Tarpon Springs

 Wealthy Northerners settled this region in the late 1800’s, as a winter retreat.  Once known as “the Venice of the South”, the area is surrounded by lakes, rivers, and bayous and to the west, the Gulf of Mexico.  Thousands of Greeks immigrated to this area in the early 1900’s to work in the sponge industry.  This has left a strong imprint on the community.  Walking along the sponge docks, there are dozens of little shops selling Greek souvenirs and foods, and local sponges.  Greek restaurants and bakeries line this street and are dotted throughout the town.  Tourism is now the primary income source for the vicinity. 

Tile mural in downtown area
Visiting Tarpon Springs a few weeks ago, we had vague remembrances of sponge-laden boats along the downtown waterfront and the rich, subtly spiced Greek food, memories from our other trips to the city.  Previously, we had not explored beyond the touristy strip along the sponge docks.  This time was different.

We traveled here to participate in the Tarpon Springs Art Association Plein Air Paint and Photo Event.  At the sign-in, we received a map and general information on the town and the event.  Alan’s watercolor paper was stamped, to insure his paintings were completed within the set time frame.  After registering for the event, we took a short tour of town to get oriented for the following few days of creativity.
Howard Park

Parrots at Sunset Park
Surrounded by so much water and so many parks, it was easy to find inspiration for our work.  Over the next few days we explored the area extensively.  Howard Park was one of our first stops.  This  155-acre park is located along the Gulf with a 1-mile causeway connecting the beach area with the inland portion of the park, which consists of long leaf pines and oak trees laden with Spanish moss.  The nearby and aptly named Sunset Beach Park juts out into the Gulf of Mexico and provides not only fabulous sunsets, but monthly music concerts in a pavilion, as well as beach combing, fishing and picnicking.  This was the home of dozens of parrots I photographed for a couple of days.

Craig Park
Inland we visited Craig Park, which is located on the Spring Bayou.  This is the site of the Greek Epiphany Celebration each January 6, in which young divers (age 16-18) dive into the chilly water to recover a wooden cross, thrown by a church official and are rewarded with a blessed year.   The celebration is a 3-day affair, which is continued at the sponge docks with food and music.  The Bayou is also a winter home for manatees.  Further west of town, we visited Anderson Park.  The 135-acre park consists of gently rolling hills and overlooks Lake Tarpon, a popular bass fishing site.

Pinellas Trail
For bikers, joggers or walkers, the Pinellas Trail is a rails-to-trail project, which runs from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg.  The 34-mile paved trail attracts an estimated 90,000 users each month, but we saw only a handful of people on the trail the day we walked through Tarpon Springs.  Wall Springs Park, just south of town, is a former recreational area developed in the early 1900’s.  It was well known as a health destination because of the supposed benefits of the alkaline water in the springs.  Since 2005, the 63-acre park has been open as a Pinellas County Park for fishing, picnicking and bird watching.
My entry, taken outside St. Nicholas
Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Alan's entry-an old Sponge House
Of course, the reason we traveled to Tarpon Springs was the Plein Air Paint and Photo Event.  The first 3 days were filled with painting on Alan’s part and photography on mine.   Alan would hunker down with his easel and paints, in a new site (or two) each day, as I dropped him off to drive around the area and shoot hundreds of pictures.  Selecting what we thought would be considered not only our best, but the most appropriate for the competition, we framed our works and submitted them for judging.  Unfortunately, the judges were not as excited by our works as we were, but it was an educational and creative experience for both of us. 

Fort DeSota Park
Departing Tarpon Springs, we made a side stop at Fort DeSota Park outside of St. Petersburg, to visit with friends and to enjoy the offerings of the park.  Having camped here on several occasions in the past, we are familiar with the beaches, the waterways for canoeing and fishing and the large peaceful campsites; and we are never disappointed.  I’m not sure what our next trip will be, but well be sure to bring you along!
Walls Spring Park

Sunset at Ft DeSota Campsite

Canoeing at Ft. DeSota

Along the Sponge Docks

Pelicans near a fish house 

Along the Fishing Docks

At Howard Park

N. Anclote River Nature Park

Parrots at Sunset Beach

Inside St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral

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