When the 27th rolls colorfully by

When the 27th rolls colorfully by

by

Herb Hiller

Southeast Region Program Consultant, East Coast Greenway Alliance

Odds are that we’ll all get March 27th off because it’s a Saturday. Still, the date also marks a milestone that 20 or 30 years from now we might want to recall as a holiday, assuming that as Floridians we steadily choose to live more sustainably.

March 27th, the 4th annual Florida Wildflower Festival for the first time takes place downtown DeLand. Wildflower seed growers, native plant sellers, honey bee keepers, scientists and artists will all celebrate West Volusia’s authentic beauty. Â

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That same day, Bike Florida starts its 15th annual weeklong mass ride. This year’s tour won’t be the first that starts and ends in DeLand, but it will be the first that the hundreds of touring cyclists ride along the recently state-designated River of Lakes Scenic Highway. Bike  Florida’s cyclists will continue their entire way along the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop.

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The Loop, in turn, bears its own designation as part of the East Coast Greenway that runs between the top of Maine and the bottom of Florida. The Loop will capture far greater recognition when, in October, Visit Florida launches its trails website that will attract thousands of vacationing cyclists.

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Early enthusiasm for the Loop in 2008 led to a memorandum of understanding among chairs of the five counties of the route – Volusia, Putnam, St. Johns, Flagler and Brevard – presided over by U.S. Rep. John L. Mica. Thanks to the example of the Loop, last month the Florida Greenways and Trails Council unanimously resolved that the Office of Greenways and Trails adopt a priority of long-distance trails, especially loop trails.

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Rationale for the Council’s move was that loops do more than most trails for the economies they pass through. People like to cycle loops start to finish, which is to say that, on the 260-mile St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, folks might ride for seven days, night by night lodging locally, buying meals, and otherwise interacting with locals in the less pressured places where so many of us prefer to live. The East Central Florida Regional Planning Council this week newly began researching the economic impact of regional trails.

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So why the milestone, why the imaginary future holiday?

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Nowhere else has Florida witnessed the coming together of so many low-capital intensive travel-favoring initiatives that celebrate nature, history and culture. That is to say, of ecotourism, of tourism turning sustainable.

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Florida tourism got its mass-market start in the late 1800s when the state, eager to flourish railroads, gave Henry Flagler a square mile of land for every linear mile of track he laid. No surprise that Flagler put up hotels to house the people his trains carried, where he sold them land. For more than a hundred years, tourism has steadily spurred land development.

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Come March 27th, West Volusia conspicuously marks the onset of a different and more conserving tourism ethic. Wildflowers, bicycling, the celebration of history and nature, the rediscovery of trails and their marketing by the top tourism professionals in America open up a new precedent setting way. The East Coast Greenway Alliance is part of the mix.

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DeLand resident and strategic planner Herb Hiller has been a large contributor to the initiatives he describes. Others have chiefly included County Council Member Pat Northey, Renee Tallevast of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority, Bike Florida founder and Palatka resident Linda Crider, and Dana Venrick of the Volusia

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