Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Just an hour south of this town of almost 50,000. Located along the southern shore of Lake Monroe, Sanford is refreshingly more real than fantasy and more village than city. And there are more boats.
"Sanford is pleasantly surprising for the newcomer," observes John Lucarell, harbormaster at Monroe Harbour Marina (a BoatUS Cooperating Marina). "It's a small quaint town. You can launch your boat here for free at the public ramp or you can walk across the street and explore the downtown." Lucarell has some expertise in this since he's worked at the marina for almost 38 years.Lake Monroe is part of the St. Johns River system, at 310 miles and passing through 18 counties, the longest river in Florida. The St. Johns is unique in that it's one of the few large rivers that flows north. Lake Monroe is the midway point of the river system which begins south of Melbourne in a marshy area and empties into the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville.
"You'll need to learn the terminology on Lake Monroe," says Lucarell, "because going 'upriver' is actually going south toward Melbourne where the river begins. Going 'downriver' is really going north toward Jacksonville."
The St. Johns is slow moving; it drops one inch every 10 miles as it moves north. As a result, there is little, if any current, unless one of Florida's famous downpours occurs for a few days. Lake Monroe is three miles across from Monroe Harbour Marina. The river flows into the lake just east of Sanford and flows out of the lake five miles to the west near Boat Tree, a second BoatUS Cooperating Marina. Sanford is the largest city along the shoreline and for more than a mile, the Riverwalk is a gathering place for residents and tourists. Eventually, Riverwalk will expand to five miles long, reaching the Sanford Zoo located along the lake's southeast shoreline.
Sanford began to take shape in the mid 1800's when the U.S. government offered a deal many settlDid You Know Sanforders couldn't refuse: Move to Florida and we'll give you free land. Soon, an entrepreneur named Henry Sanford decided to take it a step further and developed this new area and called it "The Gate City of Southern Florida." He began planting citrus trees and vegetables and soon riverboats were carrying the produce via Lake Monroe and the St. Johns River 160 miles north to Jacksonville on the Atlantic Ocean. Railroads followed and the newfound agricultural industry attracted workers from Greece, Italy, Russia and England to work the fields while the wealthy took notice of the warmth and started visiting during the brutal winters. Sanford took the name "Celery City" as a result of the huge quantities of this vegetable that grew within its borders. Today Sanford has a number of commercial and residential buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.Monroe with his marina next to a three-lane launch ramp and next to a pair of popular waterfront restaurants (Wolfy's and Limoncello's), harbormaster Lucarell is at the center of activity, both on and off the water. And it's only a five-minute walk to downtown Sanford, which is convenient for the trailer boater wanting a different venue after a day on the water.
First Street, running parallel to Seminole Avenue along Riverwalk is where you'll find a variety of local restaurants, including, Two Blondes and A Shrimp, which features Celery City Soup in honor of the town's history. First Street is also a venue for terrific Victorian architecture and numerous antique shops and bookstores.
Next to the boat ramp at Monroe Harbour is the 98-foor Rivership Romance, providing lunch and dinner cruises during the summer. Romance has an interesting story in that it was built in 1942 and used to help construct the Mackinac Island Bridge that connects the upper and lower Michigan peninsulas. Left in disrepair, it was brought to Sanford and given a new life.
"We have folks overnight here on their way north or south along the St. Johns," notes Joey Pozo of Boat Tree Marina located just west of Lake Monroe where the St. Johns River begins its slow flow north." Jacksonville is a two-day trip by boat from here but a lot of folks take a slip and fish the lake. Monroe has channel bass, catfish and speckled perch." It should be noted that every Boat Tree Marina slip (and BoatUS Members get a 25% discount) has a pump-out station which is part of an all-out effort on the lake to keep pollutants out of the water. Boat Tree is also the world's largest dealer of Regal Boats.
Across the St. Johns River from Boat Tree is Lake Monroe Park where boats can be launched for $2. The park, with free admission, recently underwent a $1.2-million renovation and has access for RV's, floating docks, a boardwalk and nature trails.
"If I were suggesting a day trip for someone new to Lake Monroe," says Pozo, "I'd say give some thought to heading north 20 miles from here on the St. Johns to Blue Springs State Park. It's primitive but a nice trip and you'll see alligators and osprey in the most primitive of settings. Blue Springs is the largest spring on the river and because it has a constant temperature of about 72¡F, it's become a gathering place for manatees during the winter. As a result, it's a manatee refuge so there are some no-wake zones. It's a different part of the world and people who've been there always tell me how much they enjoyed the trip by boat."
At Boat Tree, a regular stopping-off point for boaters and non-boaters is the Captains Cove Restaurant, which overlooks the marina and a Regal boat or two. Make sure to stop on the porch and say hello to "Marina," the resident cat who holds watch over the dining room from a chair. If cats are a draw, "LB" and "Wyatt" both patrol Monroe Harbour Marina at night. Harbormaster John Lucarell says because they are focused on working, the cats aren't very sociable.
Sanford isn't big and it's always going to be in the distance when names like "Orlando" and Disneyland" are talked about. Maybe that's the way it should be. After all, whenever a boat is involved, less often proves to be more.
Amtrak's Auto Train carries passengers and their cars daily between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida, a distance of more than 800 miles. Operating since 1983, the train can carry a tow vehicle and trailer with a PWC or a small boat as long as the total length of truck and trailer doesn't exceed 40 feet, is within 104 inches (8 feet, 6 inches) wide and 90 inches (7 feet, five inches) high. The Stanford station is less than two miles from Lake Monroe. Sanford's Auto Train station is undergoing a $10-million renovation as part of the recently passed stimulus package
BoatUS Cooperating Marinas
BoatUS Members receive a 25% discount on transient slips, 10¢ gallon discount of fuel and free pumpouts.
Monroe Harbour Marina
BoatUS Members receive a 25% discount on transient slips.
City of Sanford www.sanfordfl.gov