The half-mile long boardwalk at Blue Spring State Park is probably the best place in the world to see the manatee (sea cow) in clear water.
The boardwalk, which borders the entire spring run before it flows into the St. Johns River, has good overlooks at several spots for viewing the hundreds of manatees which crowd into the Blue Spring run each winter for its comparatively warm 73-degree water.
Low water temperatures are lethal for manatees, so the colder the weather, the more manatees you can expect to see. The best manatee viewing is between December and the end of February, the earlier in the morning the better.
The West Indian manatee is believed to be the basis of the mermaid legend because of its human-like face and broad beaver-like tail. Manatees, which may weigh as much as a ton, eat up to a hundred pounds of vegetation every day.
They once ranged from North Carolina to Texas, but destruction of their habitat through development and pollution has drastically reduced their population. Only Florida has a resident population of manatees believed to number somewhere around 6,200 animals, which qualifies them for the endangered species list.
During warmer weather, when the manatees are absent, you can canoe and swim in the spring run and even scuba dive in the spring boil.
In January, a Manatee Festival is held in nearbv Orange City.
Directions: Coming from Orlando on I-4, take Exit 111B towards Orange City and follow the brown and white signs to the state park.