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PCR #104 (Vol. 3, No. 12) This edition is for the week of March 18--24, 2002.

La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
Will Takes a Walk in the Park

Movie Review
The Enlightenment
Mike's Rant
Matt's Rail
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As I have indicated to you in earlier editions of "La Floridiana", the true treasure of the greater Orlando area is not as much its much-heralded and celebrated theme parks as it is its old homes, arts, culture, and natural communities.

Situated just north of Apopka, the "indoor foliage capitol of the world", lies a natural treasure called "Howard A. Kelly Park". This Orange County Park is a direct result of the vision of one Dr. Howard A. Kelly, who in addition to being a noted physician, was one of the founders of John Hopkins University. Dr. Kelly feared that the 1920s real estate boom in Florida would barge its way onto some 265 acres of land he purchased near Rock Springs. As a result of this fear, and as a result of his love for this special land, he donated it to Orange County to keep in a preserved state in perpetuity for future generations to enjoy.

Will waters tulip poplar
Your intrepid reporter watering a seedling Tulip Poplar at Kelly Park
What Makes This Park A Special Place?
Kelly Park comprises one of several of the headwaters of one of Florida's most pristine and beautiful waterways, the Wekiva River. Specifically, it is the starting point of the beautiful Rock Springs Run, a ten-mile long tributary that meanders through undisturbed native Florida flora and fauna to the Wekiva River. The unique characteristic of this waterway is that its springs, located at the north end of Kelly Park, do not "boil" from below the creek's bottom, as is so common with the majority of Florida's springs, such as Wakulla Springs, Silver Springs, Homosassa Springs, and Ginnie Springs. Rather, the springs gush out of a cave-like grotto from the side of a hill. The crystal clear water is a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit and flows out of the grotto at a rate of 26,000 gallons a minute.

poplar close-up
Close-up of a Tulip Poplar sporting new spring leaves.
Due to the constant 68-degree water temperature, the surrounding area experiences a moderation of or "micro-climatization" of temperature. This microclimate allows temperate trees, such as the Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera L.) from more northern parts of the country to flourish here since it is kept cooler during hot summer days, and allows the tropical Zebra butterfly to also flourish as it is kept warmer during winter days.

Kelly Park features camping, tubing, swimming, and canoeing. From the grotto itself, one can literally tube or canoe the entire Rock Springs Run in the course of day down to a landing at the Wekiva River State Park. Lazily meandering through its crystal clear waters through towering forests of native Sweetgum, Maple, Oak, Cabbage Palm, Hickory and Tulip Poplar, with an occasional alligator on the rocks, makes for a truly memorable and relaxing day.

mature tulip poplar
Mature Tulip Poplar specimen at Kelly Park.
T.R.E.E. Inc. does its part
In an effort to ensure that the Tulip Poplars native to this southernmost native outpost are not allowed to become extinct due to development, T.R.E.E. Inc. embarked on a reintroduction program several years ago. We managed to plant trees grown from seed collected from specimens native to the Wekiva River basin area and donated them to the park in October of last year. Under the leadership of Park Manager Mike Kempton, my good friend Susan Hughes and I planted five such seedling trees within sight of several of their older "brethren". I estimate the adjacent native Poplars to be well over a century old and at least 120' high or taller.

On March 2, 2002, fellow T.R.E.E. Inc, founder, Greg Howe and I visited the five seedling trees, all of which had recently sported fresh new spring green leaves! It was a windy, overcast, and balmy day; more reminiscent of summer just prior to a thunderstorm, than the typical dry clear Florida spring day. But we didn't mind--as a result, we pretty much had the park to ourselves. Several hours, two dozen mosquito bites and thirty-six tics later Greg and I headed east to the University of Central Florida's Arboretum which showcases native Florida plants, highlighting Magnolias and one of their more unique members--you guessed it, the Tulip Poplar!

B-52 Park
After enjoying the spring blooms and foliage of UCF's arboretum, Greg and I visited a park of a whole different type-"B-52 Park"! The name is quite literal as lush grass and an amphitheatre-like observation deck flanks this actual static display B-52 bomber. Unbeknownst to most people patronizing Orlando's International Airport, this gem of a park can be found on-premise near the UPS cargo canter. This particular plane was flown in 1984 to Orlando's airport and showcased that same year in this setting as a tribute to the history of the airport having once served as a United States Air Force base until it was decommissioned ten years earlier.

Ominous skies frame a former bomber aircraft at Orlando Int'l Airport's "B-52 Park".
Present day Orlando International Airport was originally a World War II Army Air Base known as "Pine Castle" (refer to the "Florida Trivia" book from "La Floridiana" two weeks ago for this one!). It was then changed to McCoy in the fifties (of which the universal airport code letters of "MCO" have been kept to this very day). Once the piston era of commercial aviation started to come to a close in Orlando in the sixties, passenger jets began to operate out of McCoy Air Force Base as its 12,000 foot long runway, designed for B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers, could safely accommodate them. The city's municipal field, "Herndon (now "Orlando Executive Airport" on Colonial Blvd.) Airport" could not. In 1974 McCoy was decommissioned as the Viet Nam conflict began to wind down, and with the addition of a new passenger terminal in 1981, the airfield was then renamed to Orlando International Airport, now one of the premier airports of the world.

Walking around this massive airship gives one an appreciation of the incredible size and magnitude of a B-52. One can picnic under its wings or fuselage and imagine what life for this aircraft was like. Imagine barreling down the runway of McCoy, engines straining to lift off, with tens of thousands of pounds of bombs, to be dropped on enemy structures and troops in the jungles of Viet Nam half way around the world. Such was this aircraft's world thirty and forty years ago.

spring-fed swimming area
Spring-fed swimming area near the head waters of Rock Springs Run
As night approached, and our beautiful windy day of walking in the parks was about to become a memory, Greg and I drove nearby McCoy Road to the parking area that is thankfully still open, even after the September 11th tragedy. From this spot you can see current day passenger aircraft roar less than 100' over your head on approach to runways 18 middle and right, bringing millions of people from all over the country and all over the world to this premier city of parks.

Yes, Orlando is quite a far cry from its being a Central Florida cattle and citrus town with a nearby base carved out of the pines and palmettos where low-flying B-29's heading off to the European theater of the Second World War was a common sight. It is even a far cry different than the growing metropolis that saw jet-powered bombers leave its base to serve in Viet Nam, and witnessed Apollo launches to the Moon from nearby Cape Kennedy.

There are many wonderful things to see in today's Orlando, but there's also a lot of heart, soul, and character that has been lost in "the City Beautiful" once the "Mouse That Roared" brought all of the trappings of development with it.

I guess it all depends on what kind of park you're really looking for.

"La Floridiana" is ©2002 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.