Date Visited: 12/9/2019
Our first stop of the day was at the 710 acre site of Fort Cooper State Park. Established in 1972 this park was a great place to start our morning with a relaxed walking tour through the history of the surrounding area.
As is the case with most of Florida, the Seminole Wars impacted the peoples (native and settler) of this area. Below is a brief summary from our Florida Park brochure as to how the park got it’s name and why this area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 13, 1972.
“The park is named for Major Mark Anthony Cooper, commander of 380 First Georgia Battalion Volunteers plus an artillery company of a few army regulars. In April 1836, Major Mark Anthony Cooper built a fort near the lake’s edge to protect the sick and wounded left behind by General Scott as he continued on his way to Fort Brooke, which is now Tampa. Major Cooper was ordered to hold his position and await relief troops in nine days. By the third day the Seminoles, led by Osceola and other Chiefs, discovered Major Cooper and his men. They kept them under constant daily attacks. On one occasion the Seminoles tried to storm the fort with a force in “excess of 500 warriors.” After 16 days, with provisions running out, the troops in the fort were saved when a relief column returned to support them.
Due to Major Cooper’s vigilant leadership during the two week siege, the Georgia Battalion sustained about 20 men wounded, but lost only one man. It is unknown how many casualties were taken by the Seminole warriors.”
Aside from the historic significance there is also a rich cultural heritage that can be discovered by reading the 4 kiosks placed along the 1.5 mile Seminole Heritage Trail that loops through the park.
Reading the signs we learned how the Indians that inhabited this area had been displaced from their surrounding farms and learned to adapt to the harsh environment of the swamps and wetlands of the Cove of the Withlacoochee by utilizing natural resources like, Saw palmetto, Muscadine Grapes, and Prickly Pear cactus and by navigating the wet terrain using dugout canoes that were skillfully crafted.
Unlike today’s plastic kayaks and fiberglass canoes, these dugout canoes were made of carefully selected cypress trees that were hollowed and shaped using only fire and an ax. These dugout canoes would last for years and become prized family possession.
The park also connects with the 46 mile long Withlacoochee State Trail – a popular paved multiuse trail that connects 3 counties by running through small towns, ranches and six distinct natural communities.
In all there are appoximately 5 miles of trails within the park and as we made our way along the trails toward the small remains of the fort that still sit beside the 160 acre lake we also learned that the park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Now tuned to spotting birds we saw Sandhill Cranes and wild turkeys along with Ibis and Heron. Along the non-paved trails we discovered the footprints of white-tailed deer and possibly a wild hog but never encountered any, although I suppose if we had taken a quiet repose along the trail our chances would have greatly increased.
One of my special little memories was finding this beautifully done friendship rock as we were reading one of the kiosks in the park. This is where I got my inspiration for the beaded rocks that I now make. I have to hand it to the artist, this rock was one of the cutest and well done that I have ever seen.
For anyone interested in canoeing or kayaking the lake, don’t bother bringing your own vessel. Private vessels are not allowed on the lake, but you can rent a kayak or canoe from the park. However, call ahead as this activity is dependent on the changing water levels in the lake.
There is also a large air conditioned lodge and gazebo that are popular spots for weddings.
For you fur lovers (like me) leashed pets are allowed in the park, but are not allowed near the lake. See the park policy concerning pets.
After a peaceful and informative stroll we loaded back in the SUV and headed to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Spring, but more on that next week. Until then….
Fort Cooper State Park 3100 Old Floral City Rd. Inverness, FL 34450 352-726-0315 Website
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