Some things just shouldn't be too civilized. The Everglades is one of them. Even as the state and feds plan to spend untold billions to clean up what we've already done to the River of Grass, the Moloch of commercialization still rears its reptilian head at tourist traps like Everglades Holiday Park and the Billie Swamp Safari. Of course, no one wants to go back to the stinky hell that was the lot of our pioneer forbears, but a simple nod to the creature comforts should be enough when searching out the beauties of nature. That's just what the happy motorist will find at Mile Marker 35 on Alligator Alley. The modest rest stop has a few vending machines, half a dozen picnic tables, and two boat ramps, all watched by a Wackenhut security guard. The big bonus is the only public restroom between Weston and the Miccosukee reservation near the Collier County line. No noisy airboats, nobody pestering you to buy shellacked alligator heads -- just you, your bass boat, and a swamp. Like it was meant to be.
If you combine West Lake Park with the Anne Kolb Nature Center next door, you have one of the biggest public spaces in all of South Florida: almost three square miles of water, mangrove, and room to roam -- all just a whistle away from the ocean. West Lake has a wonderful kids' playground, a big lake where Broward Community College offers sailing and windsurfing classes, and top-notch picnic facilities. On any given weekend, the park bustles with high-powered basketball games, trick in-line skaters, and birthday parties. The six-year-old nature center next door provides a view of Florida as it ought to be. There's a five-level observation tower and delightful canoe trails. Both places are cheap. West Lake admission costs $1; entry to Anne Kolb is free. They're open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the winter and 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in summer. So go east, young man (or woman or child). Leave the 'burbs behind.
Anne Kolb Nature Center
If you combine West Lake Park with the Anne Kolb Nature Center next door, you have one of the biggest public spaces in all of South Florida: almost three square miles of water, mangrove, and room to roam -- all just a whistle away from the ocean. West Lake has a wonderful kids' playground, a big lake where Broward Community College offers sailing and windsurfing classes, and top-notch picnic facilities. On any given weekend, the park bustles with high-powered basketball games, trick in-line skaters, and birthday parties. The six-year-old nature center next door provides a view of Florida as it ought to be. There's a five-level observation tower and delightful canoe trails. Both places are cheap. West Lake admission costs $1; entry to Anne Kolb is free. They're open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the winter and 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in summer. So go east, young man (or woman or child). Leave the 'burbs behind.
Since winning the supervisor of elections post in 2000, this longtime school board member has pushed Broward County's voter-registration rolls higher than those of Miami-Dade's for the first time in history. She's also revamped the way locals vote -- but not without a fight. When she first floated the idea of ATM-style touchscreen machines, commissioners balked. They warmed to the idea a couple of months later and eventually passed a $17.2 million contract with Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software late last year. When some of the new machines showed up with dim screens, Oliphant came down hard on the company and persuaded it to fix the problem. And when the Broward Charter Review Commission tried to take away her control of her department's budget, it received a firsthand demonstration of Oliphant's clout: two rooms full of vocal supporters. Seems the woman in charge of the political process in Broward knows a thing or two about politics herself.
Since winning the supervisor of elections post in 2000, this longtime school board member has pushed Broward County's voter-registration rolls higher than those of Miami-Dade's for the first time in history. She's also revamped the way locals vote -- but not without a fight. When she first floated the idea of ATM-style touchscreen machines, commissioners balked. They warmed to the idea a couple of months later and eventually passed a $17.2 million contract with Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software late last year. When some of the new machines showed up with dim screens, Oliphant came down hard on the company and persuaded it to fix the problem. And when the Broward Charter Review Commission tried to take away her control of her department's budget, it received a firsthand demonstration of Oliphant's clout: two rooms full of vocal supporters. Seems the woman in charge of the political process in Broward knows a thing or two about politics herself.
Never mind its four Little League baseball fields, five football fields, 27-hole golf course, and 40 picnic shelters. The 900-acre Okeeheelee Park goes beyond the traditional role of a community park and takes the meaning of the word recreation to the extreme. Case in point: the five waterski courses -- one of which is a nationally recognized venue for world-class competitions. On any given day, you'll find avid water-skiers and wake-boarders making waves and splashing innocent bystanders at the park's 170 acres of water. All courses can accommodate traditional, barefoot, and kneeboard skiing, and for all of the day-jobbers out there, one of the courses is even lighted for night skiing. BMX bikers young and (slightly) old pull off 180s and 360s at the park's track, which is complete with dirt hills, sharp tricky turns, and half-pipes. Nature lovers walk, jog, and bike through woods and wetlands along the park's 1.2-mile-long nature trail. And as dads turn up the heat at the park's barbecue pavilions, kids run around and play to their hearts' content while the mouth-watering aromas of grilled burgers and corn on the cob fill the air. Additional facilities include a wooden fishing pier, two boat launching ramps, four adult softball fields, volleyball courts, five children's play areas, eight tennis courts, and a nature center. In short, there's something for everyone. And even though it's far from the beach -- the park is practically in the Everglades -- and there isn't a grain of sand in sight, you'll still find plenty of "fun in the sun."
Okeeheelee Park
Never mind its four Little League baseball fields, five football fields, 27-hole golf course, and 40 picnic shelters. The 900-acre Okeeheelee Park goes beyond the traditional role of a community park and takes the meaning of the word recreation to the extreme. Case in point: the five waterski courses -- one of which is a nationally recognized venue for world-class competitions. On any given day, you'll find avid water-skiers and wake-boarders making waves and splashing innocent bystanders at the park's 170 acres of water. All courses can accommodate traditional, barefoot, and kneeboard skiing, and for all of the day-jobbers out there, one of the courses is even lighted for night skiing. BMX bikers young and (slightly) old pull off 180s and 360s at the park's track, which is complete with dirt hills, sharp tricky turns, and half-pipes. Nature lovers walk, jog, and bike through woods and wetlands along the park's 1.2-mile-long nature trail. And as dads turn up the heat at the park's barbecue pavilions, kids run around and play to their hearts' content while the mouth-watering aromas of grilled burgers and corn on the cob fill the air. Additional facilities include a wooden fishing pier, two boat launching ramps, four adult softball fields, volleyball courts, five children's play areas, eight tennis courts, and a nature center. In short, there's something for everyone. And even though it's far from the beach -- the park is practically in the Everglades -- and there isn't a grain of sand in sight, you'll still find plenty of "fun in the sun."
When bicycling enthusiasts organize tours, they head to northern Palm Beach County. And for good reason. While there are few bad views from State Road A1A anywhere along the coast, once north of the pomp of Palm Beach, the back-to-nature scenery is downright stunning, and reminders of Florida's much-ignored history abound. Mangroves reappear, traffic disappears, and the road hugs the beach as it did elsewhere before condos became king. And it looks as good on four wheels as two. A good place to start is Juno Beach, a quaint seaside town of 2800 residents just north of PGA Boulevard. In the late 1800s, the town was the fourth stop on the Celestial Railroad, a short-lived line connecting Juno and Jupiter with train stations the publicity-savvy rail company dubbed Venus and Mars. Continuing north, you'll be surrounded by largely untouched land on the west and the blue expanse of the Atlantic on the east as you pass by the popular Juno Beach pier. At Carlin Park, the road turns west, and you'll have to get out on perpetually traffic-clogged U.S. 1 to cross the Jupiter Inlet. Once over the inlet, you'll see the 105-foot-high, bright-red Jupiter Lighthouse, which was built on an ancient Indian burial ground in 1860 and still provides a beacon to boats today. Head back east to A1A, where you'll be within spitting distance of the Intracoastal. Just north of the county line, stop at Blowing Rocks, a preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy. If you hit it at low tide, you'll discover the meaning behind its name. Sea water shoots out of holes in the porous limestone rock, creating a scene more characteristic of the rugged Pacific Coast than the more placid Atlantic. Since you've come this far, you might as well continue to Jupiter Island, the carefully manicured, old-money haven where the first President Bush went often to visit his mother. Now home to half the top golfers in the PGA, it is also where President Clinton took a highly publicized knee-twisting tumble while staying up late drinking with... er, make that talking to Greg Norman. Drive around and find out how those who consider Palm Beachers riff-raff really live. Cap the drive by taking a dip at the public park at the end of the island. Then what? Drive back and see everything you missed on the way up.
When bicycling enthusiasts organize tours, they head to northern Palm Beach County. And for good reason. While there are few bad views from State Road A1A anywhere along the coast, once north of the pomp of Palm Beach, the back-to-nature scenery is downright stunning, and reminders of Florida's much-ignored history abound. Mangroves reappear, traffic disappears, and the road hugs the beach as it did elsewhere before condos became king. And it looks as good on four wheels as two. A good place to start is Juno Beach, a quaint seaside town of 2800 residents just north of PGA Boulevard. In the late 1800s, the town was the fourth stop on the Celestial Railroad, a short-lived line connecting Juno and Jupiter with train stations the publicity-savvy rail company dubbed Venus and Mars. Continuing north, you'll be surrounded by largely untouched land on the west and the blue expanse of the Atlantic on the east as you pass by the popular Juno Beach pier. At Carlin Park, the road turns west, and you'll have to get out on perpetually traffic-clogged U.S. 1 to cross the Jupiter Inlet. Once over the inlet, you'll see the 105-foot-high, bright-red Jupiter Lighthouse, which was built on an ancient Indian burial ground in 1860 and still provides a beacon to boats today. Head back east to A1A, where you'll be within spitting distance of the Intracoastal. Just north of the county line, stop at Blowing Rocks, a preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy. If you hit it at low tide, you'll discover the meaning behind its name. Sea water shoots out of holes in the porous limestone rock, creating a scene more characteristic of the rugged Pacific Coast than the more placid Atlantic. Since you've come this far, you might as well continue to Jupiter Island, the carefully manicured, old-money haven where the first President Bush went often to visit his mother. Now home to half the top golfers in the PGA, it is also where President Clinton took a highly publicized knee-twisting tumble while staying up late drinking with... er, make that talking to Greg Norman. Drive around and find out how those who consider Palm Beachers riff-raff really live. Cap the drive by taking a dip at the public park at the end of the island. Then what? Drive back and see everything you missed on the way up.
You will not require any additional instructions to find the Seminole Rest Stop on Alligator Alley. If you do, you're clearly beyond help, since it's the only gas station on the nearly 80-mile stretch of toll road. Nor will you need many clues to pick out Wally, the rest stop's resident gator. He lives in the canal that rings the station's south parking lot. Call him and he'll paddle over with a toothy grin. Imbeciles have fed him (don't you dare), which makes him distressingly friendly for a nine-foot-long armored reptilian warrior. Stand on the other side of the chain-link fence, take photographs, and be glad he isn't feeding on you.

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