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A TALE OF 2 CITIES // STARRING... KEVIN

CEDAR KEY

I'm sitting on a fishing pier with a bucket at my side, some bait on my hook and a line in the water. Finally, I catch something! I reel it in. It must be big; the line is hard for me to handle. I'm pulling and pulling. Hey, what's going on? A sneaky pelican is snatching the fish from my hook. It's gone! The only fish I caught all day is now the pelican's lunch.

KEVIN SAYS:

From Orlando, I've moved in a northwest direction and landed in Cedar Key. The town halfway between Tallahassee and Tampa is known for preserving the flavor of old Florida. Unlike the other cities I've visited so far (Pensacola, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Orlando), Cedar Key is low-key. It doesn't want tons of tourists. It doesn't want traffic jams. It doesn't want trouble. Cedar Key just wants visitors and residents to bask in its "island time."

SEAFOOD, HISTORY AND QUIET

I can't get over how quiet it is here. As I walked along the shoreline, I saw ospreys building nests. I watched great blue herons and egrets wade in the marsh.

Because Cedar Key is so small, it's easy to get around by bike. As I was riding I passed lots of historic architecture: houses built of wood with gables and porches. I stopped off at the Cedar Key State Museum, where there's an awesome shell collection. I think I'll hunt for some shells while I'm here and start my own collection.

A good restaurant was just another short bike ride away. I knew seafood would be an easy choice here (especially scallops and smoked mullet), but it's too bad I wasn't here last month for the town's annual seafood festival. When I asked my waiter about other Cedar Key favorites, he brought me a hearts of palm salad (sometimes they call it swamp cabbage).

Before leaving I found some of Cedar Key's Indian mounds (prehistoric garbage piles). Florida's first people tossed the empty shells, animal bones, pottery and tools into piles.

One of the piles, Shell Mound, has been made into a park. It's the largest shell mound on the central Gulf Coast.

A little history

The area's earliest residents, the Timucuan Indians, left behind burial and shell mounds. The Spanish explorers were next on the scene.

The town was settled in the 1840s, but its big claim to fame came in 1861 when it became the western endpoint for Florida's first cross-state railroad.

After the Civil War, Cedar Key became known for shipbuilding and pencil manufacturing. Cedar trees were abundant in the area, so pencil companies built sawmills in the territory and shipped cedar slabs to their factories up North.

But the trees didn't last forever, and once the railroad reached Tampa, Cedar Key's terminal was kicked aside. Adding to the town's decline was the shipping industry's need for deeper harbors; Cedar Key's port was too shallow.

As if things weren't bad enough, a hurricane whipped through Cedar Key in 1896, claiming more than 100 lives and causing $7-million in damage.

That was about all Cedar Key could take. The city didn't make an effort to recover on a large scale and instead reverted back to its frontier-days lifestyle.

The residents turned to the Gulf of Mexico to make money, and commercial fishing became the principal support.

City Stats:

+ Cedar Key is in Levy County

+ Population: 668

+ Cedar Key is the largest of a group of about 100 islands known as the Cedar Keys.

Claims to fame:

+ The Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1929, covers 12 islands.

+ Many artists live in Cedar Key and are represented in local galleries.

NAPLES

Since I missed the big race last month, the folks at Florida Sports Park offered to take me for a spin in a swamp buggy. I strap on my helmet, climb aboard and hold on really tight. We squish and squash across the goop-filled track. Mud flies every which way. It drips from my hair and dries on my face. Somebody get me off this crazy thing!

KEVIN SAYS:

Naples, which is 305 miles south of Cedar Key, sits on a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Naples Bay. Naples has some other famous water neighbors: the Everglades, Ten Thousand Islands and Big Cypress Swamp. This place isn't at all like Cedar Key. It looks polished and perfect. And it sure has some expensive stores _ for the rich and famous people who live and vacation here.

JUNGLE CATS AT JUNGLE LARRY'S

Needless to say, a kid like me has no business hanging out on the posh side of Naples, so I stuck with the stuff I know best: cool places.

My Naples roamings began at an odd location _ the Teddy Bear Museum. More than 2,000 teddy bears are on display there. Big bears, small bears _ they're everywhere! The smallest one is one-inch, and the tallest is 8 feet.

About two miles north of the Naples Pier (which is under renovation now so I couldn't visit it on this trip) is Lowdermilk Park, where I joined a volleyball game and then followed some of the players to Tin City for lunch. Tin City is a preserved part of Naples' past. It was created from historic boat buildings connected by cobbled and planked river walks.

Looking for something more natural led me to Jungle Larry's Zoological Park and Caribbean Garden. The 52-acre garden is filled with rare and endangered plants and animals. I took a mini-safari through a tropical forest. Jungle Larry's is home to a bunch of jungle cats.

The Conservancy _ a natural science museum _ was a great way to end my Naples trip. My favorite part was the museum's touch tank. I stuck my hand in the water and felt sea urchins, starfish and horseshoe crabs.

A little history

The Calusa Indians, the first people to live in the Naples area, left behind a landmark: A hand-carved canal 50-feet wide and 1{-miles long, stretching from Naples Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.

When developers moved to the area and named it Naples in the 1800s, builders had little use for the canal. In the 1930s the canal was destroyed because the town considered it a traffic hazard.

That's how Naples history goes. Not much has stood in the way of progress.

The town of Naples began with the construction of a 45-room hotel, a general store, an office building and some cottages. After construction of the Naples Pier, where steamships arrived, the town developed a reputation as a winter resort.

But until 1911, Naples was still only accessible by boat. Naples hit the big time when multimillionaire Barron G. Collier (for whom Collier County is named) rolled into town.

Collier built transportation routes so Naples could handle more development. Railroad service reached the town in 1927 and the Tamiami Trail (a roadway) opened a year later. Naples then attracted more and more affluent residents and visitors who built palatial beach estates.

City stats:

+ Naples is the county seat of Collier County.

+ Population: 19,505

Claims to fame:

+ The city was named after Naples, Italy.

+ Naples has more than 50 golf courses.

Next week: Kevin travels to Miami and Key West.

Sources: Florida Off the Beaten Path, Rand McNally Guide to Florida, Hidden Florida The Adventurer's Guide, The WPA Guide to Florida, Florida's Last Frontier, Cedar Key Area Chamber of Commerce, Naples Area Chamber of Commerce

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