The difference between staying at a private resort and either a state park or if you are lucky enough to find a Corp of Engineer Park is the people. There are probably a lot of other differences that I could name like the sites are normally larger and spaced farther apart, they usually have fewer sites, and they don’t have all the amenities that snowbirds are looking for at the resorts but the one thing that always sticks out to us is the people. When you stay at a “snowbird” resort the people are in their clicks or groups that they have established over the years and they are there for at least the three winter months and are not very willing to welcome us transient RVers (people like us who move often). When you go to a state park or a COE where the stay is maxed out at 14 days everyone is so eager to sit down and talk. We have met so many unforgettable people and learned so much about the area or state from these people when we stay in state parks and COE and Ortona South COE campground was no exception.
Ortona South COE sat on the Caloosahatchee River where the Federal government has a lock and dam that controls the waterway between the river and Okeechobee Lake. This COE campground was one of three on this waterway. It was also the largest with 45 sites and we were so lucky to get a site for two different time periods. Because you can only stay 14 days in a month’s period at each COE campground, the snowbirds try to make reservations six months ahead so they can move back and forth between the three campgrounds for the entire winter months. The only way we were lucky enough to get in was because they had a cancellation. We watched the online reservations daily and booked as soon as we saw an opening. Our last stay we were really lucky and got a site right on the river where we watched the boats go through the lock. All the sites are very nice and would take any site if we could get back in the park.
The COE is 10 miles from the closest town and is in the middle of cow country. Biking was excellent and a hike through the park was a nice walk a couple of times a day. We also were able to see some of nature’s critters while we were there. We watched a bald eagle soar above us and land in a tree across the river, an armadillo that we could have bent down and touched digging in the dirt, an alligator that played hide and seek with us in a creek, an otter we watched daily along the bank of the river and evidence that there was a manatee in the river by the weeds that went missing overnight but never caught a glimpse of it. It was a fabulous park to stay at and we would have loved to stay longer but no more days were available. And did I mention that with our Golden Pass it is dirt cheap.
But getting back to the people – oh the people we meet! Ellie and Kurt from not far from the CG but come to this COE because they use to be camp host there. Ellie was such a character. She had a few small strokes and Kurt had three open heart surgeries. Every time we talked to Ellie she told us the same stories but we loved listening to them. Such a sweet couple! They provided us with so much history of this lock and dam and the area. Then there was the man riding his 3-wheel bicycle who stopped to visit. He also had a stroke and had a very hard time talking but it didn’t make any difference to him, he still wanted to visit. People who stop by because they have the same make of RV as you do or because they have a dog and you have a dog so they just stop and so many more. You just don’t get that in the snowbird RV Resorts. We are always looking online to see what state park we can get into or maybe get back into the COE because we realize that half of this adventure we are on is about the people we meet.
So now off we go to a new state park we learned about and were able to get into from a young couple we met at John Pennekamp State Park as we were out walking. The world is full of information if you just let it in!
We are blessed with so many new and old friends!