD meds, but it might be nice to try natural light -- and we don't mean the beer -- for a change. The beachside park with winding trails and preserved natural habitats opens at 8 a.m. and closes at sundown. Entrance is $4 for a carload and $1 per person for walk-ins.