Carl Wernicke: Roadsides Can Be Beautiful If We Help

Apr 5, 2017

Credit IHMC

For years I carped in writing and on the air about the failure of Santa Rosa County to value the wildflowers that sprang up every spring along its country roads, especially on Garcon Point.
These complaints usually came both in the spring and the fall, when poorly timed maintenance schedules led to the mass mowing of roadsides just as the wildflower seasons were peaking. In a few hours every year, the county managed to eliminate millions of wildflowers carpeting county roadsides, leaving behind an unsightly mélange of cut grass and shredded litter on roadsides that previously were as beautiful as many cultivated gardens.
I always considered it a great waste of natural beauty that the county would have had to spend tens of thousands of dollars every year to plant if nature wasn’t already on the job.
So it’s only fair to point out a recent Pensacola News Journal article heralding Santa Rosa County’s decision to designate five road rights of way as wildflower protection areas. This includes three areas on Garcon Point, as well as a portion of Munson Highway, a section of Quintette Road and a stretch of County Road 399, also known as East Bay Boulevard.
The county is working with the Santa Rosa Master Gardeners on the project, which includes both signage and, more importantly, modified mowing schedules. In full disclosure, let me note that my wife is a master gardener with the Escambia group.
For Santa Rosa County, better late than never, I say.
If the county wants to really make this work, I’m hoping they will also coordinate litter pickup to get out ahead of the mowers. My wife and I labored for years to clear litter off the sides of Mary Kitchens Road, and the county pays for cleanups along Garcon Point Road. But the propensity of Santa Rosa Countians to regularly and continuously trash their own countryside means it is a never-ending battle. I could never understand the mentality of people who couldn’t wait long enough to get home to dump their bottles, fast-food bags and snuff containers in their own trash, and resorted to tossing it from their car windows onto the side of the road.
This problem is compounded by county mowing that shreds this litter and leaves it strewn along the roadsides. I recommended to a county official one day that they coordinate the mowing with litter cleanup, and from the reaction it seemed clear that this had never occurred to them. However, I saw no progress on this in subsequent years.
Still, now we see that progress can come, and I congratulate the county on understanding the value of the natural bounty they have been graced with in the form of wildflowers. Santa Rosa County is growing fast, and unfortunately growth often comes at the sacrifice of much of what fed that growth in the first place.
Like my wife and me, many people are attracted to Santa Rosa County by how much of it retains its rural feel. There is much natural beauty still left in Santa Rosa County, and it’s heartening to see that county officials have noticed.