Tankful Summer Road Trip: Buggy tours in Ochopee

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At the bottom of the state, you’ll find the Wootens’ roadside attraction that introduced airboats to Florida.

Across the street, there’s a yellow house jacked up on stilts. It’s time to take a trip into natural Florida with a true character.

"Go right on up, honey," said Shelley Wooten, an Ochopee princess. "Have a seat on the buggy with the white seats, everybody."

Byron Boyd, visiting from Canada, added: "It’s kind of like backwoods meets old American hustle. It (has) a big engine and a big rig."

Wooten said it’s her preferred transportation through the Florida Everglades.

And behind you the wheel, you’ll find a one-of-a-kind.

"I was my dad’s princess, and I’m from Ochopee," Wooten said. "Ochopee princess."

Take one look at her shotgun-shell earrings, and you’ll know Wooten is comfortable around these parts.

"My (great-grandfather) did a little bit of rum-running and moonshining," she said.

But don’t bother buckling up. There are no roads around here.

"All right, everybody," Wooten said. "We’re getting ready to roll down the biggest hill in South Florida."

In the middle of the Big Cypress National Preserve, you can comb the Everglades for critters.

"You’re above everything, and you can see the animals and birds," Boyd said. "It’s just really cool."

With no oncoming traffic and Wooten at the wheel, you begin to see the ecosystem at work.

Raccoon, vultures, the Florida black bear.

"I’ve had people 10 feet, 15 feet away from the black bear on the buggy," Wooten said.

In the cypress hammock, Wooten also offers a close look at the plant life found in the swampy area. Passing manatees might also make an appearance in Florida’s final frontier.

"Always remember, if Bambi can eat it, I can eat it, too," Wooten said.

For information on ticket costs, admission prices and operating hours, click here.

Bay News 9 – local-news

June 3, 2016 |

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