Jacksonville: An animal’s kingdom
By Alex Lassen and Cassidy Alexander
While Jacksonville isn’t known for its robust wildlife, just a short drive from home can take residents to see some of the biggest predators in the animal kingdom.
A lion’s roar is a normal thing to hear at Catty Shack Ranch, where people can visit large rehabilitated cats right in Jacksonville. Lions, tigers and panthers all have a home at the ranch. Visitors can just go to see the animals, or they can adopt a cat to get updates on how it’s doing when they leave.
The Catty Shack Ranch may have been around for 30 years, but it just opened to the public 12 years ago. The most popular exhibit here? This enclosure behind me with five tigers, all born about five years ago.
While the cats aren’t always active, they’re usually just as interested in visitors as visitors are in them.
“Usually when you get a group of kids coming through, that will get some of the cat’s’ interest,” said Kurt Lessenthien, the adoption coordinator and a senior caretaker at Catty Shack Ranch.
“So they get up, they get moving around. They want to see the people that are out here to see them.
“And of course if the cats are moving around or they’re playing in their pool for the tigers, that gets everyone’s attention,” he said. “One thing that always gets everyone’s attention is if the lion starts to roar.”
While some people may be afraid of the lions and tigers, just a few miles south, fear doesn’t keep families from checking out another type of predator — reptiles at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.
John Brugen, director of the farm, said children are very interested in the reptiles because they haven’t yet learned to be afraid of them.
“We’re not born with fear,” he said. “And so the fear of a reptile or even other animals or dogs or whatever is learned behavior. It’s something that we’re taught, usually by our parents. And so most kids if they’re young are very interested and excited.”
At the Alligator Farm, people can watch alligators in their natural habitats, see them get fed, and learn about the different species, much like at Catty Shack. The 120-year-old attraction also has play areas for kids exhibits for other animals, like birds, turtles, and lemurs.
As a tumultuous year draws to a close, visiting locations like this can be a great way for people to get out of their homes and relieve stress.
Lessenthian considers visiting places like these more important now as the year draws to a close.
“You can get wrapped up in so much of the day to day, the bad things that have happened, you can overcompensate for it and not do anything. You need to still go out, you need to learn stuff, need to experience new things,” he said.
Whether it’s Catty Shack Ranch, the Alligator Farm, the Jacksonville Zoo or something else, it’s clear there’s a lot to see in the animal kingdom of this city.
Performing Arts Story
Unknown to many on the First Coast, there is a plethora of options for enjoying the Performing Arts. This can be a great change-up to a night out. Whether that be date night, a reunion with friends, or trying something different, two places stand out when enjoying a show in on your nightly agenda.
One of the hidden gems that Jacksonville has is The Ritz Theatre and Museum. Located downtown near Riverside and in the historic neighborhood of LaVilla, The Ritz highlights African-American history in our city with a little twist of modern music and comedy. The theatre puts on a music and comedy series that goes on year round.
“This Theatre is a ‘Metropolis’ of culture,” said Stacy Aubrey, the director of theatres.
Inside the complex there is a museum that highlights many old artifacts from famous African American people or places in Jacksonville. For instance, there are track shoes from “Bullett” Bob Hayes from the 1964 Olympics. There is also a picture of Billy Daniels’ star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with one of his famous suits . To top all of that off, there is an animatronic presentation about “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”, which is widely known as the “Black American National Anthem”. James Weldon Johnson, the author of the poem, was from Jacksonville and today is still one of the biggest figures to ever come out of the city.
Along with the museum there is also a concert and comedy series going on at the theatre. The 400-seat theatre is an intimate venue to see some fine artists come and display their craft. It’s truly a hidden gem for a night out in Jacksonville.
However, there is also a little bit of history at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre. Located on Beach Boulevard, The Alhambra is one of four operating dinner theatres still in existence. Want another reason why you should visit? It’s the oldest of those four.
The Alhambra puts on many shows during the duration of the year and you can find talented actors and actresses walking through its doors. Some of the popular artists to perform here include Dorothy Lamour and Martha Raye. According to owner Craig Smith, it’s a lot like something else beloved in Jacksonville.
“It’s a lot like Minor League Baseball,” said Smith. “They’re on their way to the big leagues and they get to practice their craft.”
Like the Ritz, this theatre is small and intimate. The performers will often walk out into the audience while the show is going on so it feels as if the audience is really in the show! The small, charming and intimate theatre is beloved by many here in Jacksonville, yet many are unaware of its existence.
When Smith took over ownership in 2009, the Alhambra went under extensive renovations. Today, it is a top-notch destination for a show in Jacksonville while getting a four-star meal. This place shouldn’t be missed when it comes to a fun night out.
These two places are special parts of Jacksonville’s history. Most people don’t know that Jacksonville is home to many fine examples and showings of the Performing Arts. For your next night out, consider one of these venues and you won’t be disappointed.
Trend setting has become a popular phenomenon as of late, thanks to technological advances and the implication of globalization over the past 10 years. When trendsetting comes to mind, usually famous people such as actors or entertainers initiate some sort of trend for people to follow; being clothing apparel, a hobby, or even a current event.
Compared to other big cities, Florida may also be in the business of setting trends. Salt Life, a term coined in Jacksonville, is one of the ways to describe the type of lifestyle that many Floridians are exposed to, but only few decide to take advantage of.
“I just feel like I’m at home and doing something I love,” said 16-year-old amateur surfer Blake Kantack. “It’s not like playing baseball, where you have to have a coach always pushing you. It’s you. You’re on your own.”
Anything involving ocean-centric activities is considered Salt Life. Boating, fishing, and surfing. You name it. Fun in Florida is almost equivalent to relaxation.
Enjoying warm weather, soft sand, and the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean would be the epitome of Salt Life in Jacksonville, Florida. Huguenot Memorial Park down on Heckscher Drive, has become the hotspot for many local surfers and fishermen over the past year.
A New Yorker, for example, has absolutely no clue of what Salt Life is or what it could possibly stands for. Floridians should take pride in that fact.
Surfing and fishing are only two ways to relieve stress and enjoy life. Without activities like these, it would be interesting to see what Floridians would do for fun.
Down here in the state of Florida all we need are a few rays, the beach atmosphere, and a wet suit to enjoy the waves of the Atlantic; or Gulf of Mexico for the west coast of Florida.
Two unforgettable adventures—offered on every level. Whether you’re looking for a way to escape and enjoy the sunshine, or a way to satisfy a need for speed, both adventures guarantee fun.
Jennifer Koerner, owner of Adventures Up the Creek says a kayaking adventure has many of them. “Just the love of the outdoors and seeing natural beauty, and you have so much access to that on the water.”
In the past, many have been unsure of what to expect, but Koerner guarantees a sense of peace. “More often than not, it’s that quiet, that meditative time, that serenity” said Koener.
Paddling with friends is an option that’s available for those who’d rather paddle in a group. Pete Koerner, co-owner of Adventures Up the Creek says it is an
“Even if a few of them had been kayaking before, they probably haven’t been kayaking with ten, or twenty or thirty people” said Koerner. But, nevertheless he says it’s about working together toward the common goal. “It’s a part of a unique experience.”
If you’re not the outdoors type and have a need for speed, Nick Soriano, Director of Competition at Autobahn Indoor Speedway says their tracks are the ultimate racing experience.
He says Autobahn has become a place for all ages and levels. “We have something for everybody. From kids who are just learning to drive their first go kart, to serious racers who like to come out and compete in our leagues,” said Soriano.
They aren’t your typical karts because, “they have great power, great top speeds, which makes it really exciting for all those speed junkies out there,” said Soriano.
William Madruga, first time racer said he enjoyed this experience because, “When you’re on the street you can’t do that, you can’t go fast.” But, at Autobahn, “You can go quick as you want.”
There’s no speed limit and the karts go up to 50 miles per hour. “It’s great for the kids, it’s great for just a date night together with your significant other and it’s just fun to do with friends as well,” said Kate Eakins, indoor racer.
Although it’s about competition, Soriano makes note that the fun means much more and that too is the mission of Autobahn.
Whether you’re on the inside or the outside, it’s important to never underestimate the importance of having fun.
Art Escapes the Canvas
By: Tiziana Onstead
Art isn’t solely paintings of fruit and old portraits hung in quiet museums. Art is alive and takes any form the mind molding it opts to create.
“Yeah, that’s my crazy brain,” said Mary Ratcliff, a resident artist at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, as she explained her latest project.
Ratcliff is creating a life size house with a door visitors can walk through. But she isn’t constructing this structure with wood and nails—she’s using yarn.
The yarn, donated from the local communities and by people as far away as Ohio, is held together by a series of knots that resemble a staircase.
“The idea is to support yourself as you climb the staircase,” said Ratcliff. A metaphorical description behind the bonding and growth of individuals and the communities they are a part of.
Ratcliff’s display will be unveiled on MOCA’s fifth floor in December. But traditional museums aren’t the only place to experience art in Jacksonville.
Crystal Floyd creates and displays art at CoRK Art Studios, named after its location at the corner of Rosselle and King streets in Riverside. CoRK was originally a group of warehouses, but was converted to an art space in 2011.
“Anybody doing something good for this community, we want to have a space for them to work together,” said Floyd.
And that’s exactly what CoRK does.
The studios began with only eight artists using the space to create, but has since grown to around 70. The growth, according to Floyd, allows for the intermingling of ideas in the creative process. But, it’s not just a place for creators.
CoRK hosts various art shows throughout the year that not only invite the public, but also encourage their involvement and interaction. The studios also host two open house events each year that showcase all of CoRK’s artists and their work.
Both MOCA and CoRK highlight their upcoming events online, but given CoRK’s do-it-yourself attitude, some shows are better found through flyers in Riverside.
Diamond D. Ranch is located off Normandy Boulevard where they are abundant with amenities for outdoor lovers. From a petting zoo to horseback riding, the Ranch is ideal for those who appreciate nature. Tour Guide, Meghan Hughes, said that you don’t have to be an equestrian to enjoy the ride.
“They don’t have to worry about doing much because our horses are so good, they know the routine, they know the work,” Hughes said.
There are many options for trail rides at the ranch. Whether you take a two-hour ride or a half day ride, this experience can be a great way to disconnect from the world and reconnect with nature.
“It’s just something different. It’s good to get out here with your family and get back to just having fun outdoors with your family and friends,” Hughes said.
Down the road from Diamond D Ranch, is Whil’s Paintball, a park that opened three years ago. It’s a place where people of all ages, family and friends alike can come take part in the intense sport. Owner Whil Arntzen emphasizes that safety comes first on the field.
“A lot of my referees are out there. All we care about is your safety and having fun,” Arntzen said.
Like horseback riding, paintballing doesn’t require experience and at Whil’s Paintball there are three different levels of experience to choose from. They start off young kids with first level pump guns which are low impact.
Tashia Redublo and her family enjoy spending their time in the field together and for them it allows them to let off some steam.
“Just getting the stress out and running around and going crazy [is a fun time],” Tashia Redublo said.
Redublo also says paintballing encourages her kids to step outside and be active and take a break from their technology.
Kona and Velocity: Jacksonville’s Various Adventures
Kona Skatepark and Velocity Trampoline gym are action filled experiences that all ages can enjoy. Whether you’re five or 85, there’s something to do at both locations.
“While being a part of this community over the years, a lot of kids and families have found Kona to be that home place,” said Martin Ramos, caretaker of Kona Skatepark.
Kona is the world’s longest standing skate park, and Velocity just opened last year, so they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum as far as history is concerned. Regardless, there is plenty of reason to visit both.
Kona has a versatile array of ramps, street skating options, and the infamous snake run. Velocity has trampolines, a foam pit, a kickball court and a trapeze— a fan favorite amongst the kids.
“Parents love it, [and] it gets the kids away from the electronics,” said Velocity Assistant Manager Jacob Sarvis..
With so many options, there’s no reason to not visit both. Indoor or outdoor, these are solid places to exercise while having fun, which is what these Jacksonville businesses strive to help their customers do.
Sarvis said that Velocity hosts college nights during the week, appealing to 20-30 year olds. Kona, being a skatepark, can obviously appeal to anyone, no matter what skill level or age.
“We are not only reaching out to Jacksonville, but to all surrounding areas around Jacksonville,” Ramos said.
The open-minded attitude is what makes both of these venues appealing, and staples of Jacksonville fun.
The Secret Ingredients That Work Every Time
By: Brooks Baptiste
Two Jacksonville Beach restaurants use secret ingredients that keep customers craving their food.
Mauricio Valderruten, owner of Shack Maui, says he envisioned the restaurant idea when he and his soccer teammates would get hungry at night and they didn’t have a lot of options.
“All that was open was McDonald’s, Taco Bell, or Waffle House, ” Valderruten said. He knew it was time for something new so he opened his restaurant, Shack Maui.
Shack Maui hasn’t even be in business for a year, but already it has gained quite the cult following.
“Since January, I’ve probably been here about 40 or 50 times,” said Ian Coverdill, a frequent Shack Maui consumer.
“We’ve already had like 300 of our friends come out,” said Luke Wittig, who has been coming to Shack Maui since it first opened. He enjoys the vibe, “awesome people,” and says the burgers are the best in this city.
Valdureten says it’s all in the special pineapple sauce they put on most of their meals. “No one would expect pineapple sauce on a burger, quesadilla, [or] hot dog. Changes the taste differently, but in the best of ways,” said Valderruten.
Coverdill eats there often and says the flavor of the sauce is different, but it’s like “literal munchies food.”
Not far down the road, Ed Malin, owner of Angie’s Subs, says he came into the restaurant business to make his customers feel good. Each time a customer walks in, he wants them to gain a memorable experience.
“I put names to every ticket, so when you came in on your ticket it would say your name,” said Malin. He says these small things keep customers coming back. “I brought my service aspect, front of the house ideas to that little restaurant and it grew exponentially over the years.”
With many types to choose from, Angie’s would average 70 sandwiches a day, but now they make 1200 sandwiches on a busy day.
Malin says his secret isn’t in the type of sandwich. “You can buy the same salami, the same ham, the same Peruvian sauce, the same mayonnaise, the same cheese. It’s going to be the exact same sandwich we serve here.”
“What we do is…take that sandwich and add some “service” to it.”
Both restaurants are growing in hope to make an impact within the community.
Mayport Fishing Village is Quietly Thriving
Mayport Fishing Village is all about holding a Safe Harbor within this community.
The docks are home to a fleet of shrimping and commercial fishing boats— either docked, unloading, or loading up.
Andy King has been shrimping for 40 years now. Shrimping in the most dominant form of fishing by a landslide in the Mayport area.
Sean Smith, a commercial fisherman of only six months, has been fishing for fun his entire life. He and others venture out seven days at a time with hope of returning with a few thousand pounds of marketable catch.
The calming river flowing by and a sharp smell of crispy fried fish lures consumers into Safe Harbor Seafood, a restaurant known for their shrimp.
“We are known for our shrimp around the world. It’s world-renowned,” said Chris Wooten, Safe Harbor owner.
Safe Harbor is making a positive impact on the community with their fishing.
Wooten has managed to conserve the community and culture of the people while steadily growing as a business, a restaurant, and now a seafood distribution company.
With the sun setting on the river, and the docks silent, the restaurant continued to bustle with customers from near and far. Mayport shrimp is a big hit and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.