Monday, July 23, 2012

Florida's 67 Counties

It's all Bob Ake's fault.
Bob was a Physical Chemistry professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, when he took a sabbatical and moved to Madison, Wisconsin for the 1976-1977 school year. His purpose in coming to the U was to do research on some topic in Physical Chemistry that I will never understand and. Just as important although not a stated purpose of the sabbatical was to see as many species of birds in Wisconsin as possible in the year he would reside in Madison.
In May 1977 Bob traveled to western Wisconsin to look for Red-necked Grebe that was nesting on a large Federally-owned Waterfowl Production Area in St. Croix County. After finding the bird he stopped by my home in River Falls to report in and to say hi to my now-former wife and me. At about 10:00 p.m. Bob said he was leaving for the drive back to Madison. He reckoned that it would be a four hour drive if he followed Interstate 94 south. He then added "If I take Highway 35 south to LaCrosse and cut across from there it will take me six hours but I'll add five counties to my county list."
At the mention of the word "list" my ears perked up and I asked about his county list. Bob explained that no matter where he lives or travels he keeps a list of all the counties he has visited. It was something to do and a great way to learn more about wherever he was.
Bob then asked me "Don't you keep a county list"?
I answered, "Well, I do now."
There are 3,076 counties or parishes in the lower 48 states and Hawaii. (Alaska has 17 "burroughs" but some of them are the size of Montana and its difficult to wrap my head around the concept of a county the size of the Big Sky state). I set a goal long ago to one day have visited each of the 3,076 counties and parishes.
The distribution of counties and parishes in the lower 48 states
It took 23 years of traveling from one end of the country to the other but finally on May 29, 2000, at 4:04 p.m. Pacific time I entered Deschutes County Oregon. It was number 3,076. The last county.
On moving to Florida in March 2008 I decided to retrace my steps around to all of its 67 counties. One purpose of doing so was to acquaint myself with my new home state. I also wanted to start a list of the birds I had seen in each of the 67 counties. In 2010 when I attempted to see as many species of birds inside the boundaries of Florida in a calendar year I visited each of the state's counties a minimum of five times in 365 days.
Eventually people started to question me when I told stories about "collecting" counties. Mainly the questions revolved around "proof" that I had actually been in each county. After giving it some thought I decided that one way to provide that proof was to take a picture of a county entrance sign for each of the counties. And that is what this post is all about.
This past weekend I drove over to the east coast to get pictures of the three counties for which I did not have a county entrance sign to finish this quest. A former love interest of mine once said that I was "childish" for wanting to photograph county signs. I would counter with the words from a Jimmy Buffett song that go "Its the child in us we really value." Instead of letting her words influence me I pushed on and finished the quest. Luckily like a bad dream she is history and I finished doing what I set out to accomplish.
I have learned a great deal about Florida in this process. I've seen great natural resources from the marshes of Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola (Escambia County) to the expansive prairies of Okeechobee County, to the West Indian hardwood hammocks of the lower Keys (Monroe County). I've also learned a great deal about the disparities that exist in the living conditions of Floridians. For instance Palm Beach County (which ranks first) has a per capita income of $44,518 to beleaguered Union County (which ranks last) with a per capita income of $14,535.
I have also learned a lot about the sometimes crazed people who call Florida home. Someone told me when I moved to the state that I should live north of Interstate 4 (which bisects the state from Tampa to Daytona Beach). Their reasoning was that "the further north you go in Florida the further south you get." And its a very accurate assessment. The Panhandle, otherwise known as the "Redneck Riviera" contains some beautiful landscapes but people there are still fighting the "war of northern aggression" just like they do in Georgia and Alabama each day. The Redneck Riviera also votes heavily Republican which is another reason to travel through it quickly, and its the heart of the bible-thumper belt. Curiously if you look at the list of per capita income by county the bulk of the counties at the lower end of the scale are on the Redneck Riviera.
Yesterday when I obtained a digital image of the entrance sign for Seminole County, thereby fulfilling this quest I decided to post a picture of each county entrance sign as "evidence" that I had been there. Some of the images are very crisp and clear while others definitely need to be replaced in the future. For instance, the Clay County sign was photographed in a pouring rainstorm and a better one needs to be taken to replace it. Maybe that will be the next quest - to obtain even better pictures of some county signs than the ones I have here. Its a really good thing that person from my past is no longer around. Doing this again might likely put her over the edge.
With the postings below I include a small comment about each of the counties. I hope you find some value in this posting. If not, c'est le vie.

Alachua County - home of Gainesville and the University of Florida Gators
Baker County - home of the Olustee Battlefield State Park and also some of the finest and most extensive pine forest remaining in north Florida. If you want to hear Bachman's Sparrows on territory this is an excellent place to look and listen.
Bay County - Home of Panama City and more importantly where the Margaritaville Cafe Panama City Beach is located.
Bradford County - Another of the poorer counties in the state
Brevard County - On the "Space Coast" it is home to the Kennedy Space Center, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Brevard County Manatees minor league baseball team. Its one of the best counties for birding in Florida.
Broward County - Home of Fort Lauderdale and rampant development of wild areas to accommodate the retiring hordes of New Yorkers who are trying to escape New York winters on a permanent basis. Its also where I met, and drank a beer with, Jimmy Buffett.
Calhoun County - In the Panhandle just west of Tallahassee, I think Calhoun County has more Chuck-wills-widows singing during the nesting season than anywhere else I've been in the state.
Charlotte County - On the west coast, Charlotte County is where Hurricane Charlie came roaring ashore in 2004. Its also home to the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the High A minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays and the spring training home of the Rays.
Citrus County - Located two hours north of Tampa, Citrus is one of the smallest counties in the state. You definitely don't want to blink or you'll miss it.
Clay County - Much of northern Clay County appears to be a bedroom community for the extensive Jacksonville metropolitan area.
Collier County - Home of Naples, the city with the highest density of millionaires in the United States. More than 60 percent of Collier County is registered Republican. I scrub vigorously in the shower immediately after leaving Collier County.
Columbia County - Sprawling Columbia County is bordered by the Suwannee River and is the home of the Stephen Foster State Park. Curiously Stephen Foster made the Suwannee River famous in his song, but never once saw the river in real life! What a disappointment it was to learn that fact.
DeSoto County - This is a county where farming and ranching are still big business. Its a pleasure to travel through and around DeSoto County and not see offensive condo developments everywhere you turn.
Dixie County - This county borders Florida's "Nature Coast" in the Big Bend region of the state. If you want to get a feel for what "Old Florida" was like head out for little places like Steinhatchee on the Gulf of Mexico. You'll likely find yourself not ever wanting to leave.
Duval County - The boundaries of this county are exactly the same as the boundaries of the city of Jacksonville which makes Jacksonville the largest city, by area, in the state. Duval County offers some excellent birding, especially at the several Florida State Parks on the Atlantic coast.
Escambia County - This is the home of Pensacola and also home to some of the best birding in Florida. During my 2010 Big Year I made 14 roundtrips to Escambia County chasing after rare (for Florida) birds that had been found there. Its 519 miles one way from Sarasota to Pensacola. Escambia County is also home to Jimmy Buffett's first hotel - the Margaritaville Beach Hotel. Its also where, according to the song, Frank and Lola went on their second honeymoon and were almost run over by the life guards jeep.
Flagler County - Located on the Atlantic Coast just north of Daytona Beach, Flagler County is home to Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park (and several others), a place that makes me feel like I'm seeing Florida like it was when Ponce de Leon stepped ashore ages ago.
Franklin County - Located on the Redneck Riviera, Franklin County is one of my most favorite places to visit in this state. Its probably a combination of St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, St. George Island State Park being there along with much of the county inside the boundaries of the Apalachicola National Forest. The city of Apalachicola is one of the finest examples of "Old Florida" remaining in this state. I hope it always stays that way.
Gadsden County - Located just west of Tallahassee, Gadsden County is home to Torreya State Park and to very few people. I knew there was a reason I liked going there.
Gilchrist County - Gilchrist County is, well, Gilchrist County. I usually pass through it headed to someplace more interesting and there are a lot of places more interesting.
Glades County - Located straight west of Lake Okeechobee, Glades County is almost entirely made up of Everglades habitats or, more commonly, former Everglades wetlands that have been converted to sugar cane. Endless sugar cane. What was it that Jimmy Buffett sang about "the sugar barons screwing up the glades"?
Gulf County - Another Panhandle favorite of mine, you can visit the site where the Florida Constitution was hammered out (in Port St. Joe) and also lounge around on the beautiful beaches at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, all in the same day.
Hamilton County - The first county anyone traveling to Florida on I-75 enters is Hamilton County. In winter there always seems to be a flock or two of Sandhill Cranes flying around in the late afternoon here. You can never go wrong when you're surrounded by Sandhill Cranes.
Hardee County - Stuck out in the middle of nowhere straight east of Sarasota County, there is very little if anything going on in Hardee County. And I think that is why I enjoy going there so often.
Hendry County - Another Everglades County and a very good one for birding, Hendry County seems to be home to more alligators than humans and that is always a good thing.
Hernando County - About an hour north of Tampa and bordering the Gulf of Mexico, Hernando County seems to be one of the more likely counties to experience nasty summer time thunderstorms than most others on this side of the state.
Highlands County - Located on the Lake Wales Ridge, the ancient shoreline of Florida during the last glacial period, Highlands County is home to some of the rarest and most unique plant species in the state. There are also a lot of Florida Scrub Jays here. Last but not least its home to Highlands Hammock State Park that harbors some of the most beautiful forest in Florida. I'm almost brought to tears at times in this park because of its beauty.
Hillsborough County - Tampa dominates the landscape of this county. Despite the crush of human habitation there are still many wonderful wild areas here to explore like Hillsborough River State Park.
Holmes County - Abutting Alabama and located in the Panhandle, Holmes County is one of the counties with which I am least familiar. Falling Waters State Park is hear near Chipley, providing some of the most enjoyable topography in the state. Its also the only place I have seen a Copperhead snake in Florida. So, I guess there are a couple things positive about it.
Indian River County - While doing wetland field work in Indian River County in 1999, we used 18 month old aerial imagery to orient ourselves. Only problem was that there had been so much development near Vero Beach that the 18 month old imagery was practically useless to us. It will only get worse.
Jackson County - Located where Alabama, Georgia and Florida all meet, and where the Chattahoochee River turns into the Apalachicola River when it leaves Georgia and enters Florida.
Jefferson County - The only Panhandle county that extends from Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico, Jefferson County supports some of the most spectacular lowland forested wetlands in the state. If there is still an Ivory-billed Woodpecker or two hanging around I wouldn't be surprised if it turned up in Jefferson County.
Lafayette County - Located in the center of the "springs" region of Florida Lafayette County is home to at least three state parks. Also, the only flock of sheep I have ever seen in this state lives here. So does a huge guard dog.
Lake County - Located north of Orlando in central Florida, Lake County is home to a development city known as "The Villages." The Villages is the epicenter of the Tea Bag Anarchy Party in Florida and about the only place our criminal governor can go and speak to cheering crowds. I usually pass through Lake County as quickly as legally possible.
Lee County - Located in southwest Florida on the coast, Lee County is home to Fort Myers, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Lovers Key State Park, Sanibel Island, the Fort Myers Miracle minor league baseball team and to not one but two Doc Ford's Sanibel Rhum Bars and Grills. Need I say more?
Leon County - This is the home of Tallahassee and Florida State University making it an island of liberal progressive thought in an ocean of rednecked Rush Limbaugh fans. A few years ago I stopped in a restaurant in Tallahassee for lunch. Knowing full well that the Florida State University (the Seminoles) and the University of Florida (the Gators) hate the thought of each other, I asked my waitress "Is Tallahassee where the Gators are from?" A hushed silence came over the restaurant as everyone turned to look at me. The waitress almost screamed at me "No we are the SEMINOLES" I replied with "Well where are the Gators from then? I thought they were in Tallahassee' Again, almost screaming, she barked at me "NO THEY ARE IN GAINESVILLE!" Not wanting to press my luck any more I stopped asking questions and left the restaurant.
Levy County - Located in the Big Bend region of Florida, this is where the Suwannee River ends its journey across north Florida and empties into the ocean. Its also home to Cedar Key, about the only city left in the state that mimics how Key West likely was in the 1930s. Make sure you check out the Jimmy Buffett room at the Island Bed and Breakfast in downtown Cedar Key.
Liberty County - You don't need to wrap yourself in the flag when you slide into Liberty County but it probably wouldn't hurt to do so. Despite its politics this is another favorite county in the Panhandle because of the presence of extensive areas of pine forest and very few people. I want it to always be that way.
Madison County - Located in north central Florida and bisected by Interstate 10, Madison County is home to the Deer Park water bottling company. Its also one of only about three counties in Florida where you can regularly find White-breasted Nuthatch.
Manatee County - Any county named after an endangered species of marine mammal is an ok county in my book. Its also where I currently reside so I might be a tad biased.
Marion County - This is where Ocala is located. It is also the epicenter of Florida's horse county.
Martin County - Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge and Jonathan Dickinson State Park are two of the best reasons to visit Martin County on the southeast coast of Florida. My old friend Nathaniel Reed, former Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior, resides in Martin County from which he concocts all sort of ideas about how to protect what little remains of wild Florida.
Miami - Dade County. My most favorite airport in the world, Miami International, exists here among the rat race of southeast Florida. Its my most favorite because I can go almost anywhere in the tropics that I want to go, and I can do so nonstop from MIA. Its also where, according to a Jimmy Buffett song, everybody has a cousin.
Monroe County - Except for a portion of the county on the mainland of Everglades National Park (and therefore uninhabited by humans) Monroe County is the Keys. What more needs to be said?
Nassau County - The first Florida county you encounter as you travel south from Georgia on Interstate 95. It was the first Florida county I ever visited and where I heard and then saw the first Bachman's Sparrow of my life.
Okaloosa County - This county is best known for Eglin Air Force base and for the crush of tourists at the beaches of Destin. Coastal development has been rampant here and there are few areas in coastal Florida more in need of a great Category 6 (never been recorded before) undeveloper hurricane to sit off shore for about 48 hours and revert the coast to the way it was intended to be.
Okeechobee County - Whenever I get the urge to feel like I'm back on the prairies of Nebraska or North Dakota I head over to Okeechobee County. Its home to Kissimmee Prairie State Park and to some of the finest native grassland habitat remaining in Florida. I hope it stays that way.
Orange County - This is Orlando. Enough said? I detest driving in Orlando. I would prefer to eat broken glass for an hour rather than drive through Rat World Central. At least there is a Margaritaville Cafe at Universal Orlando. Next.
Osceola County - Located southeast of Orlando Osceola County has some extensive areas of native grassland remaining. It is also the spring training home of the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves so it can't be all bad.
Palm Beach County - This is the richest county in Florida. Its also where Rush Limbaugh lives and is allowed to slither around unchaperoned. I generally avoid Palm Beach County at all costs.
Pasco County - Located just north of Tampa/St. Pete, Pasco County is home to funky little Tarpon Springs. If you want to learn about the sponging industry and have some great Greek food in the process go no further than Pasco County.
Pinellas County - This is where St. Petersburg and Clearwater are located. Pinellas County has the distinction of being the first (and so are only but that will change) county in the state that has been completely developed. Only small shards of what once was still remain here. Pinellas County is how most of the rest of Florida will look in a few short years. I'm glad I will be dead by the time that happens so I don't have to witness it.
Polk County - Rumor has it that there is more inbreeding among humans in Polk County that any where else in the state.
Putnam County - Located just outside of the Jacksonville metro region Putnam County is a pleasant place. Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka is a great place to spend a few hours.
Santa Rosa County - Located directly east of Escambia County, Santa Rosa is a long drive to get to from Sarasota.
Sarasota County - Good old beautiful Sarasota County. What more can I say? Among other things Myakka River State Park, the largest state park in the system is here. So also is Oscar Scherer State Park with its population of Florida Scrub-Jays and with one of the largest Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes I've ever seen. Jerry Seinfeld lives here and Stephen King has a winter home here. Its a great place to people watch and St. Armand's Circle is the place to do that.
Seminole County - Among the smallest counties in Florida and right at the edge of the Ratworld/Orlando metropolitan circus Seminole County is at and near the headwaters of the St. John's River one of the most important natural waterways in the state. Seminole County also markets itself as "Florida's Natural Choice" Given the crush of humanity there I hope what little natural remains is able to exist for a few more years.
Seminole County - Florida's Natural Choice
St. John's County - Located in the northeast corner of Florida along the Atlantic Coast, St. John's County is home to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States.
St Lucie County - Home to Fort Pierce Inlet State Park and several other, smaller, state parks, this is one of my most favorite places to visit on Florida's Atlantic coast.
Sumter County - The battered sign says it all.
Suwannee County - Not surprisingly the world famous Suwannee River dominates the landscape here. I'd love to paddle a kayak the entire length of the Suwannee River some day.
Taylor County - Another of the Big Bend Region counties, Taylor County is home to the Aucilla River one of the most beautiful places in this state. Extensive estuarine emergent (salt marsh) wetlands occupy the landscape where the river meets the sea. Its one of the most tranquil places I have found in Florida.
Union County - The smallest and poorest county in Florida, Union County is home to the Florida State Prison at Raiford.
Volusia County - This is where Daytona Beach and its famous "Bike Week" are located. And Daytona Beach is where the Ocean Deck bar is located. It was in the Ocean Deck where Jimmy Buffett received the inspiration for his song "Fins" about a girl who walked into a bar alone and was immediately hit on by four "landsharks." Fins is the high point of every Buffett concert - when the child in all of us comes rushing out. And it all happened because of a girl in a bar in Volusia County.
Wakulla County - St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge protects a large expanse of coastal wetland and forest habitat in Wakulla County. San Marcos de Apalache State Park and Wakulla Springs State Park are also located here. Its one of my most favorite birding counties in the state. An Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake nearly 5 feet long and as thick as my forearm rattled at me from under this road sign the night before I took this picture. Needless to say I gave him a huge wide berth the day before.
Walton County - Another of the "way out west" counties, Walton County is home to several excellent beach state parks including Grayton Beach State Park.
Washington County - Stuck in the middle of nowhere in the western Panhandle there's not really much to say about Washington County. I've seen fewer species of birds in Washington County than any other Florida county. Maybe there's a reason for that?


  1. Cool, mofo!

    Here's the flickr page of one of my choo choo buddies. He might be an even more crazed collector of arcane photos than you.

    You'll notice along the side, "road signs." He likes to collect photos of highway route number signs. I was there when that 933 sign was snapped next to the west end of the Elkhart IN NS rail yard. Also, you see he loves collecting photos of rail cars and noting the registration mark. And, especially, logos on rail cars for long gone railroads or obscure companies. There are some real prizes out there for railroad logo collectors.

    Here is a near priceless logo:

    Catching one of those could cause a major hyperventilation attack.

    And here's another dandy bagged in Elkhart:

    One of his most dangerous collections is photos of police cars. Crazy bastard loves snapping small town cop cars, while I cringe and hope we are not noticed.

    So your lists and collections are not the least bit out of line. Besides, fuck em if they can't take a joke.

  2. Damn, that is quite an impressive blog post! Nice job, Craigie.

  3. Tarpon Springs is in Pinellas County, not Pasco.