Dignitaries from across the county and state were reminded recently what makes West Volusia so special: We do, in fact, still have some pockets of extraordinarily beautiful natural areas between our west-side cities and the St. Johns River.
As VIPs from DeLand to Tallahassee converged to commemorate the groundbreaking for the DeLand SunRail Station, we all had a collective aha moment when we took the inaugural train ride from DeBary to DeLand.
Sitting on the upper deck of the special three-car train, those of us who had previously ridden the entire length of SunRail from DeBary southwest to Poinciana saw something truly distinctive, something not found anyplace along the entire SunRail route: miles of green space!
As we pulled out of the DeBary Station, we enjoyed the expansive view of Konomac Lake. Even though it’s an entirely man-made reservoir constructed to cool the FPL power station in DeBary, a view of water is always welcome. Subdivision houses were visible on the far west side of the lake, but the lake dominated the view. Within a couple of minutes, then, we plunged into a sea of green — pine forests, wetlands, scrub habitat.
Briefly, we got a glimpse through the trees of Orange City’s houses at the west end of “the numbered streets.” But then we were enveloped again in more forests and wetlands. In the middle stretch of the 14-minute ride, we rode alongside the idyllic section of the Spring-to-Spring Trail that connects Lake Beresford County Park with Blue Spring State Park.
That popular bicycle route is part of the larger, five-county, 260-mile St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop, a world-class trail that attracts tourists from all over the globe. Cyclists cruised along in parallel with us, past fruiting elderberries hanging heavy over the charming split-rail fences along the trail. Toward the end, we caught sight of the sparkling waters of Lake Beresford.
A low hum of excited chatter among those of us packed into this upper deck was muffled by regular pauses by each rider to take in the breathtaking views out the windows. As we debarked in DeLand, a common refrain among all of us huddled under the shade of the platform pavilion was surprise at just how awe-inspiring this stretch was.
It was, by far, the most beautiful stretch between any two cities along the entire SunRail line. County Chair Jeff Brower told— in his speech for the groundbreaking ceremony — how a collaboration among the Florida Department of Transportation, the county, the City of DeLand, and private citizens had elevated the economic importance of making the DeLand station the most welcoming experience it could be, both for residents going out into the world and for visitors arriving from all over the world.
But Chair Brower, improvising, also said what we were all thinking: We had no idea that that stretch was so extraordinarily beautiful! And we all realized, if we hadn’t before, that this natural beauty represents what is distinctive and special about Volusia County, and it’s worth protecting.
If the east-side economy is dominated by the beach and NASCAR, the west side is dominated by the ecotourism of the St. Johns River, multiple springs and bike trails, and by the draw of our charming small towns.
And the gateway for train riders into West Volusia begins with the view from the train, not just the station itself and the route into DeLand.
Our economy depends on protecting this beauty, so we need our elected officials, most of whom were on the train together, to remember these spectacular views when developers come knocking on their doors for approval to clear-cut those forests for new homes, and thus spoil those views.
Once the trees are gone, they’re gone. I hope we get it right and keep it green.
— Anderson, Ph.D., M.B.A., is a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years.