When art escapes anything happens

Lately I’ve been entertaining some of the Big Questions about Life, The Universe And Everything.

Is it art, or just a rotting whale?

Is war still hell if Felix The Cat, Wiley E. Coyote and Homer Simpson are committing the atrocities?

And if “The Starry Night” jumps off canvas and onto a house is that a mortal sin against conformity and the property tax valuation we all hold sacred?

That first question is a tough one. These days Gainesville is busting out all over in Urban Art, i.e. formerly known as graffiti. 

Spurred by the city’s 352Walls project, artists from around the world have been coming to town to paint their visions on formerly blank walls, mostly in the downtown area, but as far afield as Santa Fe College. 

Now we’ve got a mystical woman holding a ball of galaxy, surrealistic city scapes, a Bengal tiger, Tom Petty tributes and other images that nearly defy description popping up all over town. 

It’s cool. It’s hip. It’s edgy. It’s so Gville.

And then there’s the rotting whale on NW 4th Street, around the corner from Cypress & Grove Brewery.

Ribs poking out, flesh hanging in shreds, vultures perched and daisies sprouting through the gaps. 

Personally I love it as a sort of circle-of-life message that they didn’t quite capture in “The Lion King.” But when I show it to visitors I get mixed reviews. Some can’t stand to look at it.

Which I suppose is the very definition of art. Something I read in a gallery in Asheville’s River Arts District recently comes to mind: “It’s not what you see, it’s what you make others see.”

Speaking of arts districts I was wandering the Eau Gallie Arts District (EGAD) in Melbourne, and stopped to ponder Matt Gondek’s contribution to the district’s 2017 Anti-Gravity mural wall painting project. 

It’s kind of a traffic stopper. An “exploding” cartoon in which icons like Homer, Felix and Wiley cheerily wage bloody mayhem on each other in gaudy primary colors.

To say that the Gondek’s take on “Guernica,” Picasso’s epic interpretation of Nazi atrocities in the Spanish Civil War, has raised a few eyebrows would be an understatement.

“The city commission rewrote the mural ordinance over it,” Lisa Packard, director of EGAD, told me. “The town went nuts.”

True, seeing Sponge Bob with one eye gouged out is a bit jarring. But Pepe LePew’s got a rose clenched in his teeth, so it’s not all gore and guts. 

And here’s the other thing. This deconstructed vision of critters’ inhumanity to critters graces the wall of a small strip shopping plaza that would otherwise be all but invisible in its bland sameness. 

They’re all over Florida, but you never really see them at all.

You’ve gotta be blind to miss this one though.

Which brings us to Mt. Dora’s “Starry Night” house.

You’ve probably read about it. A Mt. Dora couple noticed their autistic son’s fascination with Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpiece. So they had it reproduced all over the outside of their house.

Prompting the City to threaten $100 a day fines until they returned their home to its former, municipally-approved blandness.

But the couple went to court instead, and a federal judge ruled Mt. Dora out of order.

So now can we expect to see house-sized replicas of great masterpieces popping up in neighborhoods all over Florida? Will art anarchy swamp homeowners associations in a sea of surrealism?

I dunno. When art escapes the studio to spread out across the landscape, anything can happen. A lot of cities like Gainesville are busting out in murals precisely because it makes the urban landscape so visually arresting that people want to come from all over to see it – and argue about it. 

But the lines of artistic expression can get blurred. In Asheville’s art district a colorful orange and blue house flouts a large mural of Bob Dylan smoking a cigarette. Very cool, but I can’t imagine they would welcome that abode in a tonier section of town. 

On the other hand perhaps we are entering into an age where conformity and uniformity is becoming overrated. 

I’m ok with the rotting whale and one-eyed Sponge Bob and smokin’ Dylan and the Starry Night house (which is now a Mt. Dora tourist draw). 

What a Brave New World has such images in it.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. This column was published in the Sun on Sept. 11, 2018.stars2.001.jpeg

Swans, people and automobiles

Save the swans Lakeland.

And the people too.

The lovely waterfowl that glide gracefully across Lake Morgan are living symbols of the city. But apparently that matters little to at least some of the thousands of motorists who drive by the lake every day. 

In the space of just three weeks, six of the stately birds have been run over by cars. Five did not survive the encounter. 

On the heels of this avian slaughter, public officials and local residents have begun to talk about what can be done to improve traffic safety in the area. The swans are Lakeland’s mascots, and  if saving them means cracking down on speeding or distracted driving, then so be it.

But let’s be honest, Lakeland’s traffic safety dilemma ranges far beyond Lake Morgan. 

In 2013, when I was executive director of Bike Florida, we brought several hundred cyclists from all over the country to Lakeland for our Orange Blossom Express spring tour. Bike Florida is a nonprofit organization that promotes cycle tourism while raising public awareness about safe cycling. As route coordinator for our spring tours I can tell you that we spend a great deal of time – literally months before the actual event – working to ensure that our cyclists can ride safely from point A to point B while at the same time showing them the best that scenic Florida has to offer. 

Naturally Lake Morton was on our tour route that spring. We wanted our riders to see and appreciate the royal swans. And finding a way to get them safely into downtown from our host site by the airport – in and out of Lakeland’s intensive traffic patterns – caused staffers more than a few sleepless nights. 

Fortunately we pulled it off, thanks largely to the high visibility signs we posted along the route – to both guide cyclists and alert motorists – the off-duty police officers we stationed at troublesome intersections and other proactive safety measures we implemented.

Unfortunately, people who try to get around Lakeland day to day on foot or by bike do not enjoy the kind of route support we provided our riders. Just two years ago Smart Growth America’s annual “Dangerous By Design” survey listed Lakeland-Winter Haven as America’s sixth most dangerous metro for pedestrians – more dangerous than Miami, Tampa or Phoenix.

The Ledger has reported that in the last two years alone cyclists and pedestrians have been involved in nearly 500 crashes locally. And 33 of them died.

“They’re much too small to compete with a 2,000-pound vehicle,” veterinarian Patricia Mattson told the Ledger in reference to the city’s traffic-endangered swans. 

Same goes for the human beings who routinely brave city streets on foot or by bike…they are much too small and vulnerable. And their lives are just as precious, even if their injuries and deaths do not attract as much publicity.

I don’t really mean to pick on Lakeland. In truth it’s not much different from many auto-American cities that, over the past half century, have squandered tax dollars, downtown economic vitality and, yes, human lives in the single-minded pursuit of enabling motorists to drive in and out of town as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

It is a measure of just how successful our national experiment in moving traffic at all costs has been that congestion is as bad, or worse, as it’s ever been, traffic fatalities remain at epidemic levels and pedestrian and cycling deaths are on the rise. 

It’s time to try something different. In Lakeland. In Gainesville. In every city that wants to improve its quality of life and protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents.

We know how to calm urban traffic. It’s become something of a science. Mainly it involves slowing down cars by street design, enforcement and education, and there are any number of techniques to do it. The Project for Public Spaces is one of the organizations that offer traffic calming “toolboxes” for communities that want to reclaim their streets and public spaces. 

As a society we have spent decades designing streets that put pedestrians, cyclists and, yes, in Lakeland’s case, even swans at mortal risk in order to keep traffic moving at peak efficiency. 

City leaders who want to change that dangerous status quo can choose to put cars in their place and save lives. All it takes is the will to do so and the realization that the public streets belong to all of us. 

Save the swans, Lakeland, and the people too.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of the Gainesville Sun and served as Executive Director of Bike Florida for five years. He continues to design tour routes for Bike Florida.

Like it’s 1974 all over again

On Christmas break in 1974 Dave Smith and I took a road trip to Washington, D.C. and on into Pennsylvania.

Dave was editor of the Independent Florida Alligator and I was his managing editor. And these momentous times indeed for two young journalists to go to D.C. 

Richard Nixon was gone. Our U.S. Senator, Ed Gurney, freshly indicted for influence peddling, had one foot out the door. 

Helen Thomas got us into a White House press briefing. And William Raspberry invited us to the Washington Post, where we chatted with Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward.

Heady stuff for a couple of guys who aspired to ink stained wretch status.

Oddly, though, none of that moved me to write this column 44 years later. 

Rather, it was something that Dave said in passing as we motored north into the American rust belt, past belching smokestacks, over polluted rivers and through communities that reeked of the effluvia of the post-war Industrial Age.

“What have they done to my country?” Dave asked. 

An excellent question then. Even better now. 

At that time the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection was just four years old. It was signed into law by a Republican president after DDT had driven the American bald eagle to the brink of extinction, oil spills had blackened California beaches and an entire river, the Cuyahoga, had burst into a chemical-fueled fire. 

Thank goodness those days are behind us. 

Listen, except for the algae choking Florida’s rivers, the red tides that are killing marine life, the fact that South Florida is sinking, – not to mention rising ozone levels, raging wildfires, dying coral reefs and slowly acidifying oceans – things are looking…well…

Like it’s 1974 all over again. 

Only now the EPA has gone over to the enemy. 

Stay with me here and try to follow the logic.

They tell us that if we don’t reverse Obama’s fuel efficiency goals, 1,000 more Americans each year will die in auto accidents because driving will be cheaper and we will want to do more of it. 

That’s bad.

But we also must reverse Obama’s emission limits on coal plants even though that will cause 1,400 additional premature deaths a year. 

That’s good.

Because, you know, the War On Coal. Plus, windmills kill birds.

And if the folks running the EPA sound like a bunch of verbal contortionists they are not alone. Over the past eight years we Floridians have stood idly by while our leaders in Tallahassee have systematically dismantled state environmental enforcement and gutted our water management districts. 

All of which brings me back to Dave’s question: What are they doing to my country?

They aren’t doing anything. We are. 

Not doing anything, I mean.

Those people that weaponized the EPA against us? We elected them.

Ditto the politicians who are dragging Florida to the brink of environmental catastrophe.

Listen, Nixon and Congress didn’t create the EPA because they woke up one morning feeling green. 

They did it because a well organized and vocal environmental movement had gained enough momentum by the 1960s to force elected officials to act lest they lose their jobs.

Nobody in public office worries about that anymore. The pols act like the only things we care about are guns and abortion. And they are kept in office by the lobbyists – big ag, big oil, big chem – who bankroll their campaigns.

That’s got to stop. Starting this year. 

As we get closer to the election we will talk more about which rascals need to be thrown out before they kill us with contamination. 

And shame on us if we don’t do it.

(Published in the Gainesville Sun Aug. 26, 20188)

 

 

North to Craggy Gardens

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the top of Craggy Gardens.

Everything suddenly went black.

Well, not black, exactly. More like gray.

The black part only lasted while I was riding through a tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway that ended just about one mile distant from the Craggy Gardens Visitor’s Center – my goal for the day’s ride. My flashing white and red lights barely registered in the darkness….but you could make out the light at the end of the tunnel.

You could also see the steep hill – just the latest and hopefully last ascent that would take me up final 300-or 400-feet up to the nearly 6,000 feet elevation point that marked the Visitors Center.

I would have liked to have made it. It was so damned close.

Yet so far away as things turned out.

What happened was that at the top of that final hill I ran into a thick bank of gray fog that was rolling across the top of the mountain.

Now I saw it, now I didn’t.

In fact, I literally couldn’t see much of anything beyond my handlebars. And that’s not a great situation to find yourself in when you are on a narrow, two-lane, twisty mountain road much favored by cyclists, automobiles, motorcycles and RVs.

So, conceding defeat, I turned around and headed back the other way, downhill. Luckily, the fog did not follow me.

The Visitors Center will still be there for some future ride.

And the long, steep, descent between Craggy Gardens and the distant Folk Arts Center – at about 2,200 feet just outside Asheville – is reward enough.

Really, how often do you get to ride at speeds of up to 35-plus MPH (could have gone faster at points, but I get skittish at a certain velocity and start feathering the brakes) for mile after mile? Certainly nowhere in the vicinity of my usual Florida stomping grounds.

Having climbed steadily and doggedly for upwards of two hours, that return ride seemed to fly by in a matter of minutes.

In my previous blog, I criticized the National Park Service’s “ride on the right side of the road” rule for bicyclists on the Blue Ridge Parkway – aka its “suicide by bike” requirement. Which criticism I stand by.

But I also had some not very flattering things to say about cycling the segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway that runs through the Asheville area. That last complaint calls for clarification.

So here goes: There’s nothing wrong with riding the Blue Ridge Parkway out of Asheville, indeed it is recommended – providing that you are headed in the right direction.

In fact, cycling north (in the direction of Mt. Mitchell) on the Parkway out of Asheville is a delightful experience. Beginning at the Folk Arts Center, the climbs are challenging but not especially punishing, the descents are thrilling and the scenery is spectacular. The traffic tends to be light, at least earlier in the morning, and not nearly as intimidating as what you would encounter riding south.

It is riding south out of Asheville (toward Mt. Pisgah) that should be avoided, most especially during the week days. The first several miles is essentially a forested local road which is used by commuters to get to work and back or wherever, thereby avoiding the city’s more heavily trafficked surface roads. You can tell it’s a local road not only by the volume of fast-moving traffic but also by the roadside litter that is all too common along this stretch of the Parkway. It isn’t until after you cross the French Broad River, about 10 miles into the ride, that the trip south begins to seem as pleasant as the trek north. (Ironically, right after crossing the river we saw construction signs advising cyclists to go no further because of loose gravel on the road. Sometimes you just can’t win.)

Judging by the number of cyclists I was able to observe, the locals know this north-south divide very well. Over several days we passed (or were passed) by dozens of riders headed north. Only a hardy few were evident on the one day we ventured south.

And most were headed north for reasons of safety and scenery. The overlooks at Haw Creek Valley, Craven Gap, Tanbark Ridge, Bull Creek, Lane Pinnacle, Potato Field Gap and so on all make for scenic water stops that more than compensate for the hard work involved in riding steadily uphill in the direction of Craggy Gardens.

Listen, I’m a Florida flatlander who does most of my riding at sea level. But this summer I’ve had the opportunity to cycle in the mountains of western Virginia, the uplands of southern Scotland (more about that in a future blog) and on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. All are recommended.

Life’s a journey, folks. Just make sure all of your gears are in working order – not to mention your tires, brakes and flashing lights etc.

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Live center or die on the edge?

I wasn’t aware of the National Park Service’s “Suicide By Bicycle” rule until I cycled the Blue Ridge Parkway out of Asheville, N.C.

Actually it was on the third day of cycling the Parkway when, headed north, I pulled over just after crossing the French Broad River to read a colorful sign proclaiming that I was about to encounter the “highest, most rugged elevations” of its entire 469-mile length.

There was lots of other information as well, including fairly specific instructions for bicycles. Among them that cyclists must “ride single file on the right hand side of the road.”

This next to an illustration showing a single rider hugging the road’s edge so closely that his right ankle was surly being tickled by the grass.

I’ve got no problem with the single file part. But anybody on a bicycle who follows the “right hand side” rule must have a death wish.

Why? Two reasons.

One: Sitting on the right edge seems an invitation to lead-footed motorists coming up from behind to pass you without bothering to move over onto the oncoming traffic lane….even if that means squeezing by within inches of your vulnerable body.

In fact, a sheriff’s deputy in his SUV cruiser did just that to me without bothering to either slow down or edge across the yellow middle line. Thanks John Law.

Second, hugging the right edge of the road similarly invites impatient drivers coming in the opposite way to view the remainder of your lane as a “window of opportunity” to pass the slowpoke driver (or drivers) in front of them.

No thank you.

I mostly stuck just to the right of the center of the lane. With my fluorescent yellow jersey, flashing red tail lights and white head lights, I was visible enough to give oncoming motorists ample notice that they needed to slow down until they could pass me safely employing the oncoming lane. Even if that meant waiting until there was no approaching traffic.

As it happens, very few of the numerous cyclists I observed while riding the Parkway seemed to adhere to the bicycle suicide rule. And if that sounds like cycling anarchy, I would also observe that many of the motorists who shared that narrow road with us didn’t bother to observe the Parkway’s 35-45 mph speed limits. And Parkway traffic enforcement being apparently rare to nonexistent, there seems little incentive for motorists not to speed.

I hesitate to make too much of this. Cycling remains a popular activity on the Parkway and for good reasons – spectacular mountain vistas, challenging climbs and exhilarating descents to name just three.

But given the presence of so many SUVS, RVs, pickup trucks, motorcycles and such, the intent of the ride-on-the-right-edge rule seems less intended to protect the lives of people on bicycles than facilitate the swift and uninterrupted flow of motorized traffic.

A worthy goal on a wide, high-speed multiple laned highway, perhaps. But wholly inappropriate within the tight confines of what amounts to America’s longest, narrowest linear park.

Don’t get me wrong. I still loved cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway. But I would advise anyone who wants to give it a try to avoid the stretch running through the Asheville area. It’s clear that many local commuters use the Parkway as a convenient, time-saving option to avoid the traffic lights and congestion on the city’s roads. Looking in my helmet-mounted rear mirror and seeing a line of 7 or 8 cars coming up behind me and showing no signs of slowing down tends to….well, spoil the moment.

Not to pick on the Park Service, but I think the Parkway’s right-side rule is dangerously misguided. Check out what the American Bicycling Education Association’s Cyclingsavvy website has to say on the subject:

“Driving in the middle of the lane actually protects bicyclists against the most common motorist-caused crashes: sideswipes, right hooks, left crosses, and drive-outs.  A bicycle driver’s top safety priority is to ensure he or she can be seen by motorists with whom they might potentially be in conflict, and bicycling in the middle of a lane is one of the most effective ways to do that. Most overtaking crashes involve a motorist who attempts to squeeze past (illegally) in a lane that is too narrow to share.”

If ever there were lanes that are “too narrow to share” you’ll find them on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sorry, ranger, but I’d rather live as a rule-breaker than die in perfect compliance.

Just find a trail and ride

We get it. You want to ride. 

You long to get out there on your bicycle, to explore the best that natural Florida has to offer. To exercise your body and your mind. To leave your sedentary existence behind, if only for the day, or perhaps just a few hours. 

But you are not comfortable riding on the roads. Traffic worries you. You don’t feel safe occupying the same space with cars and trucks and distracted drivers with cell phones.

Not to worry.

The really cool thing about Gainesville is that it is pretty much the epicenter of Trail Country. If you have a bike rack, or enough on-board cargo space to stow your bicycle, you are within easy driving distance – an hour or so – of at least four quality rail-trails. 

No need to share the road. Just get on a trail and sing along with Queen: “I want to ride my bicycle…..”

Here they are in order of proximity.

The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail: This one literally starts at Depot Park in downtown Gainesville and runs for more than 15 miles, all the way to downtown Hawthorne. Along the way you can stop at the Boulware Springs Trailhead for water and restrooms. You might want to take a bit of time off the bike to stroll the walkway into Alachua Sink at Paynes Prairie. There are rolling hills and scenic prairie overlooks. You can stop at Prairie Creek and watch the fishing, or maybe even cross under the Hawthorne Road bridge and take a peek at Newnans Lake. You can explore tiny Rochelle, cross Lochloosa creeks and, when you get to Hawthorne, maybe have lunch at Diane’s Old Time Barbecue, or visit the Historical Museum before heading back to Gainesville – where you just might consider a cold beer reward at First Magnitude, conveniently situated at trail’s end. This is one of Florida’s oldest rail-trails and it never loses its charm. 

The Lake Butler-Palatka Trail: Just a 35-minute drive east will take you to the trailhead at Grandin, in Putnam County. From there you can ride either west toward Keystone Heights or continue east toward Palatka – or better yet, go first one way and then the other. Either way the ride will take you through the heart of this area’s sand hills and lakes country. The important thing to remember is that this 47-mile corridor is very much a work in progress. As this is being written, construction continues on a trail extension that will go all the way into Palatka. Once that is completed, it will be possible to connect with the Palatka-St. Augustine Trail that will take you over the St. John’s River to the farm town of Hastings, the charming trail-communities of Armstrong and Elkton and then on to the very outskirts of the Ancient City itself. 

Nature Coast Trail: It’s a 40 minute drive west from Gainesville to Old Town. From there the Nature Coast Trail runs for 32 miles – west to Cross City, south to Chiefland and east to Trenton and extending in the direction of Newberry. This trail runs through the heart of a slice of old Florida that was once connected to the rest of the world by steamboats and railroads, and the highlight of the trail is a Suwannee River crossing via an one-time iron railroad bridge. The trail is in close proximity to Fanning Springs and Manatee Springs, so a quick dip in cold water, or a time out for a bit of kayaking is not out of the question.

Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway Trail: A 56 minute drive south on U.S. 441/301 will take you through Ocala to the Santos Trailhead and the recently opened 23-mile Cross Florida Greenway Trail. What makes this trail different from most others is that it was not constructed on a former railroad right-of-way, meaning that it doesn’t run straight and true in typical railroad fashion. Rather this trail takes delightful twists and turns though the deep forest and over the low hills of the Cross Florida Greenway Corridor. Instead of crossing busy roadways, the trail dips under them via a series of tunnels. And when you get to I-75 can keep riding west unimpeded thanks to the trail’s attractively landscape “land bridge.” Oh yeah, along the way you will pass the Florida Horse Park, so don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself sharing the trail with a number of earnest looking individuals who are in the process of training their mounts for upcoming races. On the drive back, consider stopping in Ocala’s restored downtown for lunch in one of its many restaurants. 

(I wrote this piece for the latest edition of Gainesville Magazine.)

Anastasia is a magical place

There is a full moon hanging in a cloudless sky, and it scatters diamond flashes across the surface of the salt run.

A relentless wind sends rows of white surf exploding onto the beach. But beneath the tree canopy – long ago sculpted by the elements into a natural windfoil – a lively fire in an iron ring barely yields to that offshore force of nature.

Across the inlet a long, tall bridge is aglow from stem to stern. And nearer still the old lighthouse continues to beam welcome home signals to nautical wanderers.

On this enchanted night I am reminded of the sheer wonder in the eyes of my children on a similar evening, some two decades past, when we ventured out onto this dark beach and discovered they could create swirls of phosphorous light simply by running their small fingers across the wet sand.

At this magical Florida place of light and shadow and surf.

It’s not just that Anastasia State Park is my favorite place in all of Florida to camp. It’s my favorite campground period. My family has been coming here for more than 30 years. My children grew up here – whooping along its rabbit warren of wooded trails like little savages, exploring amid the dunes, splashing in the surf and sleeping under weather-gnarled trees all a-draped with Spanish moss.

Indeed, spring break camping at Anastasia was an annual event from the time Jenny and Andrew could toddle until well into their teens. Usually it was a dads and kids only affair that eventually came to involve multiple families. We dads had two hard and fast rules: 1. You had to come back with as many kids as you left with and, 2. Extra points if they were the same kids. They played hard into the night and awoke in the morning to the smell of bacon frying. Bleary eyed, they’d stagger out of their tents, one after another, to snag rashers right off the grill.

I don’t care if you’ve been to St. Augustine a thousand times. If you haven’t been to Anastasia you really don’t know the allure of America’s Oldest City. This is where the Tumucuans, to their ultimate misfortune, encountered the Spanish. It is here that laborers quarried the coquina that fashioned the massive fortress Castillo de San Marcos just across the water.

Anastasia State Park is 1,600 acres of woods and estuary and sand. It is four miles of open beach, off limits to cars thank you very much. It is a long narrow salt run – a warm, shallow lagoon protected from the ocean by a dune barrier – home to an impressive variety of shore birds and popular with wind surfers, kayakers, paddle-boarders and fishers. It is 139 campsites – some large enough to accommodate RVs – strewn among tree thickets and sited so close to the ocean that you go to sleep and wake up again to the sound of the surf. It is home to the endangered Anastasia Beach Mouse and bands of four-legged night scavengers that will steal you blind if you don’t lock your food away.

And maybe the best thing about Anastasia is its proximity to so much that St. Augustine has to offer. Just outside the main entrance is the old Anastasia Lighthouse. Climb its 219 steps and you will be 165 feet above sea level with 360 degree views to die for. Right across the street is the St. Augustine Alligator Farm – not just another Florida roadside attraction and not nearly as tacky as it might sound. It’s quite fascinating, really.

If you decide to go see Steely Dan or Jackson Browne or another favorite band from your youth at the St. Augustine Amphitheater you can’t pick a more convenient place to spend the night – the park is right next door and has a path that gives campers direct access to the show.

From Anastasia it is a 15-minute bike ride to the Bridge of Lions and all that Old Town has to offer. A 20 minute ride through a back exit gate will get you to the restaurants and attractions on St. Augustine Beach. If you are feeling ambitious continue pedaling south and you will sooner or later arrive at Fort Matanzas National Monument, Marineland and Washington Oaks State Park. Or head north through the city and over the Vilano Bridge to get to Caps on the Water, Guana River Nature Preserve and Ponte Vedra Beach. If you are too hungry to wait that long, there are several great restaurants closer to the park, including the Gypsy Cab Co., Mellow Mushroom, O’Steens and The Conch House.

But here’s the thing about Anastasia State Park. Once you actually arrive and set up your tent, the temptation to stay – to not go anywhere – is enticing. You can lose yourself and all track of time amid the dunes and under the trees and by the fire and on the trails and along the beach and in the surf and the salt run.

If you value sense of place, Anastasia is one of those special Florida places that lures you in and only reluctantly lets you go.

(I originally wrote this for publication in Gainesville Magazine in 2016.)Unknown-1