West Volusia Memories is an occasional feature written by members of the community who share their recollections of growing up here. You’re invited to share your memories of West Volusia’s past, too. Send 600 words or so to info@ beacononlinenews.com.
BY PAUL BISHOP
When Dad bought our little stucco home just west of the truck route in DeLand and just a short drive from the river, I realized that — as a born nature lover — I had arrived at a kind of dream landscape.
That I continue to call West Volusia and a great deal of Central Florida my dreamland reflects my dedication to a decision to stay connected to West Volusia all of my life.
The natural areas surrounding DeLand were my Adventureland as a teenager who liked to hike, hunt, fish, camp and move on the water in small boats.
Many of the natural areas I explored then still intrigue me with their wonders.
In our first years in the little stucco home, Dad bought a boat with a motor big enough to pull skiers. We would head to the river, but we were not actually skiers. My brothers were surfers, and they practiced surfing in the wake our boat created. It was a short-lived ride, but it worked.
But, for me, the river was a place to use my first small hand-built boat. With a 3-horse outboard, I motored past Sloan’s Restaurant and into the river swamp where tall cypress trees grew. I landed there, and spent hours exploring and even climbed some of those big trees to get up high enough to see the river winding northward.
Later, when I was older, I would hunt wood ducks just a stone’s throw from the river. At age 17, I worked all summer making campsites for the soon-to-open Hontoon Island State Park, and I fished in Lake Beresford a time or two.
Having been born in Tidewater, Virginia, I had a natural inclination toward being around dark slow-moving water.
West Volusia was a great place for me to grow up then, and it is a great place to spend time now.
Another wild place I experienced was the huge tract of uninhabited woods that, in the 1960s, lay south of Glenwood Road.
My uncle lived on Glenwood Road, and I sometimes walked all the way back to our house exploring the oak woods and some old fields along the way.
Finding coveys of bobwhite quail was common and, of course, the oaks had a large population of gray squirrels.
With regard to bobwhite quail, I had similar experiences walking the open country at the south end of Kepler Road and in old fields on Deerfoot Road.
Bobwhites are no longer common in West Volusia, but I still sometimes hear a whistle or two, probably from reintroduced quail at the far edges of DeLand and on Hontoon Island.
After going for my college degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Florida, I returned to DeLand and got the job of development manager for Volusia County’s first nature center.
Situated just east of the Volusia County Fairgrounds, on a 200-acre tract of pine flatwoods and cypress swamp, I supervised the building of facilities that included a classroom and boardwalks to accommodate schoolchildren who were bused there each day for sessions in nature study.
This was a wonderful experience for me, as I could share my sincere love of the wild with so many young people and their teachers.
Today’s bike trail that runs along the eastern edge of Lake Beresford is a nature-lover’s paradise that still excites me today.
Along that trail, wildlife can be seen that include deer, bobcat and even occasional bears. Gopher tortoises and rattlesnakes can be encountered, if the weather is right, and, of course, there is always a chance to hear and see ospreys and eagles that both nest nearby. And sometimes wild hogs and armadillos.
— Bishop of DeLand is a self-trained artist who often chooses wild birds as his subjects. He is a DeLand High School graduate and was educated as a field biologist at the University of Florida. Bishop worked as a forester and an environmental educator at the Bicentennial Youth Park, at 3300 E. New York Ave. in DeLand. He is also an author with several published works, the latest of which is the booklet A Sense of Landscape. To inquire about purchasing a copy, email Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.