For years, my family's Thanksgiving Day hasn't been defined by turkey and cranberry sauce, but instead by swampy hammocks, pine flatwoods and cheeseburgers.
I can't remember why exactly, but at some point, we started eating Thanksgiving dinner on Friday instead of Thursday. That left Thursday wide open, with nothing to do, and few places open to visit. Few places except for Myakka River State Park. It's become something of an annual tradition for us to head out to Myakka on Thanksgiving, go for an extended stroll and then eat at the concession stand.
Myakka isn't the only state park open on Thanksgiving day. Oscar Scherer State Park, Lake Manatee State Park, Terra Ceia Preserve State Park and some other state properties are, too. (Double-check before heading out.)
But Myakka is the area's biggest park, with the most to offer, and on holidays, the staff opens the park's northern entrance, making it even easier to get to than normal. And because so many people are busy cooking and eating, the park is quiet. Myakka on Thanksgiving is a blessed retreat from the stress of the everyday and the looming insanity of the holidays.
It's also a memory-making machine. I have no clue what I cooked for Thanksgiving dinner last year or what I ate, but I definitely remember the cool, sunny day years ago when my older son fell asleep while strapped to my back in a baby carrier as we walked along the grassy Ranch House Road. Or the chilly day a couple years later when we brought out my younger son, just a few weeks old, and kept him tightly bundled to protect him from a cold wind.
We're in a sweet spot now. My kids are old enough to walk Myakka's trails on their own, and too young to think it's lame to go for a stroll with their parents. We'll be out there Thursday. Maybe we'll see you there.
Myakka River State Park, 13208 S.R. 72, Sarasota. Note that the Myakka concession stand closes early on Thanksgiving day.