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Manatee swims by, Citrus County, Florida 1-8-50-12Citrus County, Florida’s Natural Choice


Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher

            Citrus County is a quiet place, midway up Florida 's west coast.  The area offers outdoor recreational opportunities for the entire family.  Maybe you haven't heard about the area, but the manatees have.  From a manatee's perspective, it is the place to spend the winter. Homosassa  Springs  Wildlife  Park Manatee swimming 1-8-50-10

            Manatees are large aquatic animals--harmless, gentle giants.  West Indian manatees (the species found in Florida ) may reach a length of 13 feet and weigh up to 3,000 pounds.  The more common adult size is about 10 feet in length and weighing 1,000 to 1,800 pounds.  Florida supports the bulk of the US manatee population, with as many as 2,000 of them in the state.  Florida has a long history of protecting the animals, passing the first laws of protection in the 1890's.

Homosassa  Springs  Wildlife  Park Manatee resting 1-8-50-14            Their great size, and the fact that they feed on aquatic vegetation, probably explains why they are often referred to as "sea cows."  Their thick gray-brown skin reminds one more of an elephant than a cow, however.  Manatees have no natural enemies and therefore have no defensive mechanism, other than to swim away from a danger.  They present a threat to no creature. Homosassa  Springs  Wildlife  Park 1-8-50-6

            Manatees are equally at home in fresh or salt water, but seldom found in water deeper than 20 feet.  Air-breathing mammals, they surface frequently for air, breaking the water's surface only with their snouts.  Sleeping manatees may remain submerged for long periods (nearly an hour, we were informed by an official at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park ).  Warm-blooded creatures, they are very sensitive to sudden temperature changes and to cold water, which explains why Citrus County is so popular with the manatees.  Here the natural springs that feed the rivers are a constant 72 degrees, presenting ideal conditions for the manatees.  The manatees depend on these warm springs for their survival.  During warm weather, manatees venture as far north as Virginia and as far west as Louisiana .  When temperatures drop, the spring-fed, warm waters of Citrus County 's Homosassa and Crystal Rivers (both of which empty into the Gulf of Mexico ) provide natural sanctuaries for the placid animals. Homosassa  Springs  Wildlife  Park Manatee swimming 1-8-50-9

            Citrus County probably presents the best location to observe manatees in their natural habitat.  November to March is the prime time for sighting them.  As many as 300 manatees gather in the Crystal River each winter.  They may be seen year round, but these months represent the prime viewing season due to cooler waters elsewhere.  Visibility in the area waters is incredible, often 100 feet or greater.

            The best way to observe manatees is to get right in the water with them, using either diving or snorkeling equipment.  If children are able to snorkel, they may join in the fun.  Few things delight a child as much as giving a back scratch or belly-rub to one of these friendly creatures.  The county has an abundance of dive shops offering equipment rental and manatee-viewing excursions.  These great beasts actually seem to enjoy the company of humans.

            The best time to go is early in the morning before too many people enter the water and stir up the sediment.  When entering the water, do not splash or make any loud noises.  Manatees have an aversion to both.  Under the US Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to chase or harass the manatees, and there is no need to chase them.  After a few minutes in the water, they will approach the snorkelers or divers, expecting a friendly scratch.  They seem to enjoy having the thick green algae that collects on their skin gently scratched off.

            One is guaranteed to see manatees in Citrus County , if not in the Homosassa or Crystal Rivers, then in the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park .  Here several manatees are in permanent residence.  The park also serves as a rehabilitation center for wounded manatees that, upon recuperation, will be released into the wild.  The park's main attraction, especially with the kids, is the floating Fish Bowl Observatory.  Situated on Homosassa Spring (the source of the Homosassa River ),  the observatory allows one to view the manatees and many species of fish from an underwater perspective.  The park covers more than 160 acres and has many species of wildlife on display, including alligators, deer, snakes, and many species of birds. Cycling along the Withlaccoochee Trail 1-8-51-5

            Manatees aren't the only reason to visit Citrus County .  The Withlacoochee State Trail passes through the county.  The trail is part of the rails-to-trails program and offers some excellent hiking and cycling opportunities.  Forty-seven miles in length, the trail is popular for family outings.  Many pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it.  The rivers of the county allow one to experience a different Florida --away from the theme parks and beach destinations.  Kayaking along the rivers is something not to be missed. Kayaking along the Homosassa River, Citru County, Florida 1-8-53-20

            There is just something about being down in the water, in a kayak that makes one feel more a part of the natural surroundings.  We took a half-day trip on the Homosassa River with Homosassa Kayak & Expedition Company.  It was a leisurely trip on the river, down and back.  The current is negligible, so paddling upstream is not difficult.  Along the way we observed many different wildlife species, including a dolphin that leaped several times only a few feet in front of us.  We passed an island covered with hundreds of birds, almost every tree limb had anhingas or cormorants perched on it.  A group of Brown Pelicans flew by, nearly skimming the water's surface.  Single and tandem kayaks are available.  Tandem kayaks are excellent for pairing younger adventurers with an experienced adult or for couples looking to explore the river together. Kayaking along the Homosassa River, Citru County, Florida  1-8-54-13

            Citrus County has a laid-back atmosphere--no thronging masses of people here.  It is a great place to relax and get a little closer to nature.  Accommodations and attractions are low to moderately priced--excellent for families on a budget, looking for a great vacation getaway.  Citrus County is about an hour's drive north of Tampa or an hour's drive west of Orlando.

If You Go Sidebar:

Along the Homosassa River, Citru County, Florida  1-8-49-15Citrus County Visitors Bureau

9225 W. Fishbowl Drive

Homosassa , FL 34448

Phone:  352-628-9305


Fax:      352-628-0703


Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

1502 Southeast Kings Bay Drive  

Crystal River , FL 34429

Phone:  352-563-2088

Fax:      352-795-7961


Best Western Crystal River Resort

614 Northwest US Hwy. 19

Crystal River , FL 34428

Phone:  352-795-3171


Web: Crystal River Resort 

Homosassa Kayak & Expedition Company Kayaking along the Homosassa River, Citru County, Florida  1-8-54-1

5300 South Cherokee Way

Homosassa , FL 34448

Phone:  352-628-3183  

The Homosassa River, Citru County, Florida  1-8-49-14Crystal River Dive Center

525 Northwest 7th Ave.

  Crystal River , FL 34428

Phone:  352-795-6798

Fax;     352-795-3179



Withlacoochee State Trail

Division of Recreation and Parks

12549 State Park Drive

Clermont , FL 34711

Phone:  352-394-2280

Web:    Withlacoochee State Trail

Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park

4150 U.S. Highway 19

Homosassa , FL 34446

Phone:  352-628-5343

Web:    Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park

Homosassa  Springs  State  Wildlife  Park   1-8-50-6




Text and Photos Copyright Thomas R. Fletcher / PROSE AND PHOTOS

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