Florida rock quarry transformed into garden

- Spring break and March vacations mean big crowds at beaches and amusement parks across Florida. But for local residents looking for an escape off the beaten path, there's Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens, an hour north of Citrus County on the outskirts of Gainesville.

The old quarry-turned-garden boasts 20 acres of natural scenery, filled with waterfalls, walking paths and 1,000 varieties of plants.

"When [visitors] first walk in, they don't know what they're going to see, so they typically get a big wow when they come around the corner and look out over the quarry," said Lori Wallace, manager of Cedar Lakes.

From the early 1900s to the late 1960s, Cedar Lakes was a working lime rock quarry. The property is the bedrock of the original Highway 27.

Eventually abandoned and turned into a swamp, the quarry was rediscovered in 1991 by Dr. Ray Webber, a Williston resident.

"He had it dug out, leaving the walkways and the islands to fish from," explained Wallace, "and then he decided he needed a rock wall around the top to keep the overburden from falling back in."

Dr. Webber went on to add waterfalls, bridges and a touch of culture with plants from various countries, like Japan.

The property is home to several animals today, including swans, snails, and catfish. Cedar Lakes opened to the public in January of 2014.

"It's beautiful. All the water and the birds, especially the swans. They're awesome," said Fred Wilkerson, a Michigan resident who was in search of unique attractions during his visit to Florida. "We like the ocean. We want to go to the ocean, but all the pretty flowers here and everything, it's unreal."

The goal of Cedar Lakes is to teach tourist to have a respect and appreciation for the environment.

"It's almost like real Florida. You do get the history of the mining, you do get to tour a beautiful garden, you're welcome to bring a picnic lunch. It's just a very family-oriented, wonderful spot," said Wallace.

A daily pass costs just $12 for adults and $7 for children ages 6 to 13. Children under the age of 6 get in free.

For more information of Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens, visit www.cedarlakeswoodsandgarden.com.

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