Okeechobee KOA • Okeechobee, FL • MAR 15, 2019
As we set out for our last stop before heading home the next day, there was only one thing left on our list to see, and we were really looking forward to it—Lake Okeechobee.
On our way to Okeechobee, however, we saw a sign for "Everglades Holiday Park" and made an unplanned stop that turned out to be one of this trip's greatest highlights for Rick.
From 2012 to 2015 there was a show on the Animal Planet network called "Gator Boys." It was about a group of people led by Paul Bedard who rescued nuisance alligators—by the way, people are the "nuisance," alligators are just animals who are living their lives as nature intended. Unfortunately, they sometimes cross paths with humans who have encroached on what historically has been their natural habitat. When authorities receive a call about an alligator that has become a threat to humans or pets, they usually contact a licensed trapper who catches the gator, kills it, and sells the meat and skin as payment for services rendered. Paul and the Gator Boys were "no kill" trappers. Gators they caught were, depending upon their size, either released in another (remote) area or taken to a gator sanctuary to live out their lives in peace. The "Gator Boys" TV series featured Paul Bedard and his crew capturing gators by hand. Paul was crazy smart—what he was doing seemed crazy, as he would likely admit, but he was so knowledgeable about gators and their behavior that he truly knew what he was doing, as dangerous as it was. Much of the show was just scripted fun, but the Gator Boys did rescue and save countless gators.
Much of the TV filming was done at Everglades Holiday Park, so when we saw the sign we had to stop and check it out. Rick just wanted to walk around a bit and then hit the road again, but when Linda went to get info she purchased Rick a ticket for an airboat ride followed by a gator show.
Rick's first airboat ride (March 12 entry) was on a small airboat that held six passengers. This time it was a huge airboat with perhaps thirty or more passengers. The tour wasn't through tight mangroves this time, it was mostly wide open spaces. And unlike the first tour with no gators, we saw gators that swam right up to the airboat. Captain Rob gave us a great tour!
A complimentary gator show was included with the price of the airboat ride. As vegans, we can't patronize circuses or shows where animals are exploited, so Rick was reluctant to go to the gator show. He did go, though, just to see what it was about. He wasn't expecting to see any of the Gator Boys as the show ended a few years ago and the cast likely went on with their lives. Well, not only did Rick get to see a Gator Boy, the show was presented by Paul Bedard himself! On the show, Paul was reserved and serious, leaving the comic relief to others. During this show he showed his humorous side, and he was hysterically funny in a subtle, sarcastic way—which is Rick's favorite brand of humor! He didn't "wrestle" the gators or do anything to harm them. Instead, it was an educational demonstration and throughout you could clearly see his respect, and even love, for the gators that he was saved from a cruel death. Although the Gator Boys show is in the past, Paul is still in the area and continues to capture and rescue nuisance gators. Rick has a few heroes in the world, and Paul Bedard is one of them. He even got the chance to talk with Paul for a few minutes afterwards (a conversation that Rick recounted for Linda over and over all the way home!).
On to Lake Okeechobee.
Per Wikipedia, "Lake Okeechobee, also known as Florida's Inland Sea, is the largest freshwater lake in the state of Florida. It is the eighth largest natural freshwater lake in the United States and the second largest natural freshwater lake (the largest being Lake Michigan) contained entirely within the contiguous United States. Okeechobee covers 730 square miles, approximately half the size of the state of Rhode Island, and is exceptionally shallow for a lake of its size, with an average depth of only 9 feet. The Kissimmee River, located directly north of Lake Okeechobee, is the lake's primary source. The lake is divided between Glades, Okeechobee, Martin, Palm Beach, and Hendry counties. All five counties meet at one point near the center of the lake."
With the buildup above, and because we are "water people," you can see why we were excited to see Lake Okeechobee. Our route would take us up the right (east) side of the lake, and the road was often as close as a couple hundred yards from the shore. We were anticipating a long, scenic drive with breathtaking views of the water.
What we didn't know was that due to historical flooding, a large rim was constructed around the lake to prevent future overflow. Thus, for mile after mile after boring mile, all we saw to our left was a tall, grassy mound that blocked any view of the lake. There was one spot where there was a small opening and we caught a glimpse of water, and that was it. So disappointing!
We were tired and ready to relax when we reached the Okeechobee KOA. The sites were rather tight, but nice and level. It was a large campground with its own golf course and many amenities, a great place to stay.
We have now seen the Everglades!
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