A Seminole War reenactment at Fort Cooper State Park

In April, 1836, as General Winfield Scott was marching to Tampa during the Second Seminole War, he ordered Major Mark Anthony Cooper and his First Georgia Battalion Volunteers to build a fort near the edge of Lake Holathlikaha to protect the sick and wounded. He was told Scott would be back with relief troops in nine days. Scott continued to Fort Brooke (near present day Tampa) and picked up reinforcements and supplies, then returned to Fort Cooper 16 days later. The men at the fort had been under almost constant attack from Osceola and up to 500 Seminoles almost the entire time but they held out and were waiting when Scott returned. During the fighting they had sustained 20 wounded, 1 dead. After Scott returned, everyone marched back north to Fort Drane (near present-day Ocala). The small stockade was used as a dispatch, observation and reconnaissance outpost until 1842.

Today, not much remains of the original fort but the area is now a popular park offering hiking, primitive camping, fishing, swimming (when the lake water level is high enough) and picnicking. Private boats are not allowed on Lake Holathlikaha but you can rent canoes and paddleboats. There are more than six miles of developed trails for hikers and anyone wanting to visit the site of the old fort has to actually walk there (the parking areas are a distance away).

The primitive camping sites are mostly meant for youth organizations with space for up to 20 campers at each of three sites and a fourth site with room for up to 8 campers. The camping sites each offer picnic tables, barbecue grills, fire rings, drinking water and porta-potties. To use the campsites you need to call the park and make reservations.

Fort Cooper State Park is open from 8 am to sunset, every day of the year. Admission fees: $3 per vehicle to a maximum of eight occupants. $2 each for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers. Primitive tent camping: $5 per site per night (plus tax) - call the park for reservations. Picnic Pavilion: $40 per day (plus tax) - accommodates 60 to 70 people. Recreation Hall: $100 per day (plus tax) - accommodates up to 50 people, folding tables and chairs are included, as is use of the kitchen. Paddleboats and canoes: $5 per hour (includes the tax). Fort Cooper State Park is located about two miles south of Inverness, just off US Highway 41 on South Old Floral City Road.

Fort Cooper State Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. In addition to a couple hundred different species of birds you might see deer, opossum, wild turkey and bobcat.