U-pick citrus grove features eco-tours aboard a monster swamp buggy
|The Showcase of Citrus of Clermont, Fla., is located at 5010 U.S. Highway 27. This “U-pick” citrus grove is open October to May, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. For more information, call (352) 352-394-4377 or log on to www.showcaseofcitrus.com.
If choosing between 50 different varieties of citrus doesn’t get your juices flowing, maybe a wild ride on the state’s largest swamp buggy will.
At The Showcase of Citrus, of Clermont, Fla., the only thing sweeter than the oranges is the mammoth off-road machine parked out front. This modified, open-air school bus sports monster-truck tires and a tiger-stripe paint job.
“It’s an original idea,” proclaims John Arnold, owner of the working citrus grove and cattle ranch. “There are other eco-tour operators, but nobody else in the state has a 2,500-acre private reserve that they drive a huge four-wheel bus through.
“We had a small swamp buggy before, but if you had a bus come in of 40 people or school groups we didn’t have enough room. So we decided to take a bus and turn it into an off-road vehicle.”
Open since 1961, the Showcase has been a prominent point along the hilly terrain of U.S. Highway 27. The highway serves as a major tourism gateway to Central Florida’s theme parks. Sunshine State visitors frequently stop at The Showcase to pick their own citrus or purchase pre-packed fruit. A map in the grove conveniently illustrates what fruit is in season and where it grows within the grove.
“There was a fruit stand there since the early ’60s, but when the freezes [in the late 1980s] killed all the citrus off the property, I went back and put an irrigation system in that serves as a cold-protection system on the trees,” Arnold said. “When we put the cold protection system in, I was confident I could grow citrus. It was planned from day one as a ‘U-pick grove’ with multiple varieties on 45 acres.”
Adding to the allure of this vintage fresh-fruit stand and working citrus grove is the one-hour swamp buggy tours. Traversing all aspects of Florida terrain, the buggy makes its way through the citrus grove, dense woods and finally into a reptile-ridden swamp.
“There’s a good chance you will see varied wildlife, such as gators and birds,” Arnold said. “We have a lot of migratory birds down during the winter time.”
Ecological tours on The Showcase of Citrus’ swamp buggy are by appointment only. Visitors are encouraged to call Arnold at (352) 394-4377 at least 24 hours in advance to arrange a tour. The cost of the tours is $20 for adults and $10 for children.