Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Restored Ocklawaha Could Revive Putnam County

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Restored Ocklawaha Could Revive Putnam County

Article excerpt

Byline: Ron Littlepage

Last week, The Washington Post published a story about Palatka under a headline that read in part: "This dying city is determined to save itself."

It's never a good thing to be called a dying city in a national publication.

But, the Post reported, that's what an expert hired by the Florida League of Cities in 2013 found based strictly on statistics - more deaths than births, more people moving out than in.

The Post cited other more recent evidence:

The city's only Kmart went out of business in the spring. J.C. Penny closed earlier this month. The once thriving Palatka Mall sits mostly empty.

"Opioid abuse is rampant," the Post said, "and 1 in 10 residents continue to live in public housing.

"The school system ranks among Florida's worst. And the city's pipes are so old that the water sometimes comes out the color of rust."

Such discouraging facts can't be ignored, but Palatka does have a special building block for a stronger economy - the St. Johns River.

A new generation of city leaders has begun to recognize that.

"Officials here," the Post reported, "are striving to turn the riverfront, a resource that is unique to this city, into a future hub for tourism and a draw for retirees."

I've learned over the years in this job that the people in Palatka and Putnam County don't appreciate a columnist from Jacksonville telling them what to do.

So I won't do that. I'll just offer some friendly advice from someone who cares deeply about the St. Johns River.

Tourism is the right track to take.

As we are learning in Jacksonville, there is a strong, emerging market for eco-tourism. People are drawn to the natural beauty of unspoiled Florida.

The St. Johns River, the Timucuan preserve and our beaches are Jacksonville's selling points for visitors who want more than theme parks and golf courses.

The river can be the selling point for Palatka as well, but so much more could be done in eco-tourism if new leaders would quit listening to those of old who place the wishes of bass anglers above the economy of the city and the county. …

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