Bert Gildart: Picture this setting: We’re at a Flea Market in Oldsmar, Florida, one located near our campground, and we are photographing body-piercing hardware sold at an outlet which specializes in the marketing of used DVD movies.
The proprietor has already expressed his displeasure, for just moments ago I had asked him if his DVDs produced reliable sound and images. He was incensed. Now, he wants to why we’re photographing belly rings.
“What are you doing? Are you with the FBI?”
Truly, that was the man’s question (He wasn’t kidding!), and to some extent, the man’s suspicions were probably appropriate, for Janie and I had decided to make a survey of some of the world’s most useless items, and belly rings seemed to fit that category. I assured the man that I was not with any legal organization, but that I would continue to photograph his sales items, as they were on public display.
Nevertheless, we soon moved on searching the flea market for more items that seemed to be worthless, more or less. We concluded that what is one man’s junk is another’s treasure, but Janie did like the ankle bracelets. And I have to admit, we both found humor in Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars I (Flea Market bargain price: $1,500.00).
Still, you might say that Tampa, Florida, represents an immense experiment for us. Can two dedicated outdoor enthusiasts find something of interest in an urban setting? Tampa is an excellent setting for such questions, for its population of 2,396,000 makes it the state’s largest city—surpassing even Miami.
My question is derived in part for the concern I have for my home state of Montana, for in the past 10 to 15 years, the population of the Flathead has grown more than at any time in its previous history. But my concern is also derived from the increasing danger many of our national parks are experiencing because of urban sprawl and population growth.
For starters, there’s a cell phone tower near Old Faithful. And now malls in the East threaten several Civil War sites.
Florida provides some insights into our future, for growth here surpasses anything we have ever seen. With our policy on immigration and no solution expressed by politicians concerning unchecked population growth, Florida—and Tampa in particular—offers a picture of what the future holds.
To set the stage, here are a few quick statistics:Geographically, Florida ranks as the 22nd largest state, and with a population of 17,019,068, it ranks fourth in the nation. Its attractions are based on a number of factors, but foremost is its weather, which claims average winter temperature of 68°F. Next may be the thousands of miles of beautiful beaches. Without a doubt, it is these features that attract 1,000 new residents—each day (!)—and 76.8 million visitors annually. In fact, Florida claims to be the world’s top travel destination.
So here we are, knowing we are in a state that has wonderful features, but catatonic about exploring the area because of all the people. Our fears are justified, for each day we turn on the news and hear about more new accidents. Today, a head-on collision killed one person and sent two policemen to the hospital. News about their satisfactory recovery is pending.
Nevertheless, people do get out and about, and several people in our campground told us about the local Flea Market, and about the area’s bike and kayak trails. True, the routes begin in urban settings, but because that seems to be the wave of the future, we are determined to discover what such settings offer.
Can we find wildlife? And if we do, how will it respond?
With that thought in mind, after our flea market experience, we decided to explore nearby Fort De Soto County Park, and discovered the park provides a setting for many species of wildlife, most notably the brown pelican. Although not really wild anymore, it remains a fascinating bird to watch, and study.
To survive, it has had to adjust to the endless presence of human beings. And despite crowds, pelicans go about their daily business of seeking shelter and finding food—and their antics are still fun to watch.
From local fishing piers, pelicans fly high into the air and search surface waters for small fish. Sighting a small school, this marvelous bird folds its wings and then dives down hard into the water, where it snaps its beak forward, scooping up its meal, which it holds in its gular pouch—the large sack that holds food until ready to swallow.
As well as pelicans we also see other species to include turkey vultures, and egrets, and they, too, have learned to endure the hordes.
Despite the crowds we, too, enjoyed De Soto, and did so to such an extent that we wanted to return with our camper about mid-January. But incredibly the beautiful campsites are full not only for the month of January but through April, and after returning to a page on the Internet listing Florida statistics, we know why. Each year 6 million people seek out this state’s 100,000 campsites.
Despite the lack of camping facilities, Florida does have 1,250 golf courses, more than any other state, and if I were king for a day, I do believe I’d do away with all but one, leaving that for mis-directed friends and family members whom I don’t want to irritate.
The other courses I would convert to campgrounds—or better yet, return to nature, recalling that golf courses surrounding Palm Desert, California, have so depleted water supplies that bighorn sheep habitat is so vastly reduced that the species is now threatened.
Most assuredly, Florida’s golf courses have impacted other species in the Sunshine State. But the bottom line is that golfers are often a very affluent, powerful crowd, which is not always in alignment with those of us simply interested in preserving wild places and watching wildlife. Again, the statistics indicate that here in Florida, KOA and other campground sites are being bought up by extremely wealthy organizations and often converted into condominiums.
In an nutshell, and with the population of the United States predicted to reach between 445 and 462 million (Watch it grow!) people by the year 2050, it seems as though the future for people with interests in activities such as kayaking, wildlife observation and camping may have to find new outlets for their interests.
Speaking for myself, look to the flea markets, where I’ll be searching for more outlandish creations; perhaps a belly ring or two–or even a little cheap cash. Adjust then or perish—or attempt to implement great social change that would curb America’s population growth. That’s the gospel for the day.