It’s 11:00 Saturday morning and Tom and Mary load their three kids into the mini van. The hatchback is filled with an overflowing cooler, lawn chairs, bathing suits, and countless toys that will soon be used to make castles in the sand. The sun is shining and the forecast shows it should be in the mid 80s in about an hour when they get there.
“This is going to be a good day babe,” Tom says, looking over at Mary. “Are you ready kids?” he asks with a glance into the rear view mirror. The youngest pouts. The middle child pinches the youngest and the oldest turns up the volume to the music in her earbuds.
At the same time Fernando and Jose’ are done with their shift picking in the strawberry fields. They’d been picking since 5:00 that morning and had already worked 49 hours that week and were ready for a cool dip in the local spring. They call their wives and ask them to get the kids ready.
Also, around 11:00 that morning Denny and Veronica were in their motorhome about an hour away from that same spring. They had heard that there was a nice county run campground at the park. They called and found out the campground didn’t take reservations and all the sites were on a first come, first serve basis and that there were only a couple of sites that may become available at noon. They look at each other and decide to roll the dice and take the chance.
By the time Tom and Mary turn down the 1 mile road leading into the county park, a tornado was erupting in the backseat. The oldest was screaming loudly into her cellphone. The youngest was kicking the back of Tom’s seat and proclaiming that the middle kid was pulling her hair. Tom pulls the van over to the side of the road to let the car behind them pass and yells, “That’s enough!”
Fernando and Jose along with their wives and kids creep past Tom and Mary’s van. Everyone inside Fernando’s car has gone quiet in anticipation as the entrance sign welcoming them to the Park is now in sight. Slight tension fills Jose’s stomach. He speaks a little broken English but always gets nervous when he is put on the spot. They try to read the signs as they near the gate about fees, closing times and rules and the ball in all their stomachs tighten a little more.
We have been volunteers at this park for a few weeks now and we are the smiling faces at the welcome center today as Jose’ anxious car-load arrives at the gate. I smile, reach into my magic bag and sprinkle something into their car that instantly brightens all their eyes and brings grins to their faces. “Gracias, Gracias,” he says with a nod and a wave goodbye. They pull away and a happy Latino song pours from the car radio. “De Nada!” I waved in return. “Have a great time, amigos!”
Tom and Mary pull up to the gate and we can see the turmoil across all their faces. “Challenge accepted,” I say to myself.
“Good morning,” comes from my wife’s smiling face as she leans in the window of their van. “Welcome to Lithia Springs.” I stand beside her and watch the magic spread like a wildfire through them all. On queue the frowns bubble into smiles. The little one yells out, “We’re going swimming!”
“Awesome! Well you picked a great day for that,” my wife continues. “Have you ever been here before?” I ask the family.
Tom mentions that this was their first visit and like a juggling duo the two of us toss our excitement about this little park into their imaginations. “Lithia Springs is a beautiful 200 acre Hillsborough county park. It’s named after a spring that bubbles up 24 million gallons of the clearest water you’ll ever see. There is so much water coming up from the ground that they were able to bring in sand and make a nice beach around it. More than 140,000 people a year find their way here just to take a dip in the spring.” I could see the excitement in all three kids grow. “How cold is it?” asks the oldest one.
“It stays 72 degrees year round and on a warm 85 degree day like today, you’re going to love it. Oh! There is also a playground, some great walking trails, and lots of picnic tables with grills all snuggled underneath Live Oak trees with Spanish moss hanging from the limbs.” We collect their entrance fees and watch the van head down the hill towards the spring. We’d did it again.
We learned about this powerful magic dust during our days in Butterfly Hollow and it feels so good to once again watch it work. The mile long drive that led into our 85 acre bed and breakfast retreat would make any person that had never been there before arrive wondering when the man with the chainsaw was going to jump out of the woods or if a bunch of toothless hillbillies would be at the end of the road saying, “Y’all musta taken the rong tirn.” But we watched it happen from our very first guests and everyone thereafter for fifteen years. There is some form of enchantment that happens when you are greeted with a genuine smile and a warm welcome. We’d watch them get out of their cars and slowly look around trying to get their bearings and sort through their mixed emotions. We’d walk down off the porch and out to our new guests in the driveway with a smile that came from our hearts. “Welcome to Butterfly Hollow. My name is David and this is the prettier half of the hollow, my lovely wife Sharon.” Shazam! We’d have them in the palm of our hands and when their visit to the Hollow was over, they were hugging us as friends saying they can’t wait to come back.
A few moments later Denny and Veronica pull to the gate with their beast of a motorhome and they too have that, “I hope… I wonder… What if…. Can we…” look in their eyes. “Welcome to Lithia Springs! We are so glad you found your way here and we have one campsite left that I think is perfect for you.” Magic dust sprinkled. There go the ear to ear smiles. The seeds of a great first impression successfully planted. 🙂
Want to Volunteer?!!!
Give 20 hours a week per couple and get a free campsite with full hookups. They are always looking for volunteers with experience in camp hosting, light maintenance, and registration. To learn more contact Dillion McClure at 813-744-5572.
Planning a visit to the campground sometime soon? Here are a few of our suggestions:
Since this is a first-come first-serve, no reservation campground, we would recommend calling in the afternoon of the day before you plan to arrive and asking the volunteer or ranger that answers the phone how many sites they expect to become available the next day. If there are more than a couple opening up and if you are not planning to arrive on a Friday or Saturday then you probably have a good chance of getting in. I know this sounds a bit old-school, especially when you may be use to Reserve America and other easy ways of making campground reservations online, but the beauty is that this is a Florida campground that doesn’t fill in 11 months in advance like most of the others do and once you have a spot you can stay for up to 28 days and you can move around within the campground at anytime too.
The campground has water and electric with a quarter of the sites with 50 Amp. There is Wifi around the registration office and the rates are very reasonable. $24 per night and anyone 55 or older is in for $18. Our favorite big rig friendly sites are: 1, 2, 4, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 31 and 45.