Saving scenic roads
Published: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 12:13 a.m.
Roads are generally a means to an end, but several Alachua County roads are that and more. They are a destination in themselves because of the farms, trees and other features that line them.
The Old Florida Heritage Highway is one of 16 designated scenic road systems in the state and a new effort is under way to try to ensure it remains worth visiting through a master plan.
"The goal for the scenic byways program is to enhance roadways for driving and tourism, but it's also a way to preserve community values," said senior planner Kathleen Pagan with the Alachua County Growth Management Department. "The goal of the master plan is to find ways to protect the resources but also utilize them in a sustainable manner."
The Heritage Highway's curvy roads link several southeastern Alachua County communities and pass some of the county's most notable features, including the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park in Cross Creek and Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park between Gainesville and Micanopy.
The roads also wind past some quirky gems - Evinston's Wood and Swink Post Office/country store, cemeteries with ancient live oaks shading the graves, a pasture with grazing llamas and the 11-foot-tall sculpted hands holding the Florida School of Massage sign.
Favored by local cyclists because of their relatively light traffic, the roads and the places along them also draw the kind of travelers who want to see a more genuine Florida than can be found at Disney World.
And those visitors do notice the difference when driving on major roads such as U.S. 441 through scenic areas.
"This is uniquely old Florida. We drove on 441 for a while and it was CVS after CVS and Walgreens after Walgreens. This is really special," said Paula Anderson of Wilmington, Del., sipping a late afternoon glass of white wine on the porch of the Herlong Mansion in Micanopy.
Anderson and her parents, retired minister and teacher Bob and Alice Miller of Oviedo, are typical of a fair number of travelers to the area - looking for history, culture, nature, peace and quiet.
They spent a few days at the Herlong bed and breakfast, browsed the antique shops, learned about botanist William Bartram's expedition through here in the mid-1800s and planned a side trip to Cross Creek.
"There is so much more to Florida than the shore," Alice Miller said. "When we visit places we like to learn about the history. And this is just beautiful - look at these oaks."
Pagan said the process of developing a master plan will take about a year. A meeting was held last week in which residents and representatives of various agencies such as the Florida Park Service offered ideas for preserving and enhancing the roads.
Possibilities include informational kiosks to explain interesting features, an off-road bicycle/pedestrian path linking the main Paynes Prairie entrance to Micanopy, a conservation easement program for property owners along the roads and regulations on building designs and roadside signs.
The town of Micanopy can serve as a model in some ways - it created design standards for new buildings along the milelong stretch of U.S. 441 through town when it appeared a Dollar General store was a possibility.
University of Florida landscape architecture professor Peggy Carr has a few links to the Heritage Highway. She helped develop the Micanopy standards. She and her husband, David Carr, own Pearl's Country Store on U.S. 441 in Micanopy and David Carr was instrumental in the effort to get the state designation for the Heritage Highway system.
Peggy Carr said design guidelines such as Micanopy's are in place along scenic highways in other areas and have a positive effect in preserving the scenery, history and culture while still allowing development.
"There are a number of examples of communities where they created guidelines that give the expectation of preserving the qualities," Carr said. "You can get sort of gradual erosion of the quality of the corridor that could be hard to deal with. In some cases, my impression is that these corridors have dealt simply with the public right of way and have not tried to impose any kind of restrictions on private property. That will be something that will be discussed - whether there is any need or desire to impose any sort of guidelines like Micanopy has done."
The Florida Department of Transportation operates the Florida Scenic Highway system that features 16 road networks throughout the state.
To qualify, the road or network must have "intrinsic resources" such as distinctive scenery or historical sites. It must also have features that tell a story about history, culture, industry, ecology or recreational opportunities to provide an educational experience for the traveler.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Transportation Department operates the National Scenic Byways program that aims to "create a distinctive collection of American roads, their stories and treasured places."
The program has 126 byways in 44 states, the first of which was designated in 1996.
Only a few of Florida's scenic road networks are in the national program, but Pagan said the master plan being developed for the Old Florida Heritage Highway could lead to a federal designation.
Wilma Sue and Freddie Wood own the Wood and Swink - she is also Evinston's postmaster - an old wooden building on the National Register of Historic Places and curio-filled country store where customers can buy Freddie's vegetables grown just out the back door.
Plenty of tourists find their way to the store - including a fair number of Europeans - lured to the area by the Rawlings home or Micanopy. The Woods say they understand the desire of travelers to take to the backroads and scenic lanes - they do it themselves when they vacation.
"A lady came in here just last week and said she liked the store, and a lady who was with her said that this is what you find when you get off the main highway," Wilma Sue Wood said. "When we take trips we will always look at the map and pick the scenic roads. We find places like this."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 352-374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.
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