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Fresh or salt, water lures us

Summer is finally in full swing, and, yes, it's hot out there. ¶ But that doesn't mean you have to stay camped out in your house until fall arrives. Remember, you live in one of west-central Florida's most beautiful environments, where a romp in the water — salt or fresh — is just minutes away. So we offer this list of places where wet rules. Whether you are looking to take a cool dip, cast a line, float your boat or just take in a nice view of the water, here are some suggestions for enjoying the great outdoors in Hernando. After all, six months from now you'll be complaining that it's too cold to go near the water. For more information, go to the Hernando County Convention & Visitors Web site: www.naturallyhernando.org.

Swimming

Alfred McKethan Park at Pine Island, 10840 Pine Island Drive (off County Roads 550 and 495, west of Weeki Wachee). Summer hours are sunrise to sunset. Parking is $2 per car. (352) 754-4027 or visit www.co.hernando.fl.us/parks_rec.

At Hernando County's most notable gulf swimming hole, visitors are greeted by white sand beaches and shallow, virtually waveless swimming areas. The 3-acre park has great amenities, including picnic tables, shelters, barbecue grills, an observation point, a volleyball court and a playground. In addition, Willy's Tropical Breeze Cafe serves up a variety of food, from burgers and sandwiches to iced cappuccino. This is a busy place in the summer, so it's probably a good thing to arrive early to avoid parking hassles.

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Rogers Park, 7244 Shoal Line Blvd. Summer hours are sunrise to sunset. Parking is $2 per car. Visit www.co.hernando.fl.us/parks_rec or call Call (352) 754-4027.

Although primarily known for providing boating access to the Weeki Wachee River, the 3-acre Rogers Park has a nice freshwater swimming and beach area that is set aside from boat-launching sites. Add to that the generous number of picnic facilities and showers, and you have a cool respite where you can spend the day with the family.

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Linda Pedersen Park, 6400 Shoal Line Blvd. (across from Jenkins Creek Park), north of Hernando Beach. Hours are sunrise to sunset. Call (352) 754-4027 or visit www.co.hernando.fl.us/parks_rec.

Another nice daytime getaway, the 135-acre park is carved from the brackish marshes along Shoal Line Boulevard. In addition to a small swimming area and beach, the park has grills, picnic tables, showers, a playground, a fishing pier and a 40-foot observation tower.

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Buccanneer Bay at Weeki Wachee Springs, U.S. 19 and State Road 50, Weeki Wachee. Daily summer hours though Aug. 17 are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (352) 596-2062 or visit www.weekiwachee.com.

Billed as Florida's only spring-fed water park, this is a popular swimming spot for those who don't mind crowds. Impeccably maintained with white sandy beaches, flume rides, a beach volleyball area and a large kiddie pool, it's got everything you need for a fun family day — for a price. Cost is $24.95 for adults and $16.95 for kids 3 to 10, plus tax, and includes admission to the historic Weeki Wachee Springs mermaid attraction.

Canoeing and kayaking

Nobleton Outpost, 29295 Lake Lindsey Road (CR 476), 12 miles northeast of Brooksville. Outpost is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday (currently closed through July 18). Call (352) 796-7176 or visit www.nobletonoutpost.com.

Those with a taste for small adventures can take a leisurely two- to four-hour canoe or kayak ride down the Withlacochee River using either your own vessel or one of the outpost's. The Nobleton Outpost is a laid-back place that welcomes pets and motorcycles. There's even a friendly little pub/cafe on the premises that serves great inexpensive seafood, Cuban sandwiches and salads. Canoe and kayak rentals run from $35 to $45.

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Weeki Wachee Canoe and Kayak Rentals, behind the Weeki Wachee Springs attraction, U.S. 19 and State Road 50. Daily launches are from 9 and 11:30 a.m. during the week and from 8 to 10:30 a.m. on weekends. Call (352) 597-0360 or visit www.floridacanoe.com.

A tad more challenging than its counterpart on the east side of the county, the Weeki Wachee River flows with the gusto of 64-million gallons of crystal clear water every day, making the 7-mile journey downstream a joyous three-hour journey through rare pristine wilderness. Cost is $52 for a two-person canoe or kayak and $37 for a one-seater, and includes pickup. If you want to launch your own vessel, it's $10 per boat, and you have to find your own way off the river.

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Nobleton Wayside Park, 29061 Lamkin Drive. Hours are sunrise to sunset. Call (352) 754-4027 or visit www.co.hernando.fl.us/parks_rec.

Here's a way to do your kayaking or canoeing on the cheap. A free boat ramp gives you access to the Withlacoochee River and a 13-mile journey through the neighboring Withlacoochee State Forest, where you will see an abundance of wild critters and birds. Afterward, you can come back to the 2-acre park and enjoy a quiet lunch under one of the shelters.

Boating and fishing

Bayport Park, at the end of County Road 550 on the Gulf of Mexico. Open 24 hours daily. Visit www.co.hernando.fl.us/parks_rec or (352) 754-4027.

A recent $1.24-million project has made for numerous improvements to the crown jewel of Hernando County's public boat ramps. At this 6.5-acre park, boat ramps provide quick access to the Gulf of Mexico while a huge fishing pier gives in-shore anglers access to shallow-water species of fish, crabs and shellfish. If you just want a place to relax, there are picnic tables, pavilions, barbecue grills and a new boardwalk for watching sunsets or waterfowl.

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Lake Townsen Regional Park, 28011 Lake Lindsey Road (CR 476), Istachatta. Hours are sunrise to sunset. Call (352) 754-4027 or visit www.co.hernando.fl.us/parks_rec.

Quiet and out of the way, this 375-acre park is a respite from the busy world, offering a freshwater public ramp that provides access to one of the county's most pristine wooded areas. If you are without a boat, you might head to the fishing pier to try your luck hooking a bass or bluegill. Even if you don't fish, it's a wonderful gateway to the unspoiled natural beauty that can still be found in Hernando County.

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Silver Lake Recreation Area, on Croom Rital Road, north of State Road 50, near Ridge Manor. Hours are sunrise to sunset. Daily use fee is $1 for adults; free for children under 6. Call (352) 754-6896 or visit www.fl-dof.com.

On the eastern edge of the county, this state-owned park adjoins the Hernando County portion of the Withlacoochee State Forest. Boat ramps on the lake will accommodate larger boats, but there are areas set aside for canoes and kayaks as well. A short journey north on the river will take you to places like Hog Island, Iron Bridge and Nobleton.

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Jenkins Creek Park, 6401 Shoal Line Blvd. (about 5 miles west of U.S. 19), north of Hernando Beach. Hours are sunrise to sunset. Call (352) 754-4027 or visit www.co.hernando.fl.us/parks_rec.

The main attraction at this park, in the middle of one of Hernando County's prime fishing areas, is the natural freshwater springs that feed into canals and coastal marshes leading to the Gulf of Mexico. Shallow areas in and around the park are the perfect habitat for crabs and baitfish. Boaters should be aware that the tiny 1-acre park is limited to small boats, personal watercraft and canoes.

Fresh or salt, water lures us 07/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2008 8:39pm]

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