I have lived in the Orlando area for nearly fifteen years, and in those fifteen years I’ve experienced a lot of what Central Florida has to offer. Yet I have never experienced the hidden gem that is Kelly Park.
When I saw some list of non-theme park activities in Orlando, I was intrigued with the idea of tubing down the spring run. Geoff and I had made several attempts to visit Kelly Park over the past year, but every time we got there the park was closed due to the crowds. Finally, the first Monday of summer break, we got our chance to explore.
We arrived around 10 AM thinking that it would not be as crowded on the weekdays. It wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t empty either. We found a patch of grass under a couple of oak trees dripping with Spanish moss and tossed down our blanket and cooler. Then tubes in hand, we brought our own, we strolled towards the spring head.
After a few stairs, we were on the edge. Between several rock formations ran the spring. I set my raft in the creek, took in a deep breath, and plunged into the 68 degree water. Before I had time to arrange myself on my raft I was twenty feet from where I started drifting with the current. Geoff plunged in beside me and we rode the run together.
I’ve tubed down the Blue Springs run before and never gave a second thought to alligators or snakes. Yet as I floated down this run, it was all I could think about. Every time my raft veered to the bank, I’d frantically paddle back to the middle convincing myself that the middle was safe. I spent the entire thirty minute, half mile float completely tense.
Arriving at the departure point and realizing I had not been eaten by an alligator, I convinced myself that this was actually fun. We walked the half mile back to the start and completed the run all over again–this time much more relaxed. That is until we passed the swimming area. After we passed the swimming area, manned by lifeguards or alligator spotters as I liked to think of them, we were alone. No one was watching our backs but ourselves. We heard a rustling on the right bank. Pulse racing, I moved closer to the left bank trying to put some space between myself and the gator that was clearly hunting me. Just as I was about to enter cardiac arrest, two river otters tumbled off of the bank into the water. I love otters. They were not the cold blooded killer reptiles that I saw camouflaged in every muddy bank. They were warm and playful. Their sleek brown fur formed perfect arches as they completed dive after dive chasing each other through the thick aquatic vines lining the bank. Mesmerized by their graceful swimming, my pulse returned to normal as I tried my very hardest to fight the current and snap their picture. They, unlike me, were able to swim against the current with the slightest of effort putting too much space between us to get a decent photograph. So I returned to my raft and continued on feeling less anxious than I had five minutes earlier.
Our next few hours were spent alternating between eating lunch on our blanket, floating in the swimming area, and watching the otters play hide and seek among the lily pads until they finally had enough of prying human eyes.
Kelly Park and its crystal clear waters is a true gem in the middle of The City Beautiful. Three dollars for the two of us provided us with a relaxing afternoon of otter watching and sunbathing. Not too bad for a Florida afternoon. I highly recommend visiting, but do it on a weekday.