If not for a tip from a friend, we would have passed right by Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park without even realizing it was there. Everyone has heard Stephen Foster’s song about the Suwannee River, but who knew you could visit a state park dedicated to the American composer? Where his music can be heard emanating from a 97-bell carillon throughout the day? (Actually, there are TWO state parks memorializing Mr. Foster’s life – this one in Florida and another in Georgia!)
Stephen Foster was born in 1826 and composed more than 200 songs during his lifetime, but it was ‘Old Folks at Home’ that made the Suwannee River famous all over the world. In 1931, Josiah K. Lilly, son of Indiana pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli K. Lilly, suggested a memorial be built to composer, and the Florida Federation of Music Clubs ran with the idea obtaining land contributions along the Suwannee.
In 1950 the park opened and visitors rode on replica paddle steamers up and down the Suwannee River. Now visitors can enjoy a variety of actives, including hiking, bicycling, canoeing, wildlife viewing, exploring the museum’s exhibits about Foster’s life and most famous songs, and browsing in the craft square where demonstrations of quilting, blacksmithing, stained glass making, and other crafts are ongoing.
After a little window shopping Ty and Buster were ready to hit the trails … and with miles of paths dissecting the 800-acre park, there were plenty to choose from! As the temperature climbed and things got sticky, we found a lovely pavilion by the river to enjoy the breeze and savor the music from the distant carillon mixing with the sounds of nature.
This is not a place where you’d want to plan to take your dogs swimming, and I wouldn’t even recommend taking small dogs down the staircase to the banks of the river. Signs clearly indicate that this is alligator habitat, so keeping your pup well away from the water’s edge is best.
(Though it’s difficult to tell, the bank drops steeply behind where the boys are posing in this photo, so they were in no danger of becoming a gator’s lunch.)
Stephen Foster State Park is a wonderful place to spend the day with your dog. Pack a picnic, grab your hammock, and check the schedule of events on the park’s website to plan your visit. If you’re looking for a relaxing, peaceful place to camp in north Florida, book a stay at the lovely, pet friendly RV park and campground. Unfortunately, none of the park’s five cabins welcome dogs or cats – hopefully something they’ll consider in the future!