Lillard scores 30, Trail Blazers rout Spurs 124-102


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 30 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the San Antonio Spurs 124-102…

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 30 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the San Antonio Spurs 124-102 on Saturday night, moving closer to an outright playoff spot.

CJ McCollum added 27 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 17 points and nine rebounds for Portland, which has won seven of eight.

DeMar DeRozan finished with 20 points and Lonnie Walker added 18 for the Spurs.

Lillard hit a 3-pointer that gave the Blazers a 90-75 lead going into the fourth quarter and Portland led by as many as 26 points in the period. Neither Lillard nor Nurkic played in the fourth.

Both teams were playing the second of back-to-backs. Portland solidified its hold on sixth place in the Western Conference with a 106-101 victory Friday night over the Lakers, which gave the Blazers the tiebreaker against their foe.

The Blazers moved within one-half game of fifth-place Dallas in the West. The top six teams avoid the NBA’s new play-in tournament.

“Now it’s just go time,” Nurkic said.

Portland is coming together in the closing stretch of the regular season after faltering last month with 10 losses in a 13-game span.

“I feel like every team has to go through that at some point of the season, to really find ourselves and know what you have to do,” said Norman Powell, who finished with 18 points. “I think after that we’ve been able to put together multiple games of high-level basketball, top to bottom.”

San Antonio, coming off a 113-104 victory over Sacramento, has lost six of seven but is 10th in the West, two games ahead of New Orleans for the final play-in spot.

“We are playing for something. I hope everyone in the locker room understands that,” said Dejounte Murray, who scored 15 points. “ I think we’re a better team than what the record shows.”

Portland was without Carmelo Anthony, who has a right ankle sprain. The 10-time All-Star, who is averaging 13.5 points off the bench, hadn’t missed a game this season.

McCollum’s 3-pointer gave the Blazers a 36-34 lead midway through the second quarter. He added another 3 after Enes Kanter’s layup.

Lillard’s 3-pointer stretched the lead to 52-43 and he finished the opening half with 21 points. Portland led 57-47 at the break.

“I think we’ve been playing good basketball for a while. And tonight was just another one,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I didn’t think we got loose with the game, even though we had a lead, especially in the third quarter when we were able to build the lead up.”

TIP-INS

Spurs: Dropped two of three games against the Blazers this season. The Spurs were outrebounded 63-40, including 18-7 on the offensive end. “The offensive rebounds were just ridiculous. I think at one point it was like 20-2,” Murray said. “It was tough. We’ve got to play better.”

Trail Blazers: Hosted fans at the Moda Center for the second time. The team can bring in about 10% of capacity, roughly 1,900 people. … Stotts won his 399th game with the Blazers. … Portland’s 63 rebounds were a season high.

30 FOR 30

Lillard has scored 30 or more points in five straight games. He ranks third in the league with 32 30-point or better games.

QUOTABLE

“There’s been so many ups and downs, injuries, this whole COVID situation, travel,” DeRozan said. “You can find every excuse in the world but we’re still sitting here trying to figure out a way to continue playing.”

UP NEXT

Spurs: Host Milwaukee on Monday.

Trail Blazers: Host Houston on Monday.

___

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Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.





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My Money: Buying a home is unattainable; I’m saving to spend


Hayley Jordan is saving to travel.

ROSA WOODS

Hayley Jordan is saving to travel.

We’re asking Kiwis how they manage their finances and their tips for success. Wellingtonian Hayley Jordan, 29, is on a good salary now but it’s taken her some time to become adept at managing her money.

Salary band: $80k+

Employment status: FT with a side hustle

Living situation: Rent alone

Belong to KiwiSaver? Yes

Have a student loan? Yes

Have a credit card? Yes

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What’s your current financial goal and how do you plan to get there?

Saving for a 3-6 month trip in Europe. I lived in the UK from 2018-2020 and had to come back due to Covid. So I want to go back and do the travel properly when the world opens up again. I’m trying to save for this with a portion of my salary each fortnight as well as open up an investment account to boost these savings.

Tell us how you divvy up your paycheck

37 per cent of income on rent; 8 per cent on bills including phone, Internet, power, petrol, insurance; 15 per cent on food; 10 per cent in emergency savings; 10 per cent on debt payments (credit card, loan from a friend) 20 per cent on spending or unexpected costs (want to start investing but need emergency savings and debt paid off first).

Your best financial tip?

Start investing! I wish I had started earlier. Property is completely out of reach for me, I will never save enough on my own salary (even with a KiwiSaver) to be able to afford a deposit. My family is lower income and always has been, for generations, so we have no property to pass on. My parents rent as well. Investing is the only way I can see myself gaining any amount of money quicker than my salary – savings accounts are a joke for their interest rates. I hope that with investing I may have something to add to my KiwiSaver to buy a home in 10-20 years (if houses aren’t $2m by then!).

Hayley Jordan has had a run of financial bad luck, but is working hard to be debt free, and saving for more travel.

ROSA WOODS/Stuff

Hayley Jordan has had a run of financial bad luck, but is working hard to be debt free, and saving for more travel.

Your biggest financial risk or mistake?

Moving to the UK was my biggest financial risk. Salaries are lower there (I took a $20k paycut) and I had to pay my own taxes for the first six months as a nomad remote worker/contractor. I chose the wrong accountant and they messed me over with the taxes and I suddenly had a £3500 tax bill that I had to pay in one month. I was saving taxes to the side of my pay, but not enough because my accountant gave me the wrong advice.

I had to borrow that money from a very generous friend who is letting me pay it off when I can. I feel terribly guilty , and went into even further debt trying to get back from the UK to New Zealand during Covid. Flights were £2k one way. I’m in a bit of hole at the moment that I’m trying to work my way out of, it feels a bit hopeless, and the patience of my friend is the only thing keeping me asleep at night!

Your biggest financial win?

My job – I get paid well, and I work really hard. I’m trying my best to upgrade my living circumstances by advancing my career. I’m the first person in my family to ever go to university and get a corporate job, so I’m trying really hard to make it all worth it and raise my family out of the lower-income bracket.

Your money philosophy?

I have chronic health issues which means I may not have a long, quality, able-bodied life. With this filter across everything, I am less tied to the future, which is both a freedom and a hindrance. I often think what’s the point in having a retirement fund if I probably won’t live that long anyway! It means my money philosophy is centred around my human experience – I will spend whatever I want to get the experiences I want to feel fulfilled in my lifetime. This means a lot of travel and a lot less savings.

Financial research website Moneyhub has compiled the 12 ‘Sacred Rules’ of credti cards every cardholder should follow, if they don’t want to fall victim to easy, and expensive, consumer debt.

How have you learned about personal finances?

I am not good with money – very little financial literacy. I come from a family where we’ve struggled with money and I haven’t had a lot of money lessons growing up. It’s no fault of my parents as they can’t teach what they don’t know themselves. I didn’t realise how privileged some of my peers are to have parents who have family trusts or property investments, or they’ve been involved with the family business or investments while growing up. I had no access to this type of learning, and I can see friends/peers who did and have a much stronger foundation of saving/investing/spending wisely.

Your biggest money lesson?

Don’t get into credit card debt! My parents told me don’t ever get into credit card debt! I’ve held true to this as much as possible. I have a credit card now, but it’s only for emergencies.

What is the biggest challenge when it comes to achieving your financial goals?

Delayed gratification and seeing the bigger picture. I struggle to imagine a future, being retired and with a secure financial future and a home. Half because I don’t believe I’ll get there (health wise) and half because I think some of that might be out of reach for me. I’m single, I’m from a “poor” family and our family don’t own property. That’s why my goal is closer than that – travel around Europe and spend all my money! At least I’ll die fulfilled and happy.



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WDWNT Daily Recap (5/8/21): ‘Festival of the Lion King’ Returns, Club Cool Floor, Crazy Harmonious Fountain Testing, Digital Tip Boards at Animal Kingdom, and More – wdwnt.com



WDWNT Daily Recap (5/8/21): ‘Festival of the Lion King’ Returns, Club Cool Floor, Crazy Harmonious Fountain Testing, Digital Tip Boards at Animal Kingdom, and More  wdwnt.com



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9 Travel Trends That Will Be Huge for Summer 2021 – PureWow


travel trends summer 2021 trains



Yevgen Timashov/Getty Images

6. Planes? That’s so 2019. We’re taking trains again

Weary travelers became even less motivated to jump on a plane during the ongoing pandemic when airlines ended their COVID-19 policies of blocking middle seats, and stories of packed planes are seemingly the norm again. Combined with deals (more on that below), rising vaccine numbers and increased concern and focus on the ways travelers can immediately reduce their carbon emissions, our crystal ball tells us train travel will be full steam ahead this summer.

Regardless of your vaccine status at that time, Amtrak’s trains are already equipped with onboard filtration systems with a fresh air exchange rate every four to five minutes, a rep tells us, and right now, prospective passengers can also see the percentage of seats sold on their trains at the time of booking, allowing you to book less-crowded trains, or even swap out your ticket without incurring a fee.

7. Procrastination has left the station

Current booking windows give us an interesting view into where travelers’ heads are at today when it comes to travel. According to Expedia, in 2020, booking windows shortened significantly as people were making more last-minute decisions or were only traveling out of sheer necessity. Now, they’re seeing booking windows lengthening again, nearing 2019’s levels. What this means is people are already making their summer travel plans, so if you procrastinate because you think “no one is really traveling right now,” you may risk missing out or end up paying more in popular, competitive destinations, or for those dream hotels or coveted direct flights you’ve bookmarked.

“What we know: Travel players spend a lot of time optimizing demand and supply by actively managing their pricing and, given the returning demand levels for both leisure and business travel, we expect them to try to maximize their profits from this returning demand,” Jason Guggenheim, Boston Consulting Group’s Global Head of Travel, tells us. “We do believe that, as business travel slowly returns over the summer and fall, airlines and hotels will see a shift to demand around their premium offerings, and this should impact their yield realization.” Translation: Yup, you guessed it—again, book ahead especially for premium seats or experiences, or you may risk paying hair-scratching rates for travel.

8. We’re traveling closer to home

As travelers return to the scene, get ready to see a lot of location-tagging on your ‘gram in Las Vegas, Orlando, Key West and Honolulu—naturally—as well as warm-weather destinations like Myrtle Beach, S.C., Destin, .F..L, Panama City Beach, F.L. and seasonal favorites like the Outer Banks, Cape Cod and the Jersey Shore.

Right now, search data from Expedia analyzed from March 1 to April 27, 2021 for destinations from June 1 to August 31, 2021, reveals short-haul international travelers are all about Mexico—which makes sense, when you consider it’s familiarity for most Americans and its closer-to-home location for a quick, post-vaccine trip. No surprise here, Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Los Cabos have all seen surges in searches on Expedia, likely due in part to the competitive nature of those markets and all the available deals for summer travel.

Another spot visitors are currently charmed by: Costa Rica. When examining the top ten most popular destinations for summertime travel, Costa Rica ranks sixth and is up 13 spots from 2019, KAYAK’s searches reveal. When compared to last month, search interest is up 24 percent for this Central American destination, with flight prices averaging about $407—not too shabby for a plane ride anywhere outside of the country.

Opening up to travelers earlier than many other destinations, Costa Rica is also popular for value and its ease of travel. In fact, many of the resorts quickly pivoted to offer on-site COVID-19 testing options for guests when, earlier this year, the U.S. announced it would require said tests for re-entry. Aside from giving travelers a sense of security in knowing they could return home with ease, Costa Rica’s government also requires travelers to purchase relatively inexpensive travel insurance that covers the cost of an extended stay should you test positive for the virus and subsequently need to quarantine.





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The Benefits of Traveling During an Election Year


flagThis election year, as in many past election years, is full of uncertainties.

But one thing is fairly certain during national election years around the world.

Folks tend to travel less—and even more so when the race is considered really close.

That means it’s a buyer’s market for smart travelers.

If you combine that with the balance problem between foreign currencies, it’s an even better time to travel.

In the U.S., we’re starting to see a growing number of airfare deals.

These are not just on domestic flights, but on international flights as well.

When the departing and arriving country both happen to have elections, the discounts are even greater.

Consider Australia. Its election has been scheduled for July 2.

The U.S. Dollar is strong against the Australian Dollar. The result? Some of the lowest airfares in years.

Right now, a round trip ticket between Sydney and Los Angeles is being sold for $734 Australian Dollars.

That works out to just $534 U.S. Dollars.

You’ll also find similar deals between the U.S. and Europe.

So, no matter who you’re voting for in November, in an election year, travelers win.

For more information about money and travel, check out:

Keep reading for more travel tips.





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11 Reasons To Visit Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary


If you plan to visit the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Florida, bring your camera and your sense of wonder. This is a back-to-nature experience that rivals any in the Sunshine State.

Corkscrew is the jewel of the National Audubon Society. It was founded by the society in 1954 on about 5,000 acres of pristine swamp northeast of Naples, Florida, on the edge of Big Cypress National Preserve. Over the years it has acquired and saved more native habitat to reach its current size of 13,000 acres. 

The land is preserved much as it has existed for millennia. It is home to grasslands, cypress trees, hardwood hammocks, alligators, migratory birds, and native birds. In a typical year, 100,000 people visit the sanctuary to soak it all up.

Admission is by reservation only, and reservations must be made online. There are discounts for college students, active-duty military, and Audubon members. Children under six enter for free.

Here are 11 reasons to visit Florida’s fascinating Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

1. The Boardwalk

There is only one way to see Corkscrew. That’s to walk the 2.25-mile boardwalk that circles the heart of the sanctuary. There is a shortcut that cuts that distance approximately in half. Don’t take the shortcut. The longer loop takes about 2 hours to complete, but it is well worth the time and effort.

Wear comfortable shoes, and bring along sunscreen and bug repellent. I was there in March, and bugs were not an issue.

W
Fred Mays

2. The Great Viewing Guides And Rest Areas

There are information stations at strategic locations along the boardwalk with signs that tell visitors about points of interest. You’ll also find rest stops with benches along the way, some with shelters from the sun and rain. There are no restrooms on the boardwalk.

3. The Natural Wonders

Audubon works hard to preserve the wilderness in the sanctuary. The best time to go is in the winter, generally between November and March. That’s when you’ll have the best chance of spotting the migratory birds. There is also the “dry down” season during April and May, when there is little rainfall and the wading birds tend to be drawn to pools of water, where they can feast on the fish.  

As you walk the boardwalk, you will travel through the largest remaining stand of old-growth virgin bald cypress trees in the world. The trees are found throughout the sanctuary and cover about 700 acres. 

4. The Photo Opportunities

Corkscrew is a magnet for photographers. Some of the best nature photographers in the world have brought their cameras to the sanctuary. A reasonably current cell-phone camera will get you good pictures. But if you have a good digital or film camera, this is the place to use it. Over two days, I spent about 5 hours walking the boardwalk with my Nikon, and I took over 300 pictures. I shot in RAW format and processed the good ones in Photoshop. A friend was with me, using her cell phone, and she got some excellent shots, too. Just make sure you have a camera — any camera — with you.

Gator at the swamp.
Fred Mays

5. The Wildlife

Depending on the time of year, you will see migratory birds, alligators, white-tailed deer, and maybe even a bear or Florida panther. A couple of years ago, a panther jumped out onto the boardwalk in front of a woman who just happened to have her cell phone handy. It’s hard to say who was more frightened. The panther quickly darted past her and jumped back into the underbrush. She got it all on video. 

Non-Floridians are usually astonished to learn that the sanctuary sits in an arid environment for about eight months of the year. There is little rainfall outside of the summer months. Summer brings almost daily thunderstorms rolling off of the Gulf of Mexico and building up over the Everglades region. Don’t visit in the summer if you want to see wildlife. Even critters don’t move about much in the stifling Florida heat.

Storks at the sanctuary.
R.J. Wiley

6. The Bird-Watching

Corkscrew is a prime stop on the Great Florida Birding Trail. Bird-watchers with their binoculars and telephoto lenses can have a field day. There is a small resident eagle population, along with owls, hawks, and wood storks. The wood storks used to nest here in huge numbers in the winter, but land use changes around the sanctuary have disrupted their nesting habits, and the birds have gone elsewhere. Today, a wood stork nest in the sanctuary is rare. 

What has happened to the habitat? Development in southwest Florida has boomed over the last 30 to 40 years. Land for subdivisions, shopping centers, and highways was created by a network of canals that drained the swamps. This has resulted in a loss of habitat for the area’s wildlife.

Ghost orchid at the sanctuary.
R.J. Wiley

7. The Flowers

The sanctuary is home to the super ghost orchid, which was discovered here in 2007. The largest-known concentration of ghost orchids in the world is here at Corkscrew. But they are hard to find. They are attached to the trees, usually high above the ground. They tend to bloom mostly in the summer, in June and July. But sightings have been reported as early as January. A bloom usually lasts a week or two, and the plants have been known to bloom multiple times a year.

The swamp is also home to iris plants, usually visible along the boardwalk. Many other plants flower at different times of the year.

8. The Accessibility

The boardwalk is all on one level, making it accessible to those with wheelchairs or walkers. The main building and gift shop are ADA compliant. 

9. The Living Machine

Before you enter Corkscrew, visit the Living Machine, right by the parking lot. This is where the sanctuary’s unique restrooms are located. The discharge from the restrooms is treated underground and then pumped into a hothouse of sorts full of native plants. The fertilized water irrigates the plants and is filtered and cleansed in the process. The water is then pumped back into the restroom system. Corkscrew is not hooked up to any municipal sewer lines. Everything is recycled.

Wetlands pool at Corkscrew Swamp.
Fred Mays

10. The Threat Of Climate Change

The ecology of southwest Florida is changing noticeably from year to year. Summers are hotter and wetter. Winters are drier, longer, and — by Florida standards — colder. Much of the flora and fauna of the region cannot tolerate freezing temperatures for very long. Corkscrew is not immune to the impact of climate change. The sanctuary is drier than in the past, and this has resulted in changes to the ecosystem, both in wildlife and in vegetation. 

Brad Cornell of Audubon works closely with the local and state governments to protect Corkscrew from the explosive growth. To the north and east is agriculture, and to the south and west is sprawling urban development.

“Starting in 2000, water levels began dropping precipitously,” said Cornell.

A hydrology study identified the drainage canals as the main culprit, even though the canals are not on sanctuary property. Audubon is looking at options to keep the wetlands in Corkscrew wet.

11. The Staff

There are about 20 staff members at Corkscrew, along with many volunteers. I was happy to run into a couple of volunteers who were replacing handrails and decking on the boardwalk. Some of the professional staff members divide their time, working on both Corkscrew and other Florida Audubon projects and issues.

Where To Stay

Corkscrew is off of County Road 846, between northeast Naples and Immokalee, Florida.  The closest hotels are along Interstate 75. I stayed at the Hampton Inn, which was about 20 minutes from the sanctuary entrance. There are other options, but not as close to Corkscrew.

Pro Tip: You can walk the Corkscrew boardwalk in about 2 hours, but take your time. Stop often. Observe nature. The ecosystem here is very fragile. I recommend going first thing in the morning when the gates open. The sunlight is best for photographers at that hour, and the wildlife is more active.



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12 Must-See Sites In Florida’s Alligator Alley


The drive between Naples, Florida, and Miami is about 115 miles, and you can make the trip in a couple hours. But don’t rush things. The highway takes you through the heart of the Everglades and Big Cypress Preserve. This is a trip that offers unique and historical attractions that you want to stop and absorb.

The drive is along U.S. 41, otherwise known as Tamiami Trail, and for long-time Floridians, it is known as Old Alligator Alley. Much of the trip is two-lane highway with limited passing opportunities. So slow down and enjoy.

I recently drove the highway from Naples to Miami for the first time in many years. It used to be a long, lonely highway, with nothing but trees and grasslands on either side of the road. Today things have changed. You will find interesting places to visit all along the road.

Marina in Alligator Alley.
Fred Mays

1. Back To Nature In Everglades City

Our first stop is Everglades City. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, it had a nefarious reputation as a major port of entry for illegal pot and cocaine being smuggled in from South America. After a few residents got to spend time in federal prisons, the town’s focus turned to tourism. Today it is the airboat capital of South Florida.

No fewer than three airboat charter companies greet you as you come into town. They take tourists on trips through the Thousand Islands of the Everglades. Generally, the trips last about an hour and cost under $50 for adults and $25 for youngsters. Some of the outfitters also offer swamp buggy trips. Airboats are loud, so you’re not going to sneak up on birds and critters. Ear protection must be worn by all passengers. 

2. Salt Marsh And Island Tours

The western entry to Everglades National Park is located in Everglades City. It offers boat tours and rents kayaks. Boat tours out of the national park are on large pontoon boats that can carry 30 to 40 people. The trips usually last about an hour and a half and take you through the mangrove forests offshore. You can rent a kayak and paddle yourself. You paddle in protected waters and the trip is not very strenuous unless the wind is blowing. With kayaks, you are more likely to quietly sneak up on wading shorebirds and wildlife.

3. Big Cypress National Preserve

The area on the north side of Old Alligator Alley is part of the Big Cypress National Preserve. It is hard to distinguish from the Everglades, except there are more trees, plus some hiking and camping. There are 12 campgrounds in the preserve, most of them suitable for RVs. There are primitive camps for backpackers with tents.

The preserve covers more than 720,000 acres. It has large seasonal shifts in its environment. From November to June there is little rainfall and the swamp turns into patchy dry grasslands with a few wetlands and ponds. Fish get concentrated in the ponds, making it an easy feast for wading birds. The best birding season in Big Cypress is during the winter months. 

Three Florida panthers.
Courtesy Visit Florida

4. The Florida Panther

The preserve is the last remaining habitat of the endangered Florida panther. You aren’t likely to see one, as there are fewer than 130 panthers left in the wild, according to the most recent estimates. Their biggest threat is becoming roadkill. There are panther crossing signs at points along the highway. Slow down and be watchful. I had the experience years ago of having a panther dart across the road in front of me. Today just about every panther is collared and tracked by wildlife managers who are working feverishly to save the species.

Fred Mays

5. Native American Villages 

American Indian villages are found frequently along Old Alligator Alley. The Seminole and Miccosukee Native American Indians have long lived in the Everglades and Big Cypress areas. You will find history tours, gift shops, and, yes, more airboat rides.

Note: Because of COVID, most Native American venues are closed. When they reopen, the Miccosukee Village west of Miami offers fascinating insight into the history and way of life of the Everglades tribes.

6. The Smallest Post Office In The Country

Old Alligator Alley is home to the smallest post office in the United States. It is located along the road in the village of Ochopee, with barely room for one person to stand. It’s a frequent stop for tourists taking selfies and family pictures. The current postmaster has been greeting visitors for four years, and the most frequently purchased item is a $1 postcard that is already stamped and canceled. Most people jot quick notes and drop them in the mailbox by the front door.

Fred Mays

One of the most interesting stops along Old Alligator Alley is the Big Cypress Gallery, featuring the photographic work of Florida photographer Clyde Butcher. Butcher has been shooting in the Everglades and Big Cypress for over 40 years. He shoots mainly black and white and is often referred to as the Ansel Adams of the Everglades. His gallery features his work and rotating exhibits of other photographers who specialize in the Everglades/Big Cypress areas.

The gallery also has two guest houses that you can rent for a stay in the swamp. There are guided swamp tours offered in the winter when the trails are more passable during the dry season. 

8. The Oasis Visitor Center 

This center is on the north side of the highway, about midway between Naples and Miami. It features a boardwalk where tourists congregate to view alligators in the roadside canal. They are seldom disappointed. The center also features a video presentation on the history of the Everglades region. 

9. Shark Valley In Everglades National Park

Just off the highway near Miami is the National Park Service center known as Shark Valley. You can walk a paved path along a long drainage canal and be almost certain to see alligators. There are also tram rides back into the wilderness. 

The short Bobcat Trail is along a boardwalk through a large stand of mangroves. This is a great birding opportunity during the winter and migratory months.

10. A Walk On The Wildside In Florida’s Everglades

Most visitors to the Everglades want to see alligators, and they won’t be disappointed. They are frequently viewed from boardwalks at roadside tourist centers. Other wildlife less commonly seen are black bears, American crocodiles, and the Florida panther mentioned above.

11. A Python World

In recent years the glades have been taken over by huge boa constrictors, Burmese pythons, which have decimated the smaller wildlife in the Everglades, devouring raccoons, rabbits, bobcats, even small alligators. They have quickly become the Everglades top predator. 

The pythons are not native to the area, and the State of Florida has declared open season on them for hunters, who value the skin for such things as belts, shoes, handbags, and the like. The state even has bounties on pythons ranging from $50 to more than $100, depending on how big the python is. Professional python hunters are known to kill four or five of the snakes in a night of hunting.

Scientists say the pythons stem from former pets being released into the eastern Everglades around Miami. A female lays over 100 eggs at a time, and the population soon exploded. The highest concentration of pythons are found in the eastern side of the Everglades, but they have quickly spread throughout the ecosystem.

photo by Fred Mays

12. Florida’s River Of Grass

The common misconception of the Everglades is that it’s a huge, wet swamp. In reality, much of the wilderness drys out during the winter months, leaving a dry swamp bed. Some areas stay wet year-round, mostly in the southern glades. Marjorie Stoneham Douglas, the founder of the Save The Everglades movement, named it the River of Grass in her book of the same name. 

There are vast miles of nothing but open grasslands, occasionally populated with trees in slightly elevated clusters known as hammocks. 

Pro Tips

The best time to visit is the winter season. Migratory birds are in residence, the afternoon rainstorms have abated, and there are fewer mosquitos. 

The most important thing: Don’t be in a hurry. There are sites to see all along Old Alligator Alley. You will be awestruck by the vastness and unique nature of the grasslands. 

The Everglades is a fragile ecosystem that has been threatened by the population growth of South Florida and the demand for water. Water from the north that once fed naturally into the glades is now diverted and pumped through long canals into the municipal water supplies of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. Much of the land on the north side of the Everglades has been converted for agriculture, particularly sugarcane farming. This requires freshwater for irrigation that would have otherwise flowed into the Everglades.

The Everglades, at 1.5-million acres today, is about half its natural size. Combined with the reduction of freshwater flow from the north, the Everglades is facing an incursion of saltwater from the south. Sea-level rise is pushing tides from Florida Bay deeper into the lower Everglades, with the saltwater killing native swampland vegetation.

So, when you get the chance, stop, take your time, and enjoy the natural beauty of the Everglades and Big Cypress Preserve as you travel Aligator Alley.

For more Florida inspiration, consider



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9 Best Beaches In Michigan


The Great Lakes surround both of Michigan’s peninsulas, and Michigan has the most freshwater coastline of any state in the United States. It is only second to Alaska in the total miles of shoreline. No matter where you are in Michigan, one of the Great Lakes is within 85 miles. Add to that more than 11,000 inland lakes, and you’re never more than six miles from a body of water. That means Michigan has a lot of beaches to choose from. 

The best time to visit Michigan’s shores is during summer, when the weather is warm. If you plan to go swimming, it takes significantly warmer weather for the Great Lakes’ water to heat up.

Choosing just nine beaches in Michigan is especially difficult because we have so many. I selected a variety throughout the state, both on the Great Lakes and inland lakes. No matter if you’re looking for a secluded niche or a party atmosphere, you’ll find just the beach you’re looking for in Michigan.

1. Munising: Sand Point Beach

Located four miles northeast of Munising, on Lake Superior and the Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, Sand Point Beach features white sand and crystal-clear water. The beach is largely undeveloped, so you’ll find the beach relatively uncrowded. We enjoy watching the beautiful Great Lakes sunsets at Sand Point Beach.

Pro Tip: If you want to view the entire Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, the Pictured Rocks Cruises departing from the Michigan City Dock in Munising are a great way to do that. It’s 32 miles round trip, and the cruise that includes Spray Falls takes just over two hours.

Beach at Petoskey State Park, Michigan.
Cassidy Cooper

2. Petoskey: Petoskey State Park

Situated on the north end of Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, Petoskey State Park sits on 303 acres and offers one mile of beautiful beach that’s a mix of sand and stones. My family of rockhounds has found this to be one of Michigan’s best places to search for the Petoskey stone, the Michigan state stone. Petoskey stones are fossilized coral that predates humans by millions of years. If you aren’t up for the hunt, local gift shops feature the stone smoothed and polished.

Pro Tip: Wet Petoskey stones are easier to spot than dry ones, so take along a spray water bottle to spot the rocks more easily.

Depot Beach playground, Charlevoix, Michigan.
The playground at Depot Beach in Charlevoix, Michigan (Photo Credit: Amy Piper)

3. Charlevoix: Lake Charlevoix Beaches

Charlevoix, located between Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan, features beaches on both the great lake an inland lake. The water on Lake Charlevoix is warmer than the water in Lake Michigan, so you may prefer to try either Ferry Beach or Depot Beach on Lake Charlevoix.

Ferry Beach is a sandy beach with a swimming area. Add to your water play with stand-up paddle boarding rentals and a boat launch for those who enjoy boating. This beach features a picnic pavilion, concessions, and restrooms.

Depot Beach, named for the historic train depot on the property, is a reminder of a bygone era when visitors arrived by train. The park has a sandy beach with a covered pavilion, picnic areas, and grills. The park also offers a playground, volleyball net, and restrooms.

Pro Tip: If you prefer upscale hotels over camping, the newly redesigned Hotel Earl in downtown Charlevoix makes the perfect place to rest your head after a day at the beach. Many of the original features designed by the hotel’s namesake and original architect, Earl Young, are still in place, including the stunning stone fireplace. These authentic details add to the original charm of this luxury boutique hotel.

Ludington State Park Beach House, Michigan.
Ludington State Park

4. Ludington: Stearns Park Beach And Ludington State Park Beach

Centrally located within walking distance of downtown, publications consistently rate Stearns Park Beach as one of the top beaches in Michigan. Stearns Park Beach features a half-mile of sugar-sand beach along Lake Michigan’s shoreline. This free city beach offers many amenities, like water sport rentals, sand volleyball courts, a bathhouse, food concessions, picnic tables, and grills. Adjacent to the beach, you’ll find a mini-golf course, shuffleboard courts, and a skate park. Another fun thing to do here is exploring the walkable pier to see the Ludington North Breakwater Light, a historic lighthouse voted one of the top 10 lighthouses in the United States.

It was just too difficult to choose which beach was the best in Ludington, so I didn’t. Ludington State Park Beach is a bit calmer than Stearns. While you’ll need to drive to this beach if you’re staying downtown, Ludington State Park Beach has seven miles of Lake Michigan coastline fringed by grassy dunes. If you prefer a more spacious beach with a restroom and concessions nearby, you’ll want to check out the expansive Lake Michigan beach area past the state park check-in booth.

Pro Tip: On the fourth Thursday of the summer months, take a blanket to Stearns Park Beach and hang out for an evening of free entertainment. Sunset Beach Bonfires offers music, bonfires, and sunsets.

5. Mears: Silver Lake Sand Dunes

With 2,000 acres of dunes that include a 450-acre scramble area, Silver Lake Dunes offers the best dune off-roading in Michigan. You can take your own off-road vehicle (ORV) with the proper permits or rent a dune buggy or ORV for a day on the dunes. If you’re a bit hesitant about cruising the dunes by driving yourself, try a 40-minute tour with Mac Wood’s Dune Rides so that you can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Pro Tip: Silver Lake Sand Dunes open season is April 1 through October 31. Open season is when ORVs are allowed on the dunes.

Grand Haven City Beach and Pier.
Lydia Margaret / Shutterstock.com

6. Grand Haven: Grand Haven City Beach

Grand Haven City Beach sits between Grand Haven State Park beach and a beachside restaurant called The Noto’s at the Bilmar. This sandy beach along Lake Michigan has limited free parking and no entrance fee. It’s an excellent beach for dog owners who want to walk Rover.

Grand Haven sponsors an annual Sand Sculpture Contest at Grand Haven City Beach. For 40 years, this event has offered locals and tourists opportunities to create everything from sophisticated sandcastles to slippery swimmers and sharks. But rest assured, you won’t find any sharks in the Great Lakes.

Pro Tip: Memorial Day through Labor Day, dogs are welcome on a leash before 11:00 a.m. and after 5:00 p.m. The rest of the year, they’re allowed on a leash anytime.

7. Holland: Holland State Park Beach

Located on the Lake Michigan coastline, Holland State Park features sugar-sand beaches perfect for building detailed sandcastles. Be sure to finish the day at the beach by watching the flaming orange-yellow sunset over Lake Michigan.

Holland State Park includes lots of Great Lakes nautical fun. The lighthouse, affectionately known as Big Red, is Michigan’s most photographed lighthouse. Sometimes during the summer, you can take a tour of Big Red. If you want to add Great Lakes fishing to your vacation fun, the beach boat launches make that possible too.

Pro Tip: Visitors to Michigan state parks need a Recreation Passport; you can buy one at the park for a fee. This passport will get you into more than 100 Michigan state parks.

FotoKina / Shutterstock.com

8. Saugatuck: Oval Beach

Located on Opal Drive off Perryman Street, Oval Beach, ranked as one of the top 25 beaches globally, features soft silvery sands. MTV rated this Lake Michigan beach as one of the top five beaches in the nation, so it should be on your bucket list. Oval Beach offers many amenities, such as restrooms, a concession stand, grills and picnic tables, and playgrounds.

For those who enjoy an active lifestyle, one way to reach Oval Beach is via Mount Baldhead. First, start in Saugatuck and cross the Kalamazoo River by a historic hand-pulled ferry. Then climb the 302 wooden steps to the top of Mount Baldy, where you can see the towns of Douglas and Saugatuck. Finally, descend to the beach with grassy sand. Entering in this manner solves any issues with parking capacity or fees. 

Pro Tip: Be aware that the parking lot may reach capacity during the summer months, and you may need to wait for parking. You can also hike, bike, or walk in, which will save you the parking fee (around $6).

Tammy Chesney / Shutterstock.com

9. St. Joseph: Silver Beach

Located at the St. Joseph River entrance, Silver Beach County Park features a wide beach on Lake Michigan. Of the park’s 2,450 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline, they have about 1,600 feet for a public swimming area. The star attraction at Silver Beach is the carousel, with its two chariots and 48 unique figures. Choose your favorite figure and ride with the music under 1,000 twinkle lights. Explore some of the local shops or take a walk on the pier.

Sitting about 200 yards off Lake Michigan’s beach, Silver Beach Pizza in St. Joseph offers pizza fashioned from dough that’s made from scratch daily. Favorite pizzas include the Carousel, a nod to the carousel over the tracks, and the Garlic Greek. Your grandkids will adore that the train stops at the adjoining train station.

Silver Beach is in a country park, not a Michigan State Park. The Michigan State Park Recreation Passport will not provide admission to Silver Beach; you will need to pay the associated county park fees.

Pro Tip: Don’t confuse Silver Lake State Park and Silver Beach, as they are at opposite ends of the state. Silver Lake State Park is in Mears, to the north, while Silver Beach is in St. Joseph, to the south.

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Bike Week includes pledges, prizes, reopening


Darrin Peschka and David Goldstein, Special to Ventura County Star
Published 11:00 a.m. PT May 8, 2021 | Updated 11:01 a.m. PT May 8, 2021

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A youth program at Ventura Bike HUB teaches kids bicycle safety and mechanics.

If you were among the many people who turned to bicycling during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ventura County Transportation Commission has a message for you: Keep riding.

Businesses, schools and offices continue to open up amid encouraging signs that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. For many people, that means the number of vehicle trips is likely on the rise as they shuttle children to activities, drive to work and go about daily errands. As life starts getting busier again, now is the time to keep cycling top of mind.

If your biking habits have started to slip, Bike Week 2021 is the perfect opportunity to start riding again. Bike Week, an annual event referred to Bike to Work Week in the past, encourages residents to leave their cars at home and instead use their bicycles to travel to their destinations.

During Bike Week, which runs from May 17-23, visit VCTC’s website http://www.goventura.org/bike-week and pledge to bike at least one day. People who make the pledge will be entered for a chance to win one of four $250 gift cards. Participants who pledge to bike must be over the age of 18, and the online pledge form must be completed by May 31.

More: Eco-tip: Compost contest winners motivated by education

Also in time for Bike Week, a valuable community resource for bicycling will reopen. To comply with social distancing requirements during more intense periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bicycle HUB closed its Oxnard operation and eliminated bicycle repair services at its Ventura operation, but on Wednesday, the Ventura site, at 490 N. Ventura Ave., will reopen for “Do it together repairs.”

The acronym “HUB” in the nonprofit organization’s name stands for “helping urban bicyclists,” and they offer use of tools, bicycle stands and bilingual staff assistance to help people repair their bicycles. Open to the general public but prioritizing those who have no other means of transportation, the Bike HUB charges customers only on an “ability to pay” basis, according to Joey Juhasz-Lukomski, executive director of the Bike HUB.

“If people can afford it, our first recommendation is usually to suggest they use a local bike shop for repairs,” he said. “But we offer free assistance to members (membership starts at $30 per year), and we are eager to assist people in need.” Initially, the Bike HUB will be open for repairs Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 5 p.m. Staff will continue to accept donated bicycles and to sell those bicycles during more extended hours.

Bike HUB staff also hope to reopen in Oxnard, but they need to find a new site. The previous location, on Richmond Street, co-located with Community Action, is no longer available.

Similarly, Bike HUB’s partner organization, Sespe Bike Collective, is looking for a site to resume periodic repair clinics in Fillmore, and they continue their bi-weekly youth rides in Fillmore in partnership with One Step A La Vez every other Friday, with the next this Friday at 5:30 p.m.

Cycling is important for both mental and physical health, and reductions in driving during the pandemic also benefitted the environment. According to the California Coalition for Clean Air, March 2020 brought Californians some of the cleanest air in the United States, as the initial coronavirus-related shutdowns kept drivers at home and off the freeways.

Yet since then, weekday highway traffic in Ventura County has inched back up toward pre-pandemic levels, according to Vehicle Miles Traveled data from the California Department of Transportation.

More: Eco-tip: Precautions, advice for wildlife encounters in Ventura County

VCTC makes it easy for new riders to learn about paths in the area visit www.goventura.org/getting-around/bike and discover one of Ventura County’s bike routes. The map highlights Class 1 paths, which are separated from cars; Class 2, which are shared-street painted bike lanes; and Class 3, which are on-street bike routes designated by signs.

For more information about transportation and biking, follow VCTC (@GoVCTC) on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For more information about the Bike Hub, see bikeventura.org.

Darrin Peschka, program manager for government and community relations at the Ventura County Transportation Commission, may be reached at dpeschka@goventura.org. David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with Ventura County Public Works, may be reached at david.goldstein@ventura.org or 805-658-4312.

Read or Share this story: https://www.vcstar.com/story/news/2021/05/08/eco-tip-bike-week-includes-pledges-prizes-reopening/4992472001/



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7 Best Outdoor Adventures In Independence, MO


Our top getaway places need to have it all: rich history, culture and art, a good vibe, great places to grab a bite to eat, and, of course, plenty of opportunity for outdoor adventure!

The city of Independence, Missouri, has you covered in all of these areas, especially when it comes to getting out and about. From excellent hiking and biking to birdwatching and even practicing your putting, there’s a lot here for any outdoor enthusiast to enjoy and explore. Here are a few of our favorite ways to spend some active time outside while visiting Independence.

family on wagon in Independence, MO
VisitIndependence.com

1. Hit The Little Blue Trace

Hands down, one of the best places to get a breath of fresh air while checking out the city of Independence is the Little Blue Trace Walking & Biking Trail. The 15-mile crushed rock and asphalt trail located just east of town is beloved by bicyclists, joggers, and walkers, and once you experience it for yourself, you’ll quickly understand why! First things first: It’s got great amenities, including restrooms, shelters, picnic areas, and several emergency call buttons along the trail. While portions of the Little Blue Trace feel downright rural with its rolling meadows and fields, keep in mind that it winds through a suburban area. You likely won’t find yourself completely alone, which ultimately boosts the trail’s safety factor and gives us some peace of mind. Parking is a snap at the Hartman Heritage Center in Independence. Additional parking is available at several points along the trail, making access super convenient. 

Then, there are the views. As its name would suggest, the trail hugs the Little Blue River, making for a scenic trek no matter your distance. In the summer, much of the surrounding area is filled with blooming wildflowers, and there are some other neat points of interest, including several old train trestles you’ll pass under. Be sure to also keep an eye out for wildlife, including deer, wild turkeys, geese, and even snapping turtles! Whether you pack a picnic and bring it along for a leisurely all-day, out-and-back activity or are just looking to get a few quick miles in before breakfast, this memorable trail has you covered. And four-legged friends are also welcome, as long as they are leashed. (Make sure you bring clean-up supplies for them as well; your fellow trail users will thank you!)

2. Unplug And Unwind At George Owens Nature Park

Another terrific opportunity to get up close and personal with nature awaits you at Independence’s George Owens Nature Park. Here — just a few minutes away from the city center — you’ll find a suburban haven that includes more than 80 acres of wooded forest, rain gardens, and hiking trails. If you’re lucky during your visit, you’ll also spot plenty of critters who call the park home — including the gorgeous residents of the park’s butterfly garden. Adding to the fun, there are two well-stocked fishing lakes, a family picnic area, and an on-site learning center that houses several aquariums and rotating exhibits that focus on natural wonders.

This park is the perfect one-stop place to unplug, relax, and find peace in reconnecting with nature. It will provide just the break you need if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.

VisitIndependence.com

3. Go Golfing!

If you’re ready to hit the links, Independence has you covered as well. There are a number of excellent public courses with tons of tee times available both in and around the city. No matter if you’re a novice or an expert, you’ll want to make the time to work in a round (or two!).

Drumm Farm Golf Course, nestled in Independence’s rolling hills, offers golfers two choices for their day on the links. The par-72 Champion Course is designed for experienced golfers, and the Executive Course is the ideal place to brush up on or further refine your golfing skill and technique.

WinterStone Golf Course, which opened to the public in 2003, has an intriguing backstory. It’s part of a development project that actually began with a limestone mine. While the mine is still there, WinterStone was added to the property, and what an addition it is! Its wooded setting includes elevation changes, towering trees, lakes, and creeks, all of which add to the aesthetic experience of the quintessential golf outing. Lessons and senior rates are also available at this challenging course.

The Greg Norman-designed Stone Canyon Golf Course, with its consistent accolades and appearances on “best of” lists and rankings, is just southeast of town and is a favorite of both local and visiting golf enthusiasts. The landscape, which incorporates large stone outcrops, is stunning, as are the views of downtown Kansas City from the fairway.

Bottom line: There’s no shortage of great greens where you can get your golf fix in while you’re visiting Independence!

4. Fish Near The Waterfall

Waterfall Park, located in the heart of Independence, features a paved mile-long walking and bike trail that loops by a man-made waterfall, making it the perfect selfie spot. Also tucked away within its confines is an excellent playground that’s a favorite with young locals and visitors alike, and anglers should take note: The park’s 18-acre lake is a terrific fishing spot. If you want to combine your love of the outdoors with some retail therapy (or you need any essentials for enjoying the great outdoors), a Bass Pro Shop location is adjacent to the park. There you’ll find all the gear you could ever need for your next outdoor adventure!

5. Visit A Birders’ Paradise

Serious birders know that Independence has a hidden gem when it comes to observing many different types of fine feathered friends. The Missouri Department of Conservation acquired the 34 acres that comprise the Lipton Conservation Area in 1997, and the area adjoins Independence Parks and Recreation’s Santa Fe Trail Park. While this area is small, with a short half-mile hiking trail, it passes its way through thick brush, making it a great place for prime birding! Summer will feature the usual suspects, but it’s during the migration season that you’ll spy a greater variety of birds, including warblers, vireos, sparrows, and thrushes. This spot has even earned a place on the Great Missouri Birding Trail, so bring your binoculars and plan to spend a bit of time scouting the different species that make Lipton either their permanent home or temporary stopover spot.

VisitIndependence.com

6. Peruse The Farmers Market

While you won’t necessarily be communing with nature per se, Independence’s open-air Uptown Market is definitely worth a visit. Here, you’ll find a wide (and delicious!) selection of locally farmed produce, meat, and eggs just steps from Historic Independence Square. The farmers market is housed in a newer building with large doors that are kept wide open when the weather is nice. The market is open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays starting in May, and June through September it is open Wednesdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., too. In addition to produce, you’ll also find homemade jams and jellies, honey, and arts and crafts. More than five dozen vendors offer their wares for sale at Uptown, and a stop here is a great way to enjoy the fresh air — not to mention the equally fresh fruits and veggies!

VisitIndependence.com

7. Get Your Steps In

What if getting out into the woods isn’t your cup of tea, but you still want to enjoy some outdoor time during your visit to Independence? No worries — just head to the Square! Historic Independence Square is the perfect place to explore, and it definitely makes for an adventure all its own. This is the city’s true heart and has been for generations. The Square was a meeting point for pioneers coming through on their way out west back in the 1800s, and today, anchored by the Historic Truman Courthouse, it remains the city’s best-known and most beloved gathering place. In and just off the Square, there’s a whole host of restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and shops, many housed in historic buildings. You’ll have no trouble getting your steps in on the Square! It’s also a romantic spot for a cozy date night.

There’s another option for power walkers in Independence: one that seamlessly blends outdoor time with an interesting dose of history. Former President Harry S. Truman loved to walk throughout his hometown of Independence and kept a famously brisk pace. To follow along in the footsteps of our nation’s 33rd president, consider taking the Truman Historic Walking Trail. Set your own pace along the 2.7-mile-long tour, which includes 44 sites that highlight important places in Truman’s life. Each is marked with a plaque; learn more and download a brochure here

To learn much more about all of the fantastic things — outdoors and otherwise — to see, do, and experience in Independence, Missouri, check out the city’s online visitors guide or visit our Independence content here.

Visit Missouri Tourism

Missouri Division of Tourism



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