Florida: This is on us

Florida can be exquisitely right and terribly wrong.

A prime example of the rare taste of glory is the Guana River State Park located in St. Johns County on A1A north of St. Augustine.

How it became owned by the public instead of meeting the typical Florida fate of condos, million dollar homes and golf courses involved luck.

The developer who bought the island as part of a package deal with other prized land needed money to close the deal. His answer was to sell the island to the state.

Because of that, Guana River State Park will forever be a reminder of what Old Florida was like before we began the now unstoppable march to destroy it,

Gnarled oaks, giant pines and twisted cedar trees provide an ancient canopy over trails that lead through maritime forests and into open savannas. Indians lived on this island at one time, and you can sense their presence still.

During the summer heat, insects can make life miserable. But on a crisp spring day when the buzzing and biting disappear, rubbing shoulders with nature and experiencing a glimpse of a time now lost is both exhilarating and humbling.

Florida at its worst is just down the road near Palatka — the Ocklawaha River.

It was once described as the sweetest river in all of Florida. Its course twisted and turned through a primeval forest of ancient trees. More than a dozen springs flowed freely, and its huge floodplain cleansed water as it moved to the St. Johns River.

Then decades ago, Floridians, anxious to make money and uncaring about this unique ecosystem, destroyed it.

The idea was to build a canal across Florida to speed shipping times connecting the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

Giant machines crushed trees that stood in the way, and the river was dammed to create a huge reservoir.

President Richard Nixon finally stopped the madness before the project was competed, but the dam and the reservoir remained.

And they remain to this day, a testament to the folly of Floridians.

Every three to four years, the reservoir has to be drained because it becomes a cesspool of choking vegetation and polluted water.

For a few glorious months the springs begin flowing again, and the mighty remnants of giant trees re-emerge as a reminder of what was lost.

At the same time, tiny cypress seedlings begin spouting, bringing with them the promise of a regenerated flood plain.

Then the dam is closed, and what was and could be again the sweetest river in Florida is drowned.

Why? The reservoir serves no other purpose but as a playground for bass anglers.

All of Florida must demand that the Ocklawaha be restored. It’s every bit as important as the Everglades.

We baby boomers have let this travesty stand. Our time to finally right this wrong is slipping away.



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I wrote opinion columns for The Florida Times-Union for 28 years. I retired in December 2017, but I still have a few things to say. Often those thoughts come to me when I'm at our farm in Gadsden County where life is simple and the environment still beautiful.

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