Back to Nature (Published on - July 13, 2005)
Peace found upon the Suwannee River
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Reflecting upon a peaceful moment along the Suwannee River.
Way down upon the Swanee River, Far, far away, There’s where my heart is yearning ever, There’s where the old folks stay. All up and down the whole creation, Sadly I roam, Still longing for the old plantation, And for the old folks at home. – Steven Collins Foster

In the 1880s, these sentimental lyrics of Suwannee River wooed millions of tourists from around North America and the world to visit Florida. They sought the romance of this symbolic river, an icon of the idyllic home.

Foster’s intended meaning: No matter how far we travel and of what sadness the world imposes on us, all our hearts ache for the best memories of childhood, the security of family and parents (“old folks”), and the familiarity of a home.

Ironically, Steven Foster never visited Florida or was able to view the awe-inspiring Suwannee River. The original draft and workbook for the song used the “Pedee River.” With the assistance of his brother, Foster decided that Suwannee (chosen from an Atlas) fit the musical syntax more favorably. Little did Foster and his brother know that “Swanee River” would become the most popular song published at that time and hundreds of thousands of copies would be sold around the world.

You can almost hear the bustle of paddle boats from day’s gone by, as the cool Suwannee River gently twists and turns to join with the Withlacoochee River, mingling together heading toward the Gulf of Mexico. In the tranquil sway of Spanish moss and the shadows felled by the setting sun, one can feel that this peaceful place is quietly protecting her secrets.

Two hundred years ago the booming days of plantations and logging empires flurried around her shores. Memories still linger along her banks. History’s entrenched in her soil as she remembers the thousands of lives lost during the Civil War Battle of Olustee, on Feb. 20, 1864.

The Confederates defended themselves and defeated the Union to protect the Florida Atlantic and Gulf-Central Railroad, the Olustee Railroad station and the connecting railway bridge over the Suwannee River. The Olustee defeat ended Union efforts to organize a loyal Florida government in time for the 1864 election.

Like an Elder who has seen much in this world and now sits back to hold the hands of the young ones, the Suwannee seems to draw peace and comfort in the knowledge that things come and things go, but life continues on. The Suwannee holds those Southern secrets like many areas of the south, close and guarded. Today she is playful enjoying picnics and campers, kayakers and canoeist. She protects manatees, beaver and several endangered plant species, restful and at peace.

As we hiked the trails of the Suwannee River and waded along her shores, we couldn’t help but feel her ancient soul. The water lines marked the trees of floods past and towered above us in disbelief. The river-worn limestone giants from the past, the long mounds of earthworks built during the Civil War to guard against incursions by Union Navy gunboats, one the state’s oldest cemeteries, and a paddle-wheel shaft from a 19th century steamboat are all symbols of the Suwannee’s past.

Through changing ecosystems we traveled while hiking one of the five trails (ranging from a quarter mile to 18 miles) which loop through surrounding woodlands providing panoramic views of the river. The Suwannee and Withlacoochee rivers join together to remind us of the past, inspire us for the future and commence us to pause for a peaceful moment of reflection while watching the sun sparkle upon gentle ripples back to nature.

We found the Suwannee River State Park to be one of the cleanest and well managed state parks in Florida as we have experienced. As well campers enjoyed and respected the quiet and peacefulness of the park’s atmosphere. Throughout our stay we were undisturbed. Campsites are located with ample breathing room between them, treed and shaded. Other activities include fishing, picnicking, and canoeing; for overnight stays, the park has a full-facility campground and cabins.

Suwannee River State Park, 20185 County Road 132, Live Oak, FL 32060. Phone: 386-362-2746

Admission Fees – An Honor Fee of $3 a car or $1 a person is payable at the pay station.

Camping Fees – Full facility camping is available for $15 a night.

Picnic Pavilion Fees – Two covered pavilions are available for reservation for $45 plus tax.

Cabins Rental Fee – $90 plus tax.

Karen can be reached at

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