Even though we live in Oregon now, Jay and I still read the online newspapers from various Florida towns. I could say it's because we want to keep up with the current events in our old home towns, but we mainly do it to see if anyone we know ever gets arrested. (What, you guys don't do that?) Anyway, I was shocked and saddened to read that because of budget cuts the state of Florida may be forced to close down many state parks, one of them being The Devil's Millhopper.
If you've been reading here for a while, you'll know how much my family and I loved going to this park, traipsing through the woods, and walking down (and up again) the many steps leading to the bottom of the sinkhole. (Don't know what I'm talking about? Go here or here.) I mentioned the park just a handful of times here on the ol' blog, but there are many more times we went there as a family that I never wrote about. I'd venture to say we went at least once a month, no matter the season. We went on holidays when we knew there wouldn't be many people there and we could enjoy the quiet and peacefulness. We went in the middle of rainstorms because the wet, lush greenery made us think we were in the middle of a rain forest. We went in the evenings when it was cool(ish) and we went in the middle of the day in the summertime when the mosquitoes were so bad we had to practically bathe in bug spray just to keep them off.
There were so many days when my family was sitting around bored, doing nothing, and someone would suggest going to the sinkhole and we would all be up for it. I remember the girl, just a few years old, being carried on Jay's shoulders because her short, little legs couldn't handle all the many steps. It wasn't long though, before she could do all 250 of them on her own. The Devil's Millhopper was such a huge part of my family's life. It breaks my heart that there is a possibility that other families won't be able to make similar happy memories.
I don't know why this issue is getting me so worked up. Maybe it's because I'm just feeling emotional. Maybe it's because right now I'm reading Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and it's reminding me how important unstructured outdoor play is for kids (and adults). But I think it may have something to do with an incident that occurred yesterday.
Jay was off from work and we decided to go back to Multnomah Falls and take another stab at hiking up the mountain. Half way to the top, the girl decided she couldn't do anymore so she and Jay went back down while the boy and I carried on, despite being slightly out of breath and having aching buns and thighs. Once at the top, as we stood on the look out deck literally in the clouds, my son threw his arms around me, gave me a big kiss, and said, "We made it to the top Mom! I'm so proud of myself!" Without access to that park, my son wouldn't have been able to feel that pride and I wouldn't have been able to share that moment with him.
We're lucky now. Although I certainly can't predict the future, Oregonians young and old, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, all seem to take their natural spaces pretty seriously. Here, nature is respected and appreciated. Shame on Florida for even considering screwing its residents out of the right to enjoy nature. Once again, I'm forced to utter the phrase, "I'm glad I don't live there anymore."