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Honeymoon Island's irresistible appeal keeps it Florida's most visited park

DUNEDIN

With waves crashing into the rocks on the shore of Honeymoon Island, spilling the gulf's spray at her feet, and with wind kicking sand into the air, Rita Fowler stood stone-still.

Facing a storm on the horizon, her hands remained folded.

She explained her serenity amid Tuesday afternoon's looming thunderstorm: "It looks beautiful," she said, watching the waves. "It's gorgeous."

The Pennsylvania native was one of many snowbirds out on the island, which has once again been ranked as the most visited state park in Florida.

The park received about 1 million visitors in 2010, according to numbers released this week by Audubon of Florida. Sebastian Inlet was the second most-visited state park, with attendance totaling about 750,000.

Honeymoon Island has a reputation for its relatively untouched environment. A state park since 1982, it receives many visitors for its shelling opportunities and wildlife, including a trail that features 26 osprey nests and a 185-year-old pine tree.

Park manager Peter Krulder says its natural beauty provides an escape from densely populated Pinellas County. As much as he points toward the natural sights of the park, he isn't lost on the romance in the island's name.

"It's a great place to walk down the beach with your guy or girl," he said.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the park has garnered the state's top attendance, Krulder said.

Bruce Turnbull, 91, of Michigan has been visiting the Tampa Bay area for 30 years and counts Honeymoon Island among his favorite spots.

"I like it here better than downtown because it's so crowded there," he said, sitting on a beachside bench swing.

Minnesota native Pam Hamilton, 53, prefers the gulf's winter waters to her home's negative temperatures.

"I'd go in," she said, looking out at the beach.

Audubon of Florida compiled attendance figures provided by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Eric Draper, the group's executive director, said the numbers show that the state would be wise to invest in its natural attractions.

"Our state parks are really part of the economic interest of the state of Florida," he said, noting the prevalence of winter vacationers.

For snowbirds like Fowler, a blustery day on the beach means a welcome dose of solitude that beats the alternative.

"I'm overwhelmed," she said. "I love the wind."

Fast facts

Florida's 10 most popular state parks in 2010.

1. Honeymoon Island 1,043,336
visitors
2. Sebastian Inlet 749,407
3. Lovers Key 731,242
4. Gasparilla Island 716,625
5. Bill Baggs Cape Florida 710,282
6. St. Andrews 683,201
7. John Pennekamp Coral Reef 678,952
8. Anastasia 610,057
9. Blue Spring 559,369
10. Bahia Honda 495,653

Audubon of Florida

Honeymoon Island's irresistible appeal keeps it Florida's most visited park 01/26/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 31, 2011 2:58pm]

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