We had checked out Cedar Key in January. Perhaps it was because the day was so crummy, but it didn’t make much of an impression on us. We returned on Wednesday and changed our opinion. It’s still a small town, reminiscent of Old Florida and there still isn’t a lot to do if you aren’t into fishing — but it’s worth a day trip, to be sure.
On a sunny day, with a few more visitors on hand smiling and having fun the town made a much more positive impression on us. This time we weren’t lost in a cloud of unburnt gas fumes from a Corvette rally as we had been on the first visit. Some guys who would have been all over that rally, but the fumes made me sick. This time no cars, no fumes, more people enjoying, more sunshine, more temperature…. it was a great day.
We started off the day by going to Suwannee FL before heading over to Cedar Key. I’m not sure Suwannee qualifies as a town. There was a welcome sign but not much more than houses, canals and a small marina. It’s like a lot of other end-of-the-land places: an escape to the edge of civilization. Lots of properties up for sale. Not too prosperous looking. A few brand spanking new buildings — a couple developers thought they’d make a killing — when we were there several of the condos were already up for re-sale. The community bills itself as the “Gateway to the Gulf.” It is that… a little fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico.
I was struck by just how large the percentage of houses for sale. Also a few lots advertised to put an RV on. The only problem with those lots was you’d have a hard time getting a unit our size backed into the site after you bought it. For those concerned about hurricanes, a lot of the homes are up on stilts. Not sure how that would work for someone parking an RV on a lot down there — seems to me you’d have to evacuate as you are sitting at about 4 feet above sea level.
Us midwesterners still find these stilt homes to be a bit ‘odd.’ But there are some similar examples along the Mississippi River. In particular I think of De Soto, just outside of Blackhawk Park. They aren’t as abundant, but they can be found in other areas of high water fluctuation.
To the North of Suwannee is one plot of the Lower Suwannee NWR. That plot is accessible via the Dixie Mainline road (just north of the community). To get to the rest of the Lower Suwannee NWR you have to drive back 26 miles to Old Town FL, cross over the river, and drive about 15 miles to the ranger station. From the ranger station you are 1/2 mile from a 10 mile long auto route through the refuge. It’s a beautiful, but basic refuge. Short on staff; a ranger station but not really any ‘visitors center.’ You might catch someone in the office, and there are maps to be had but the public area is about 4’ by 10’ and that’s it.
We encountered 4 vehicles during our several hour visit to the auto route — that’s all. It’s not nearly as popular as many other refuges and their brochure says it was not created to preserve a particular species or habitat — but to preserve the integrity of the river and springs nearby. Which results in Lower Suwannee being one of the largest undeveloped river-delta-estuarine ecosystems in the United States. Along the 26 miles of river shoreline that the refuge fronts the habitat changes multiple times: scenic tidal marshes, cypress trees and floodplain hardwood forests, scrub oak communities, and pine plantations.
I was more in a mood for plants and scenery than birds but this Crane was happy to have us scarcely 10 feet away and simply stare us down.
The refuge has been doing some prescribed burns and on this visit I kind of got sidetracked by the grasses, the effects of the burn and such.
From the end of the auto route it’s a 15 minute drive to Cedar Key. There aren’t a lot of community services there. A decent grocery is 20+ miles back up the road. You can find gas and diesel and a few restaurants, a hardware and marine supplies (including fishing gear) and it fills the bill as a small town. On this visit we walked the town streets, checked out a few stores — including the local Artist’s Cooperative with a nice variety of artwork: carving, photos, acrylics & oils, aluminum-can-art (yup — little fishes made of squashed aluminum cans and various scraps), jewelry, etc. The most interesting among the work to me was a collection of turned wooden bowls with various Florida motifs carved into them — like manatees.
There are boat tours and airboat tours to be taken if you are inclined. The boat tours take you in the vicinity of Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge which is entirely offshore of Cedar Key community — comprising several islands, including: North Key, Deadmans Key, Seahorse Key, Snake Key, Atsena Otie Key, Scale Key, Cedar Point, Live Oak Key and Candy Island — all of which are only accessible by boat.
While in town we were obliged to check out Tony’s Seafood; home of the three time world champion Clam Chowder. Who would have thought that a tiny resto in an even tinier Florida town could out cook the best of the best clam chowder chefs in the country/world. They competed three times in the Rhode Island World Clam Chowder festival and won three years in a row. Their recipe is now retired (from competition). You can still get the chowder though. And it’s mighty fine. The best I’ve ever eaten — meaty without being excessively thickened.
After a good walk around and a nice meal we returned to Reddick before dark. Thanks for stopping by, and let’s talk tomorrow.
P.S.: As a midwesterner I’m familiar with the fish, the Sturgeon. Every year we hear about Native Americans spearfishing them in Lake Winnebago, and the fish hatchery in Genoa has an active Sturgeon breeding program ongoing. Lower Suwannee NWR is also along the spawning route for federally endangered GULF STURGEON which travel upriver. You may also see West Indian Manatees in the river, as they travel throughout the Suwannee River and its tributaries.