Central Florida; “big Ag”, and, old towns not feeling the tourism love of the coastal cities!

Old shuttered theater and closed auto shop in Pahokee are emblematic of Central Florida towns that don't receive the tourism bounty of the coastal cities.

Water cannons, mounted on huge “big Ag” trucks, thunder water 150 yards into Florida fields.
Lake Okeechobee is huge, outlined by giant levies courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers and our federal government.
Huge levies and water channels take Everglades water to oceanside towns in East Florida.
Sunrise over Nine Mile Pond in Everglades National Park; sharp eyes will see an alligator cruising in the center/left portion of the photo (don’t go wading)!

Two days ago, I posted the overview of our week in Florida.  Due to space constraints, the Record newspaper and blog version did not allow space to share observations on the central portion of the state; so, here is a bit more.

Earlier in our exploration of the Everglades, from the Sawgrass National Recreation Area and Everglades National Park, several locals tell us the Everglades have been reduced by about half due to encroaching development and levies constructed by Army Corps of Engineers. The Everglades provide most of Florida’s fresh drinking water – imperiled as population continues to grow. Not only does the Everglades provide most of Florida’s drinking water and water for agriculture, it provides a home for fish, alligators, eagles, pelicans and many critters.

We departed Everglades National Park’s Flamingo area and headed north, through the Everglades area and up to Lake Okeechobee in central/south Florida.  Much of that portion of our trip took us through Florida’s waterways, and “big Ag” lands. Exiting the park, we are quickly into the state’s agricultural empire. Miles upon miles of squash fields, tomatoes, avocados. Around a curve, we see an army of industrial trucks with water cannons, thundering water 150 to 200 yards, 360°, drenching the road and nearby properties. Apparently no water shortage in this state!

We take the interior roads north of the Everglades to huge Lake Okeechobee. Highway 27 rims the lake, with massive levies splitting the Everglades on one side, limestone quarries and big Ag on the other and channels sending Florida’s fresh water to the beachfront towns to the east. East of the huge lake are sleepy, back-water towns like Belle Glade; then Pahokee, a truly beaten town with an abandoned theater. 

At a gas station, I run into Lester Crawford, a Vietnam Vet and Purple Heart awardee (Tet Offensive), who invites us to spend the night in his nearby RV Park.  Also a City Council member, Lester notes his town, Pahokee (with the shuttered old theater and a score of closed businesses), “is on the comeback trail, attracting more tourists – take the time to see!”, he exhorts.

North of the lake, we continue to Holopaw (approaching Orlando) – only then do we see our first orange groves. We turn east, through vast cattle country and slowly descend to the beaches at Melbourne – then head north to Daytona Beach. Here, for $56 we find a nice room on the beach.  With a lovely view of the sunrise over the Atlantic, Susan is up early to see it’s multiple hues. Later that day, we take a short drive south along Daytona’s hard, sandy beach, just as we had done 45 years earlier, in the week before I reported into Fort Benning, Georgia for my Army duty.

From there, we continue up Florida’s east coast, past huge condos, timeshares and luxury vacation and retirement homes – all seemingly oblivious to future water challenges!

For more info: For Florida state parks like St. George Island, go to www.floridastateparks.org; for Everglades National Park, www.nps.gov/ever/.

Next week we will continue our journey into the old South, arriving at Fort McAllister State Park southeast of Savannah, Georgia.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com. 

Happy travels in the west!

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