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Island Camping Attracts Families


Island Camping Attracts Families

Laid-back and scenic, a state park reachable only by water is a popular destination.


Terry O. Roen
Posted December 30, 2005

Ferry or private boat is the only way to reach the secluded cabins in an oak hammock where American Indians were the first inhabitants.

The bunkhouse-style cabins are in the middle of a meandering three-mile trail on Hontoon Island State Park, six miles west of DeLand on the St. Johns River. The affordable price and inviting location require bookings six months in advance during the holidays and cooler camping months, said Keith White, park specialist.

"It is a great place for families," White said. "We have little ones crying that they don't want to leave at the end of their stay."

Elinda and Nate Steury of Melbourne chose the cabins for a Christmas break with their four children. They cooked a breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage on their Coleman stove on a picnic table outside one of the primitive cabins. Their children, David, 15, Kristen, 13, Mark, 10, and Lindsey, 8, said they planned to spend the day fishing, hiking and canoeing.

"We booked a cabin because it is chilly this time of year," said Elinda Steury. "We saw a diamond rating [in the Florida State Parks brochure] and decided it was a beautiful campsite that was close to home."

The 1,650-acre island has two Indian middens, consisting of shells and animal bones that were used as refuse heaps. An owl totem carved by the Indians more than 600 years ago was discovered near the island in 1955. It is on display at the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Jacksonville. A replica stands on Hontoon Island in the picnic area near an expansive playground.

The island was a pioneer homestead, a boat yard, a commercial fishing center and a cattle ranch before the state purchased it for parkland in 1967.

There are two cabins with four beds and four cabins that sleep six with three bunk beds. The cabins rent for $25 or $35 a day, depending on the size. Each cabin has ceiling fans, lights and a spacious screened porch. A dozen primitive tent sites and a bathhouse are a quarter mile from the docks, where boats can park overnight for $12 plus tax.

Luis Arango joined a group of 18 friends from five families who camped for five days on the island. He said they had planned the trip around Thanksgiving break but the island was flooded, so they rescheduled for the week after Christmas.

"This is what camping is all about," said Arango, the owner of Sports for Kids, a sports academy in Miami. "We come for the tranquillity and relaxation."

Hontoon Island was closed from Oct. 31 through Nov. 23 after Hurricane Wilma raised the river level. White said the number of camp reservations has increased since the park reopened, and people have discovered the out-of-the-way island on the Web site floridastateparks.org.

Article provided by The Orlando Sentinel
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