Dudley Farm Historic Site is in Newberry, Florida, just 20 miles from O’Leno State Park. We camped at O’Leno (for the third time this winter) a couple of weeks ago on our way back down to Cedar Key (for the third time this winter). O’Leno SP is centrally located to many north-central Florida attractions, including Ichetucknee River State Park, which we wanted to kayak again (for the third time). Do we sound boring? As much as we both find new adventures exhilarating, we also enjoy revisiting favorite places that we come across in our travels.
• O’Leno State Park
Located on the banks of the beautiful Santa Fe River, O’Leno exudes the feeling of “old Florida.” Developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, this was one of Florida’s first state parks, and many of the original CCC stone and log buildings still stand, including the suspension bridge that spans the river. There’s even a small museum dedicated to the CCC in the park. The campsites are sandy, shady, and surrounded by saw palmettos and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Each time we’ve been here, we’ve made good use of the 13 miles of hiking and biking trails that traverse the park. Although the campground feels remote, it’s only six miles from the little town of High Springs, and we always end up making the trek for an excellent meal (and good local music) at The Great Outdoors restaurant.
O’Leno State Park has its own little Nature Center, and the docent there is a terrific asset to the park. Bob is a former newspaper reporter—and walking encyclopedia—with a great appreciation for snakes, which he says are misunderstood and maligned. He took the snakes out one by one, regarding each one with obvious affection. “I don’t do this for everyone,” he said, “only for people who can really appreciate them.” Although I draw the line at letting a snake wrap itself around my arm, I definitely appreciate the beauty of their mosaic-like skins. And they are surprisingly smooth, not slimy. Mostly I appreciate what a good job snakes do of keeping vermin under control. In all of our years of hiking, we’ve encountered maybe a dozen snakes, and only a couple of them venomous. Word must have gotten out that we’re snake friendly, because shortly after leaving the Nature Center, we came across an enormous rat snake wending its way across the path.
• Dudley Farm
Bob suggested that we might enjoy visiting Dudley Farm, and so we did. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the farm was donated to the state in 1983 in its entirety and is operated as a living history-working farm. Three generations of the Dudley family lived and worked the land, creating a completely self-sufficient lifestyle. “We never noticed the Depression,” said Myrtle Dudley, the last of the line. “We never had money, but we always had everything we needed.” They certainly did. They had fruit orchards, vegetable gardens, and grew corn, sugar cane, and sweet potatoes. Cracker cattle (a small endangered breed), heirloom chickens and turkeys, and mules are still kept on the farm. Park staff and volunteers in period clothing perform the daily chores of keeping the farm running, including raising crops and tending to livestock.
The buildings are original, and include the farmhouse, kitchen (separate from the farmhouse to keep from burning down the house), smoke house, dairy shed/canning house, chicken house, stables, sweet potato cellar, and sugar cane mill. The Dudley family even had a general store to supply the small community with farming supplies, hardware goods, smoked meats, tobacco, cloth, patent medicines, corn grits, canned vegetables, and eggs.
They were a hard-working and resourceful family; there’s always something appealing to me about a simple life and living close to the land. Nonetheless, if I ever live like that, I want TWO outhouses.
• Ichetucknee River
We couldn’t resist. After all, we were so close! It’s only 15 miles from O’Leno State Park to Ichetucknee State Park, and the big attraction for us there is the river. Crystal clear, turquoise water wends it way through cypress swamps. It’s one of the prettiest, most pristine rivers in Florida, and we just had to kayak it one more time before we leave Florida in a couple of weeks.
We were also hoping to see the mama and baby manatee that we spotted on an earlier trip. They were there, exactly in the same place as last time, and we enjoyed a long visit with them as they swam around and under our kayak. We also enjoyed the beginning signs of spring in the park, including the fragrant Florida spider lily.
If you plan to kayak the Ichetucknee, it’s best to go before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, unless you enjoy kayaking an obstacle course of bumper-to-bumper tubers. It’s always a good idea to go mid-week—you’re likely to have the river to yourself (or almost). We also enjoy putting in at the south entrance of the park, which means a somewhat vigorous 4-mile paddle upstream, but the return float downstream is effortless.[portfolio_slideshow]