Looking for a fun family day outing? Tired of going to the beach? Well then head over to Mixon Fruit Farms in East Bradenton (about a 30 minute drive).
Explore their groves, check out their gift shop and market, enjoy some of their delicious ice cream, or grab a bit to eat at the deli. I suggest doing all of the above when you go.
Mixon’s also shares a portion of the groves with Wildlife Inc. Here, they provide care and shelter for injured animals like birds, reptiles, and more. Which means they also have an awesome wildlife refuge tour, where you can meet the animals and see them close up!
There is also a beautiful pavilion here that can be rented out for events and weddings. So if you or someone you know if planning the big day, you might want to have them check this place out!
I started my morning with Melinda Bordes at Wildlife Inc. in Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island. Wildlife, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that specializes in the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wildlife, so they can return to the wild. Melinda Bordes is a hard working realtor here at Island Real Estate, and gives back to the community by volunteering at Wildlife Inc.
Spending a day on our beautiful beaches on Anna Maria Island is usually very relaxing. Not so much recently when my family and I were witnesses to a “dramatic” event! Four ducklings who had obviously lost their mother were waddling along the beach when 2 crows came swooping by and grabbed a duckling each. We immediately jumped into action and caught the remaining two ducklings and brought them home in our beach bag. First we were not quite sure what to do until Melinda Bordes from the Island Real Estate Team gave us the tip to drop them off at Wildlife, Inc. This is a rehabilitation center on Anna Maria Island for injured or orphaned animals. Gail and Ed Straight run this remarkable non-profit facility right here in Bradenton Beach and are handling between 3000 and 4000 cases annually.
When we dropped our ducklings off Ed just added them to the approximate 20 others that were already there. This was by the way the only chance to survive for our ducklings. They were only a week old and needed other little guys like them to learn gender appropriate behavior. Once they are about 2 months old they will be released into the wild in Duette in Eastern Manatee County.
Being at the rehabilitation Center for the first time Ed was gracious enough to give us a guided tour. They had 200 animals to take care of at the time. We saw all kinds of birds like owls, pelican, seagull, vulture and a parrot named Houdini. He knows 200 sentences (but not all G-rated….). Other animals like racoons, oppossums and armadillo were also guests of Gail and Ed Straight. We happened to be there at feeding time and volunteers arrived to lend a helping hand. The center relies on those dedicated workers since its doors are open 24/7 and it does not receive any government support. The center is financed by donations, educational programs and a yearly blood drive where your blood donation can earn up to $ 100 for the charity of your choice.
If you need a break from the beach take a ride to the “real” Florida. The Highlands Hammock State Park is centrally located in the middle of Florida, near Sebring. This park is one of Florida’s first state parks and known for its beautiful old-growth hammock and cypress swamps. A 3.1 mile loop drive gives a first impression. In addition there are nine different nature trails that take visitors through lush, jungle-like foliage. There are habitats like the pine flatwoods, hardwood swamp, marshes, scrub vegetation and lots of wildlife to discover. White-tailed deer, raccoons, bobcats, tortoises, herons, anhingas, ibis and of course alligators are among the animals living in the state park. The most popular hiking trail is the Cypress Swamp Trail that takes you on a 30 minute walk on an elevated boardwalk. The swamp borders a blackwater stream in the lowest elevation and numerous key points include the variety of plants, birds and other wildlife.
A large picnic area, 159 campsites, horse trails, playground, restaurant and the Civilian Conversation Corps Museum are other features of the park. During my visit I took the tram ride that leaves daily at 1 pm if there are at least 5 passengers present. For $5 this is possibly the best value you can get in any state park. Our park ranger Nick provided us with a wealth of information while touring the remote areas on this 60 minute ride. I guess it is even more interesting as we were very lucky to see all kinds of wildlife including a wild boar. Take a look at the pictures!