Thousands of people come to Florida’s Nature Coast each
year between November and March to get close and personal with these 1000-pound aquatic herbivorous mammals
known as “sea cows.” The West Indian manatees congregate
in Florida, and over 400 of them can be seen wintering in
the warm waters of the Crystal River. With a fear of possible extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protects
these gentle animals. You can take guided kayak tours, and
if you’re lucky, perhaps one led by Curt Reilly. You can also
snorkel with the manatees. They are naturally curious animals and may initiate contact, but please do not touch them.
Curt started a kayak club at Glen Lakes that has grown
to 150 members since 2008. “The Weeki Wachee State Park
knew that I had some experience with kayaks, so they asked
me to run the kayaking and canoeing at Paddling Adventures. The state of Florida privatized many of the parks in
2011, so they couldn’t run it with all volunteers.”
50,000 people a year come and paddle down the Weeki
Wachee River—one of the most beautiful rivers in the world
(according to Curt Reilly). The Weeki Wachee River flows to
the Gulf of Mexico. People paddle 5. 5 miles, then are picked
up and taken back to the Paddling Adventure base.
Paddling Adventures has about 120 kayaks and canoes
and are adding paddleboards this year. One of my friends
told me, “Well, captain, you finally have your fleet.”
Last, but certainly not least…the mermaids. Since 1947,
mermaids have been swimming in the waters of the Weeki
Wachee Springs. The spring pumps about 115 million
gallons of fresh water per day at a constant 74 degrees.
Although a bit kitschy, this is a must see. The 400-seat
submerged theatre features daily live mermaid shows. These
beautiful mermaids have to be able to hold their breath for
up to two minutes at a time. Mermaids serve an apprenticeship for a year before performing for the daily live audiences.
The park needed volunteers to dive and clean the windows
for the mermaid show, so that’s just what Curt Reilly did.
“It’s so relaxing. It’s hard to describe. I live three miles
from my work, where I wear shorts and sneakers. People
come to have a wonderful experience and they leave happy.”
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