Two weeks ago, I traveled from my home in north Florida to visit my parents who live in the center part of the state. For the northern portion of my trip (the Tallahassee to Ocala leg), I have two main routes to choose from. The southern portion of my trip from Ocala to my parents' home near Lake Wales is the same no matter which northern route I choose.
However, for the northern portion, my choices are either to go east on Interstate 10 and then pick up Interstate 75 near Lake City to go south, or to take U.S. 27 to Chiefland and then pick up Alternate 27 to Ocala. The Interstate route is slightly faster for this part of my journey. But if I go that route, I find the Interstate 10 portion of the trip is terminally boring and the Interstate 75 leg between Gainesville and Ocala is extremely congested and downright frightening.
So normally I choose to drive the U.S. 27/Alt. 27 route. The last 50 miles along Alt. 27 portion of this route runs between Chiefland and Ocala and is very picturesque. Ocala is a major center for horse farms of all kinds, but particularly for thoroughbreds. Until recently, that portion of the drive was a two lane road and often very slow if you were stuck behind a horse trailer. But recently, it was widened to a four lane divided highway which surprisingly has not diminished its scenic quality.
What has changed vastly is the section of my route from Ocala south. This portion is about a 90 mile trip, and has been under a major development boom. Ocala and the surrounding area have grown tremendously in recent years with retiree oriented developments, such as the Villages.
Twenty six miles south of Ocala, I hop onto the Florida turnpike for about 14 miles and get off just north of Minneola. Minneola and Clermont, just to the south, were once the heart of the citrus industry two decades ago. This portion of Florida is along the spine of the state and is very hilly with numerous lakes in between the hills. There is a high hill in Clermont where the Florida Citrus Tower was built for tourists to take an elevator to the top and view the miles and miles of groves that once were in all directions. I used to look forward to this portion of my drive.
No more. The groves are now all gone. What once was a beautiful sea of deep dark green groves is now being rapidly replaced with generic subdivisions. I can remember when I would forward to seeing the shearing of the trees in the fall and watch for the budding out the next spring. Now I see uninspired housing developments.
Each time I make this drive, the push for development has moved further and further south. And because of this, as I drive south on U.S. 27, the trip becomes more and more arduous. Concrete trucks are everywhere. Landmarks that I once knew to help me identify my location along my way are no longer there. Suddenly the entire corridor has become non-descript and I have no way of identifying where I am along it. The traffic has become unbearable and the roads are torn up from the construction equipment.
The lush dark green citrus groves of central Florida have disappeared and have been replaced with anywhere USA. It is the future of all of Florida. It is progress and it is sad.