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Encroaching civilization causes strife in Florida.

COUNTRYSIDE: We purchased 10 acres and a real "fixer upper" log home out in the swamps of Florida almost four years ago. We thought that we would retain our privacy because of the swamps and distance to civilization, but now it seems everyone is looking for land. Our property is worth four times what we paid for it, but we can no longer afford to sell it and buy a larger parcel because of the rising land prices. Our only neighbors used to be eagles, alligators and panthers (which periodically share in the eating of animals we raise when we aren't looking). Now we have a 700 acre home development going in near us, and they might not appreciate the animals that we raise.

Unfortunately, when people move in, they raise the property values to the point that us "common folk" can't afford to pay the property taxes, and end up having to move, so I would caution those wanting to keep their country setting to choose wisely before purchasing.--Scott Palmore, Florida

COUNTRYSIDE: During the week, this area known as "The Prairie," is the picture of serenity. I purchased land here four years ago when prices were sensible and traffic was rare. Palmetto stands, like run-on sentences into the horizon, sheltered a bounty of native wildlife. Exclamations of tall palms emphasized the vast flatness of the landscape. Gracious oaks, disheveled myrtles, sandhill cranes, and gopher tortoises punctuated a land that told the record of its history in one sweeping glance: the Seminole, the Florida Cracker, and the Kissimmee River. It was love at first sight. Because it was a vast uninhabited area, it didn't occur to me that 1.25-acre parcel divisions would bring a quick downfall.

At the time, being able to pay cash for two parcels (and eventually three more) prevailed over other considerations. Most land, though privately owned, was investment property and vacant. There were only a few, all very old, fences. Roads rarely catered to more than one family. Many land owners lived out of state. I was jokingly told by my students that this was party central; a warning I now consider half wishful thinking and half wish fulfilling. There was an unwritten history of wild parties thrown by young adults with naive parents. They were, however, only a few times a year and for my first two years. The only hint of any nonnative wildlife was the occasional weekend glimpse of drunken teens on swamp buggies. They were drunk but they were respectful in their personal statements of rebellion. We shared a county secret. Then the county let the secret out.

Tax auctions allowed people to acquire 1.25-acre parcels inexpensively by comparison to surrounding real estate. Many suburbanites purchased lots for weekend use. Steadily, traffic began to materialize as a weekend migration of trucks hauling multiple ATV's and dirt bikes. It would begin on Friday afternoons and ended Sunday evenings. The recreational vehicles took a toll on vacant land and worsened sand roads. Without a fence, my property was open to the same abuse as vacant land. ATV's stormed through without regard for my livestock. Private easements, in place for the water management district to maintain clear waterways, became recreational trails due to a lack of law enforcement.

Trouble increased as recreational traffic increased. Out-of-towners, the local name for recreational users of our land, learned about The Prairie. Non-owners began to bring their recreational vehicles. They park on vacant private property. A dozen doughnuts on sand after rain become concrete-like mounds on the roads when it dries. Property markers located in the swale are buried beneath four feet of sand erosion from traffic these roads were not designed to support. Culverts purchased by land owners for access to their lots are damaged or buried by trespassing traffic. The water management district cannot keep up with the destruction. Miles of sand roads no longer have swales to channel water out. Wetlands, which carry restrictive use laws for the sake of environmental conservation, fall victim to mud trucks in the course of a single hour. Some of the out-of-towners appear to be business people in construction who have discovered a free place to unload their construction materials. Since the majority of roads are easement throughways of grass or dirt and this area is zoned agricultural, the Sheriff's Office has no jurisdiction in traffic matters. Young resident children plow through in old cars, color-coordinated families ride respectfully by on their Christmas presents, and others fly low like bats out of Hades--all on the same roads at the same time; roads without traffic signs, speed limits, or lanes. An accident in-the-making.

It is ironic that civilization encroaches with such barbaric destruction. It has been a year since I've seen a wild turkey and two years since I've seen deer. Even protected species like the Florida gopher tortoise and the Indigo snake have quickly disappeared from the terrain and no official has stepped in to enforce their protection or question their rapid disappearance. Even the mountainous heap of weekend garbage is overlooked by the county. It builds Up for months before it is picked up. Fortunately resident land owners are taking their own measures to protect their property. They are ignoring utility easements in favor of fencing more of their property. Easements are marked or separately fenced, and easement roads have been posted or blocked off. More calls going to the Sheriff's Office record the mounting frustration of residents. I hear sirens again for the first time in four years. The landscape has changed forever.

In the short space of four years the calm Florida rural life I came here for has disappeared. Property has increased tenfold and my original dream of eventually acquiring at least 10 acres is out of my reach. Taxes have doubled each year. The poor roads I was willing to tolerate for the sake of a quiet life have deteriorated beyond recognition and the noise is exasperating. Last weekend, after paying a clearing company $800 to clear the fence line for a back lot, an out-of-towner discovered my property with his mud truck. He challenged a portion of wetlands and lost. Before he was free, two other mud trucks became stuck on my property. They created trenches with their tires. It was the biggest sign to sell off and move to date. With lot prices skyrocketing here, I can afford to pay cash elsewhere. Some place where wild turkey, deer, and even bear still roam. Some place that hasn't been subdivided into 1.25 parcels.--Marcia Pimentel, Florida
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Title Annotation:Country conversation & feedback
Author:Palmore, Scott; Pimentel, Marcia
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:May 1, 2005
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