Back to Nature (Published on - June 19, 2008)
Backyard vacation
Building a backyard water garden attracts wildlife while providing hours of tranquil enjoyment.
The buzz in my neighborhood is all about rising gas prices and the effects the cost of gas is having on everything from food to fashion.

Neighbors, co-workers and friends are busily discussing their latest home improvement projects such as: building homemade backyard arbors, decks and sunrooms complete with bubbling fountains, fireplaces, grills, hydroponic gardens, outdoor fans, water lily and Koi ponds, wet bars, balcony grills, and the ultimate outdoor additions: stereo systems, WiFi, spas and big screen televisions. This may appear extravagant during these lean times of 2008, but as an alternative this kind of pioneer spirit and mentality is quite sensible. The budget allotted for the average family vacation can not be stretched any further. Families are choosing to stay closer to home.

As I write this week’s column the latest price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is $3.96 in the Tampa Bay area. Yesterday when I visited the pumps it cost me more than $70.00 to fill the tank of my six cylinder minivan. It’s not affordable to drive anywhere that is not absolutely necessary. Families are choosing to build their own vacation destinations right in their very own backyards rather than burn hundreds of dollars driving to distant vacation spots.

As well, colleagues are getting back to planting their own vegetable gardens, herb gardens, butterfly gardens, researching solar panels, and taking buses rather than driving. The Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit reports: “Weekday ridership on both HART local routes and Commuter Express service has grown about 10 percent." Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority reports “an all time high of 1,056,856 rides were taken on agency buses an increase of 11 percent." It’s not about tightening our belts anymore; it’s all about alternatives and solutions.

Vacation alternatives just beyond our backyards:

- Obvious choice: Taking advantage of Tampa Bay’s award winning beaches.

- Get out. Go canoeing or kayaking at any of Tampa Bay’s many bayous, lakes and rivers.

- Sailing and ocean kayaking offers people powerful adventure.

- Tubing down a cold fresh water stream.

- Camping at nearby State or National parks such as: Myakka River State Park – Sarasota, Fla. – 941-361-6511 and Hillsborough River State Park – North Thonotosassa, Fla. – 813-987-6771.

- Bicycling: Tourists travel thousands of miles to take advantage of Tampa Bay’s beautiful bike trails such as: the 34-mile long Pinellas Trail and the 41.3 miles/non-motorized paved Suncoast Trail throughout Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando counties . . . cost is free! As well, as you travel to your ultimate destination you can board the buses with your bike. Check out the “Bikes on Buses" programs. Pinellas: Hillsborough:

For the children:

- Libraries, museums and recreation centers offer a wide variety of programs throughout the summer.

- Try your hand at building a bird or bat house. This offers children an educational experience about nature found in their very own backyards.

- Or better yet, plan a campout in your own back yard. Join thousands of neighbors, friends, and families across the country for National Wildlife Foundation’s fourth annual Great American Backyard Campout Saturday, June 28.

Ultimately staying near home saves valuable dollars and fuels our own local economy while bringing Floridians closer to home ... back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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