Best Place To Learn About Nature/Palm Beach 1999 | Gumbo Limbo Nature Center | Sports & Recreation | South Florida
The collection of dark-stained, cedar-sided buildings that houses the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center's classrooms, labs, and displays looks like ski lodges. The illusion is furthered by what appear to be several giant hot tubs spread out below the deck out back. But instead of decompressing skiers, the tanks are filled with turtles, fish, lobsters, and sharks, which staff members point out and explain to kids and families. Beyond the main complex are an outdoor amphitheater and interpretive nature trail with numbered signs marking trees and plants. The amphitheater is used for portions of some of the many classes and programs offered, but participants don't sit around for long. Hikes through the center's hardwood hammock and along the nearby beach back up the talking part of classes, and one program has nature buffs analyzing the puffer fish, baby barracuda, and blue crabs they find after dipping a seine into the lagoon. For the less adventuresome, however, just kicking back on the shaded deck of the center can be an in-depth lesson in native plants: Dozens of varieties, each with an information card hanging nearby, live in pots that line the deck railing.
Though there are no mountains to climb in South Florida, a few mountain biking tracks do require a substantial amount of technical expertise and endurance to conquer. Not Quiet Waters. It is neither a tire buster nor a dull flat track, and therein lies its attractiveness. The South Florida Trail Blazers volunteered to turn this lakeside trail into a legitimate track in the early '90s. Numerous large roots that beg to be jumped stand in the rider's way, and there's a modest 20-foot clay hill to climb. We are drawn to the "jungle section," where weaving in and out of bushes, trees, and shrubs is more fun than a bike jockey should be allowed to have. A more moderate novice track awaits those who are taking their first pedal down the mountain biking road. The most important advantage to this trial may lie in its all-season availability, for it is 90 percent in the shade. That relative coolness in summer turns the water-park pool you ride past into a casual thought, not a life-saving necessity.

This ride that encompasses the best of Florida's two worlds: a trek through a canopy of trees and a ride along the beach with its glitzy view of the sea. Start by taking the easy, two-mile ride through the park and roll by the Australian pines and banyan trees that make this a great little urban park, complete with sea turtles and rascally raccoons. You can loop around on the paved road as many times as you want, but be careful, the road is shared with automobile traffic. Then exit the park and prepare for phase two. Pull out the wraparound shades, put on the headphones, and strip down to bare essentials, for you are about to ride along a bustling South Florida beach. Ride south on the ocean-side sidewalk against the traffic of A1A, the better to spot beach scenes and suck in the salty air. Pedal down to the south beach area and head back. Those of you belonging to the Train and Trash Club can stop at the Elbo Room and erase any thirst built up during this less-than-grueling ride.
Theirs is a life much different from ours, and it resides in those mansions occupied by the monied class of Palm Beach. The overly wealthy buy these big, showy homes by the water, then put up hedges and fences to keep us, the riffraff, from getting good, close-up looks at them at their leisure. This ride along the eastern edge of Lake Worth allows you to peer into their back yards and see for yourselves what Robin Leach used to tell us about. By standing on your pedals, you attain a height of about seven feet, and you can thereby see over many of the fences and hedges meant to block your view. Look to your right and see Buffy and Reginald serving cocktails after a mild day on the yacht. Now quickly look left and see their oversize yacht parked at their personal dock. The nearly five-mile, out-and-back route begins at the Flagler Museum; ascots are optional.
It seems like almost everyone in Broward County has a pair of in-line skates, and all of them would like to be able to skate in a safe, stress-free environment. It's difficult to do it on the beach or along Las Olas Boulevard, where it's crowded and the pavement is too uneven, and besides, those places are for people who like to see and be seen. So where can you Rollerblade safely on a smooth, paved path and without feeling self-conscious about your skating ability? Would you believe at the Pompano Beach Air Park, located just north of Atlantic Boulevard on Federal Highway? The path surrounding the small general-aviation airport gives you a really good workout, whether you do one lap or ten. The 4.5-mile path is a skater's dream, and there's plenty of room for both novice and seasoned skaters to roll in harmony.
If you want lions and tigers and bears, oh my, then you're better off at Dreher Park Zoo in West Palm Beach or Lion Country Safari. But if it's local flora and fauna you crave, then you can't beat this massive preserve in south central Palm Beach County. It's all that remains of the northern portion of the Everglades, and more than a dozen categories of endangered and threatened species live there, including the American alligator and the extremely rare snail kite. There are also lizards, frogs, snakes, raccoons, armadillos, otters, bobcats, deer, and fish, although the refuge's big draw, especially in winter, is its dazzling array of native and migratory birds. Two main nature trails are available, a marsh trail with an observation tower and a boardwalk through a 400-acre cypress swamp, as well as a five-and-a-half-mile canoe trail. Be sure to take binoculars and, because insects are a big part of the park's population, bug spray.
We give this place four paws up! The 2.5 acres of fenced-in park is built exclusively with mutts (or purebreds) in mind. It offers obstacle courses, wading pools, water fountains for dogs, and cleanup bags for, well, you know. Canines romp on the main grassy area while their owners sit and watch the frolic from the shade. For dogs more agile of body and mind, there is a complete obstacle course with cement tubes to run through, jumps, ramps, and weave poles. The pooch park is the idea of a local veterinarian who saw the need for dogs to get off those doggone leashes and run. Although relatively quiet during the week, the park can get crowded on weekends, so watch out for the big dogs. Woof.

Ignore the "Family" in the name. If you're seeking a friendly, comfortable environment to take the kids, try Hollywood Billiards or Kiss Shot Billiards in Jupiter. Gold Crown is an uninviting, dimly lit decades-old pool hall west of Young Circle that just happens to attract some of the meanest shooters ever to chalk up a pool cue. On any given night, you might find such pool luminaries as Danny Diliberto or Toby Sweet lounging at the bar, or picking up a game of one-pocket. Most nights the house man is John Foster, one of the top nine-ball players in the state of Florida. If you're looking for a money game, there's almost always one to be had. Just sidle up to the table nearest the cash register (the table recently fitted with a new felt cloth), and see who's looking for action. The 11 Gold Crown tables here are old and worn but still have smoother rails and more dependable pockets than most tables half their age. In other words the cliché holds true for pool tables: they don't make em like they used to. The omnipresent billiard dogs adorn the walls, as do black-and-white photos of pool greats such as Willie Mosconi, Minnesota Fats, and Abbott and Costello. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day you can play all you want for $5. Go early and hone your stick skills. Maybe then you'll be ready for the regulars.

Spread across 666 acres at the edge of the Everglades, Markham is a park apart from the congestion and development of Broward County. Labradors bound up grassy slopes, solitary fishermen patiently eye their poles, families gather on wooded campsites. The impressive list of facilities includes a target range, astronomical observatory, model-airplane field, boat ramps and rentals, and mountain bike and equestrian trails. But the nostalgia of Boy Scout outings and wilderness trips and backyard barbecues is what gives this park that "peaceful, easy feeling" the Eagles sang about back in the '70s, when Markham Park opened.
Lake Osborne composes almost half of John Prince Park's 726 acres and contributes to its bucolic character. Knotted ficus trees -- bent trunks supported by spindly fingers, aerial roots brushing the hair of visitors below -- evoke visions of J.R.R. Tolkien's gnomelike hobbits. A five-mile bicycle path winds around the park and over the lake, 20 Fit-Trail stations have diagrams for an exercise-by-numbers effect, and wood fences line roads of pitted white powder. Even the potholes are charming.

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