Author Holly Ambrose enjoy nature one step at a time
Published: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 9:26 p.m.
Holly Ambrose knows you can take an ecotrip just off the road in Paynes Prairie or in the heart of the Everglades.
Ambrose, 36, an avid camper and hiker, is the author of "30 Eco Trips in Florida: The Best Nature Excursions and How to Leave Only Your Footprints." The book, released by the University of Florida Press lists nature excursions in four geographic regions: Northwestern Florida, North Florida, Central Florida and South Florida. The book gives tips about Florida's hot spots for ecotourism, and where to go to camp, canoe and hike in conservation areas, national forests, and state and national parks.
As is evident from the title of her book, concern for the human impact on nature is all important to her version of tourism. In the book, she defines ecotourism this way: "Nature travel with more emphasis on promoting the welfare of the destination's resources and residents."
Ambrose moved to Florida from the Chicago area when she was 14, but she had been traveling to the Sunshine state throughout her childhood, and developed an interest in camping and hiking in natural areas early on.
She earned a degree in journalism at Florida International University, and worked in a variety of media jobs. In 2000, she began publishing EcoFlorida, a quarterly newsletter which aims to provide information about Florida's natural areas.
In 1995, she married Jim Ambrose, and the two began taking longer nature trips together. Jim, a financial analyst, is also an avid nature photographer. He took all of the photographs for the book.
Ambrose says an ecotrip does not have to be an all-day event. She frequently bikes for short periods on the edge of the eastern Everglades, close to her home in Coral Springs.
"The place where I bike has a very poetic name - Water Conservation Area #2," joked Ambrose of a site adjoining Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and the Holey Land Wildlife Management Area.
Ambrose says she bikes on roads outlining the impoundments. This lets her look down into the freshwater marsh.
"It's also a nice place to see the sunset because there's nothing to block the horizon," she said.
Get back to nature
Ambrose views ecotrips as mini-vacations. She says they are important because people need to connect with each other and the environment. But, she said, ecotrips can be stressful if it rains or you get lost.
Natural areas, she says, are inherently relaxing. One particular trip, to Everglades' Long Pine Key campground in 1997, sticks in her mind.
"When it's a clear night, you see so many stars," she said. "In the city, you forget how many stars are in the sky."
One of Ambrose's favorite places to ecotrip in North Florida is Paynes Prairie.
"It's the land of the caves, sinks and ravines," she said.
She likes to take the Wacahoota Trail, a quarter-mile trail near the park's visitor center, because it leads to an observation tower.
"I love going up, because you can look out and see wild horses, deer, and sandhill cranes," she said. "That's a good place to go, especially if someone is with you. It's just kind of peaceful, and you can look out on the prairie."
Ambrose said not all her visits to Paynes Prairie have been tranquil.
"If you go into the visitor center, you'll see a famous photograph of alligators at twilight with their eyes lit up (taken by former Gainesville Sun photographer John Moran)," said Ambrose. "My husband wanted to see if he could duplicate that photograph."
She and Jim went to the spot on La Chua trail that leads to the Alachua sink, a haven for alligators, at dusk.
"When we got there, the alligators were really splashing around and making noises. There were a lot of them. The water level was pretty low," said Ambrose. "We were concerned because they were getting feisty and no one was at the general entrance."
Searching for wildlife
Ambrose says another good place to view wildlife in North Florida is St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida's Panhandle.
"Sometimes, you'll see manatees come up on the bay in the summertime," she said. "Actually, manatees live in the ocean when it's warm enough."
Ambrose says you can also see migratory butterflies such as monarchs and sulphurs on the refuge's roads.
One of the parks that Ambrose visits most frequently is Everglades National Park, which is about a mile from her home.
"When I'm there, I think it's just so amazing that it could be preserved," she said.
Ambrose likes walking the Anhinga Trail, a half-mile path on a wooden boardwalk in the Taylor Slough.
Ambrose says the Anhinga could be one of the most-walked trails in the Glades. Yet it is home to a lot of wildlife.
"Wintertime is the best time to see alligators. You'll see them in a big pile (stacked on top of each other) trying to retain heat," she said.
Ambrose says there are also turtles, wading birds and pig frogs along the trail. The people there are interesting as well.
"It's a great place to run into people from other countries," she said.
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