Last Updated: Friday, April 07, 2017, 10:21 AM EDT
At marker 15 on U.S. Highway 192 awaits a natural respite spanning only the length of a bridge.
- Shingle Creek Regional Park offers escape from tourist traps
- Paddling Center rents canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards
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"We are in the middle of tourist madness,” said Dr. John Jacobs, the owner of The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek. "It disappears when you come into our parking lot."
At Shingle Creek Regional Park awaits a narrow escape into pristine Florida. For the span of one highway bridge, the gift shops and independent motels cease to exist.
"It is serene and beautiful,” Jacobs said of the location where his business has been located the past three years.
Jacobs spent time as a Senior Research Psychologist at the University of Central Florida before getting back to nature, where Shingle Creek in Orange County flows into Osceola County and heads towards Lake Kissimmee and the Florida Everglades.
As one might expect, Jacobs is a strong proponent of finding peace surrounded by nature.
"This area is so magical and so quiet,” John said under towering cypress trees.
The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek rents canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards by the hour. From the dock facing U.S. 192, visitors can paddle north or south, leaving all remnants of civilization behind.
"We give you ecological and historical facts along the way,” said guide Alex Friedrich, who has a degree in wildlife and fisheries conservation with an emphasis on herpetology.
Like he did at age 8, Friedrich still has a knack of finding the creatures who live in the wild.
"My eye is a bit tuned into that sort of thing. I have been practicing since I was a little boy,” Friedrich said with a coy grin.
Look close along the banks and you’ll find limpkins, white squirrels, gar swimming under your boat and yes, even banded water snakes shedding their skin.
“[They] scrape slowly with their lips and they basically slither out of their old skin,” Friedrich explains.
Paddlers can head out solo, or elect to take a guide like Friedrich with them.
Now, you may be thinking about alligators. Friedrich says here, it's not anything you have to worry about.
"Wild alligators behaviorally are very timid,” he said confidently.
During our two-hour paddle, we saw three baby alligators, most likely born last autumn.
Visitors can paddle for about an hour before hitting an elevated stop sign strung between two trees. The same style of sign that you’ll find alongside the road, hangs suspended from tree trunks. The red sign signals a return to the urban world isn't far away.
Yet before leaving, just don't forget to take a final look at the massive turtles sunning themselves.
"The ones on the logs, sticking their arms out, we call that 'Turtle Yoga,'” Friedrich says balancing on one leg on his paddleboard. "They’re sticking their legs out and their arms.”
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