Want something to do located about an hour away, that does not involve amusement parks, and is out of doors? Take a drive to Okeechobee for a historical tour on Lake Okeechobee.
Recently Tanglewood’s RV Club held a rally at Silver Palms RV Resort located in Okeechobee. One of the activities available was to get out on the water. Some members signed up to enjoy the thrills of an airboat ride, which if you have not experienced, you should. It is a fun way to get up close to nature along the waterways. Other RVers decided to try out John’s Guide Service that offered a historic tour of Lake Okeechobee via a pontoon boat. For our group of four, the pontoon cruise was a perfect choice.
Our guide was John Campbell, a native Floridian who was born and raised in the West Palm area until he left for the military service. He is quite familiar with Lake Okeechobee and the surrounding area. He also really knows the history of the lake and just about anything connected with the lake. Not only does he give historic tours, he fishes the lake known for its crappie and bass, and has been doing that for over 50 years.
Our noon tour started the moment we stepped on his pontoon boat. He started out with some basic info of the area. As we pulled away from the dock, Captain John pointed out the bald cypress trees along the water. He alerted us to a pelican perched in the branches of one of the trees. The sun had come out and alligators, HUGE alligators, lined the edges, sunning themselves to shake off the night’s cold temperatures.
Capt. John told us all about the Kissimmee River, then and now. How it was once a 103-mile curving stream and now is a 60-mile-long straight shot to Lake Okeechobee. While straightening the waterway was a good choice on paper, especially for farmers, it was not a great idea for the health of the lake. He will fill you in on the details about all of that.
Lots of folks think Lake Okeechobee is man made. It is not. It covers 730 square miles, is quite shallow (10-12 feet). We can thank the polar ice cap for this body of water. Being out on the lake is not boring. For instance, one may experience rapid weather changes while cruising along.
Hurricanes. We have all heard about the big named storms. Some Tanglewood residents have even experienced the big winds right here in Sebring. In 1926 and again 1928, Lake Okeechobee made the history book of devasting hurricanes. Captain John did a super job of describing just where the hurricanes came through and what resulted. Fascinating stuff!
Lake Okeechobee is known by those who love to fish and it is famous for the bass fishing tournaments held there. But, did you know the area is also famous for its agriculture, cattle ranching, and dairy farming? Beans, lettuce, rice, and many other vegetables are grown on the south side of the lake. The Belle Glade area can boast of their fresh corn. From seed to dinner table in 56 days.
On the north side of the lake is pasture land. If you take Route 98 from Tanglewood to Okeechobee, you will likely notice the entrance to King Ranch. King Ranch is known for the cattle they raise and the low stress handling methods used. They also work towards water and land conservation. Captain John also told us about a dairy farmer named Red Larson who started milking cows in 1942 at the age of 16, making $2.00 a day. After his service in WWII, he and his wife started their first dairy farm. They now milk 10,000 cows daily.
As we were heading back to the dock, we learned about Seminole history and slavery in the area. Captain John also took us up a shallow inlet reminiscent of what the Kissimmee River looked like before it was straightened. Along the way he pointed out Anhinga, Osprey, Cormorants, and Blue Herons. He also noted some vegetation, such as Brazilian Pepper, which is not indigeous to the area, and Sable Palm.
Keep in mind what you have just read is a brief overview of just some of the topics the captain introduced. If you have an interest in hurricanes, cowboys, rodeos, fishing, agriculture, birds, Florida and/or red tide, take a relaxing and informative 1½ hour cruise with Captain John Campbell. (For information or reservations his number is 863-532-1720.)