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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Saving Tallahassee's Stewart's Pond

It's been over 5 years since Lulu and I moved to Seminole Drive to live near our friends George and Joel Dawson. We wanted an easy commute to campus and when this house went for sale - we bought it quickly.

To our surprise - the back of our woods-covered lot had frontage on Stewart's Pond. The lot was so overgrown - it was next to impossible to walk to the waterfront. Little by little - we cleared some of the underbrush - and now we have a nice view of our "Walden's Pond." In not too many years - I will be like Henry Fonda in the movie Golden Pond - not being able to find my way home from the shoreline.

Legend has it that at one time this land was owned by the Stewart Family. They had a plant nursery here and one of the empty lots on the pond is still owned by a Stewart. The plot layout was designed for most of the lots to meet in middle of the lake. So I guess you could say we have 20 neighbors that have land touching ours (in the middle of the pond).

You can imagine my amazement when I did a google search and found a story about  the pond. See it here -

"A few months after returning to Tallahassee, having completed the trail on a snowy November morning at Springer Mountain, I sought to regain the peace of the Appalachian Mountains by revisiting a place of my boyhood. It was a scenic pond—Stewart’s Pond—a few blocks from my home and less than two miles from Florida’s capitol building. A nursery had once operated on the west bank; with the nursery’s closure, the area had returned to its wild state, covered only with tall pines, sabal palm, moss- draped maple, sweetgum, water oak, and fragrant willow and wax myrtle. The greenery and sweet aromas enfolded me as if in a pleasant embrace.
Stewart’s Pond would be my Walden, I thought, a haven of sanity close to home. Such places can be guideposts in one's life, like age-old landmarks of the walkabout. People around you change. You change. But some places don’t seem to change. When you return to them, you can see how far you’ve come since your last visit; you can glimpse a future direction.
Leaving the pond’s lush banks that day, small black-and-white signs greeted me: Lot 1, Lot 2, Lot 3. . . . A housing development would soon encircle the pond if action were not taken. Not hesitating, that very night I launched a campaign. Letters urging that Stewart’s Pond be saved were soon on their way to park officials, city commissioners, the newspaper editor, and environmental groups. I stuffed flyers into mailboxes and newspapers of people living in the area. I wrote or called anyone who might assist. I even contacted the pond’s owners, begging them to donate all or part of the area for a park, but with no success. Soon, however, my phone started ringing from people wanting to help. Television stations and other media became interested. The effort to protect Stewart’s Pond was underway.
The movement grew to where the issue was scheduled to come up before the Tallahassee City Commission. Commissioners would consider purchasing the pond and its immediate environs—twentyacres in all—as a nature park. Nervously, I readied myself for the meeting. I had done very little public speaking and none outside of school. My palms started sweating at the mere thought.
Just before the evening meeting, I flipped on the local news and watched, horrified, as footage showed a yellow bulldozer clearing the first lot along Stewart’s Pond. The machine’s shiny blade sliced into my heart. Time was running out, or maybe it was already too late? Chagrined, my father and I drove to the city council meeting. We took our seats on uncomfortable metal chairs while commissioners read through minutes of the last meeting and took up other issues. Only a handful of pond supporters were in attendance, people who lived within a block of the pond. Not exactly a groundswell of support.
When the commission chairman finally reached the agenda item, I was a wreck. I nervously stumbled to the podium, hands shaking, and was able only to blurt out my name, address, and a brief statement asking the city to purchase the pond and protect it as a natural oasis within the city limits. That was it. The bulk of my planned speech remained on paper.
Commissioners began to debate the item. Most agreed that the purchase price was too high— $400,000—four times the appraised value. Moreover, there were already other parks in the area, one being an algae-covered pond a mile away, where people contributed to the obesity of hybrid ducks by giving them generous helpings of stale bread.
The proposal was about to die when a soft-spoken woman, a few years older than I, stood up. “I’d like to speak on this issue,” she said. The mayor gave her five minutes. Glenda was her name. In a most eloquent, heart-filled voice, she spoke of growing up near the pond, of witnessing the destruction and development of many local green spaces, and of her sincere desire to protect this one place where she could bring her nieces and nephews to see natural Florida. Her words seemed to reach into my being and express everything I felt about the earth, about the importance of being close to nature, and about the need to preserve places like Stewart’s Pond for future generations.
I began to weep, loudly, right there in the meeting, unable to stop. My vision on the Appalachian Trail had filled me with purpose, but expressing or fulfilling that purpose was a different matter. The last time I had wept in public was at age seven when Bambi died on the movie screen. I leaned against my father, thankful he didn’t shrink away in embarrassment, while Glenda gave voice to the natural world. Her speech caused more serious deliberation among the commissioners, with one of them, a large man named
Ben Thompson, advocating for the pond’s purchase. Lifting up my tear-stained face, I felt a glimmer of hope.
In the end, however, Stewart’s Pond was just another oasis lost to the oncoming tide of “progress.” Through my tears, I vowed to become a better spokesperson for Mother Earth and not to let anxiety prevent me from speaking my heart. Maybe other Waldens were in need of rescuing."

I can't find who wrote it - but it is touching. All this about one mile from the Capitol building.

PICTURES - Stewart's Pond from our land.


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