News-Sun photo by CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY Professor Richard Forman (standing left) introduces his students to Highlands County planners and officials Wednesday at Archbold Biological station.
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published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Students envision future for Lake Placid
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
LAKE PLACID -- Ever since 1989, Harvard professor Richard Forman has brought a group of his undergraduate students to the Archbold Biological Station for a week each year.
The young people are his tutorial class of Environmental Studies and Public Policy.
The approach is an interdisciplinary examination of the intersection between humans and the land.
Students spend the majority of their time visiting the Lake Placid area and learning about the lay of the land. They meet dozens of people to talk about the strengths and challenges in the community.
For example, students noticed in their discussions a local aversion to government, a strong sense of family and the desire to preserve the way of live as it is.
After visiting working ranches, a country club, lakes, ball fields, state parks, shopping areas and residential areas on both sides of U.S. 27, the students were given two and a half days to complete team projects. Each team had to propose a land use project that addressed a community need while honoring its philosophical foundations.
The groups came up with wide-ranging ideas and insights.
One team proposed ag-tourism as a way to attract tourists and educate the public. They proposed "The 3 C Circuit" -- citrus, caladiums and cattle, and pointed to Napa Valley, Calif., Costa Rica and Apalachicola as good ag-tourism models.
Another team focused on how Lake Placid was made up of disconnected communities, some divided by the barrier of U.S. 27. They proposed walking paths, bike lanes and new intersection designs to make pedestrian crossings safer.
Yet another team, also looking at how to better unite the town and provide more access to all its residents, suggested golf cart paths and solar-powered golf carts, with overpasses and links connecting the disparate parts of town. Other students saw a real need to find transportation to South Florida State College so everyone would have literal access to higher education.
Students suggested Lake Placid work to become a regional solar hub.
They were intrigued by the sense of community in the mobile home parks they visited, and felt the parks could be used as a model for bringing people together socially.
One suggestion was to turn empty, foreclosed lots into temporary parks -- small places where people can relax in natural settings, at a minimal cost.
Students noticed that Devane Park is under utilized, and suggested a landscape screen to cut down on traffic noise and provide a more intimate setting.
There was a common thread throughout. Conservation of important environmental pieces that protect ecosystems, wildlife migration corridors, surface water and the aquifer are essential to a healthy community, the students said.
Highlands County Commission Chairman Jack Richie, former county commissioner Barbara Stewart, Mark Deyrup, senior research biologist at the station, and two land use planners, one from the county, the other from the Central Florida Regional Planning Agency, listened and responded to the students.
All were impressed with the amount of information the students had learned and organized in such a short time, and refreshed by their sense of optimism and hope for the future.
Keep that positive point of view, the students were told, but be warned -- making things happen is much more difficult than creating a plan.
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