The Other Florida: HIGHLANDS HAMMOCK

February 22, 2003

The Central Ridge of Florida ranges from around 350 feet above sea level to (roughly) thirty feet. The highest point is near Lake Wales. Around the area of SR 70, which runs across the state from Ft. Pierce on the east coast to Ft. Myers on the gulf side, it sort of peters out into the lowlands. The coastal plain wraps around it northward on both sides, making the Highlands a sort of finger down the middle of the peninsula. The town of Sebring sits on the very western edge of the ridge. Center Street slopes down to Lake Jackson which, in turn, is at the edge of the plain. Immediately west of Lake Jackson and US 27, about 2½ miles down SR 624, lies Highlands Hammock State Park.

A hammock, according to Webster, is “a fertile area in the southern U.S. and especially Florida, that is usually higher than its surroundings and that is characterized by hardwood vegetation and deep humus-rich soil.” As you can see from the photograph below, Webster missed out completely on the beauty part.

The Big Oak

This Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) was full-grown when the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. It was nearly as old as the United States is today when the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. There is no European-built building in the Western Hemisphere that is more than one-half as old as this tree. There's also no way to show the whole thing, so Shel and I decided to provide some scale.

Highlands Hammock State Park has areas for primitive and mobile camping. Concessionaires operate a small snack bar where soft drinks and sandwiches may be purchased. A museum, with exhibits showing how the park was developed by the CCC during the 30’s depression, along with various nature exhibits, is across a grassy area from the concession stand. Abundant picnic tables and barbeque grilles are available nearby. Shopping is available in Sebring, only ten minutes away. There are no swimming facilities in the park, but Lake Jackson has several well-maintained public beaches within a few minutes’ drive. For further information, check here.

The Great Sebring International Grand Prix d’Bicycle

The town where I grew up had one claim to fame. No, wait, there were two. Almost three.

First came the residency of an author rather well known in the early 1900’s. Rex Beach was the gentleman’s name, and he is probably best remembered as having produced The Spoilers, a book made into a movie in 1914, and remade 5 times after that, the last in the early 1940’s starring John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich. (I don’t remember having read it, but it must’ve been something!) Mr. Beach lived in Sebring, FL, during the last years of his life, dying in 1949. At one time the local lake was named after him, but he lost out to Ol’ Stonewall Jackson in the long run. (Lake Jackson works much better than Rex Beach Lake, in my opinion, although I’m sure Mr. Beach was much nicer to the local Indians than Gen. Jackson, so maybe he did deserve it more.)

The other claim was the Sebring International Grand Prix of Endurance which was, during its heyday in the fifties and sixties, one of the dozen or so automobile races that scored points for the World Driving Championship. During the two weeks preceding the race and for a day or so thereafter the town was transformed from a sleepy little central Florida citrus and ranching town into quite the mecca for international glitterati.

Needless to say, “The Race” captured the hearts and minds of small boys to a notable degree. And so it came to pass that, along about 1957 or so, Jeff and Lukey and the Fink brothers and I decided to hold the Great Sebring International Grand Prix d’Bicycle. Continue reading

There are times when the wolves are silent,and only the moon howls

I spent my earliest years on a farm at the edge of the Florida Everglades. It was at the base of the central ridge, where the prairie country segues into the ’Glades as the elevation slopes imperceptibly toward sea level. Until I was about seven we had no electricity. Our lighting was kerosene lamps. We had a wonderful, cacophonous silence: no radios, no television, and only a few human voices.

For the grownups, evening recreation was getting together in the “canasta house” — a little screened-in building open to the humid breeze — and playing cards or just telling stories. For a small boy with no other kids to play with, it was sitting in the darkness on the screened porch, comic books exhausted, and listening to that silence. Continue reading

There’s More to Florida Than Rats, Rockets and Retirees

As many of you know (the three faithful non-family readers and the rest of you) I’ve lived in Florida for most of my life. I grew up in a small town on the Central Ridge back in the ’50’s and ’60’s, after spending my first 11 years on a farm at the edge of the Everglades. (OK, so it wasn’t part of the ’Glades geologically, but ecologically and most other ways there warn’t no Yankees gonna know th’ dif’ernce.)

It was a good place to grow up.   Continue reading