In Florida: Patches of Wilderness

John Turner
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The State and the Counties of Florida have done a fairly good job of preserving small patches of wilderness in a series of parks located all over the state. Most of these serve as local picnic areas, and have playing fields near them, but their most important features are trails which wind through the woods and along streams so that people can see the land as it once was and catch glimpses of the wildlife that is still fairly abundant.

There is a park on the outskirts of Ft. Meade is bordered by the Peace River which flows from central Florida southward to the bay at Punta Gorda. This is a region of the state not many tourists see. There are no great attractions, and Polk and Hardee Counties in which most of the Peace River lies have the lowest income levels in the state. Consequently they remain similar to what all of Florida, except for coastal resorts, was fifty years ago. It's pleasant to walk along the banks of the Peace River and watch the numerous fish lolling in the pale brown water.

It gives a sense of sleepiness, which used to be the Florida motif -- before Disney World came, and Sea World, and every other kind of world that has turned much of central Florida into a site fit for description by Danté. I hope these little outlying districts will be able, somehow, to maintain themselves as the greed for tourist dollars washes all the rest of old Florida away.

The Manatee River runs into Tampa Bay just west of Bradenton. Right where it flows out into the breadth of the bay a small peninsula juts about a third of the way across the channel to the northeast. It was from this spot in the summer of 1539, that Hernando DeSoto launched his attempt to find the supposed cities of gold in what is now the southeastern United States. After wandering for four thousand miles, killing thousands of natives, and suffering terrible hardships themselves the much-reduced expedition made it to the northernmost Spanish settlement on the coast of Mexico. But DeSoto wasn't with them. He died on the banks of the Mississippi in 1542, and his body was committed to the Father of Waters. Nobody found any gold.

Now the place where the search began is commemorated by a national memorial, with a visitors' center, trails winding through the mangrove swamps, and a magnificent grove of gumbo limbo trees.

It's a quiet spot, with no sensational features. Yet you could scarcely find a more enjoyable place for an afternoon outing and a picnic lunch.

I like to see federal dollars used for purposes like the DeSoto Memorial. They teach the people something of our history. They offer opportunities for families to establish pleasant memories. And, perhaps, best of all, they proclaim that we are, at least in some respects, a civilized culture.