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Authentic Florida air boat rides on Lake Garcia, site of 1960's era racetrack

An aerial view of area surrounding Blue Cypress Conservation area reveals the outline of former racetrack
An aerial view of area surrounding Blue Cypress Conservation area reveals the outline of former racetrack
Robin Barnoske

For an authentic Florida air boat ride in the Blue Cypress Conservation Area, riders need only drive about an hour south and east of Orlando to view an ‘old Florida’ marsh in its natural state.

Situated on Indian River County Road 512, just minutes north of its intersection with State Road 60, the conservation area is a well-maintained landing area, with ample parking and quality interpretive displays about the area’s flora, ecology and wildlife.

Air boats slot and launch from the site’s ramps into tea-colored canal alleyways fringed with gold-tipped, emerald-colored sword grasses. The canals then give way to the 30,000-acre Lake Garcia, an expansive theater of ditch-lizards (alligators) and an amazing collection of native birds chirping in their aboriginal habitat.

Worldwide tourists seeking their bona fide Florida marsh experience flock to the Blue Conservation Area to embark on air boat adventures provided by vendors such as Florida Cracker Airboat Rides & Guide Service. Florida Cracker offers the site’s only real, airplane engine-powered air boat journey, commanded by Captain Lawrence Kyzer. The captain, a fourth-generation Floridian, and a Florida Southern College graduate, has 35 years’ experience and a perfect safety record.

During the tours, passengers wear talk around headsets, so that the captain may regale them with his keen sense for the movements of gators, snakes, bird calls and vegetation, all through the backwaters of the St. Johns River.

The lake also holds a storied past: It is the site of a former regulation horse race track, and the classy MG Ranch. In the 1980s the racetrack was flooded to make way for the wetlands park next to the lake, but the racetrack outline can be seen on Google maps, an image of which appears on Florida Cracker’s website. Look for the track’s oval outline in the northeast corner of the now-conservation area’s parking lot. Air boats launch into a canal which is the actual now underwater racetrack.

In the track’s mid-1960's heyday, stallions named ‘Icy Nino,’ and the velvet-chocolate-colored ‘Dark Ruler’ trained. ‘Icy Nino’ once placed first a Miami race. Another thoroughbred, ‘Hail to the Prince,’ was syndicated for more than $100 thousand dollars.

Today, Lake Garcia and the Blue Cypress Conservation Area showcase the singular gorgeousness that is Florida marshland to upwards of 50,000 tourists annually.

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