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Markers to give De Soto his due

Three Citrus sites on De Soto's original path are slated for new informational displays about the 16th century Spanish explorer.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT
Published June 21, 2005


INVERNESS - Twenty years ago, then-Gov. Bob Graham stood on the side of U.S. 41 S, across from the Citrus County Fairgrounds, to dedicate the first in a series of markers that commemorate the journey of explorer Hernando De Soto.

The marker was part of a network of displays that never really did much to put Citrus, and its connection to De Soto, on the map. The kiosk on the site is likely to be a casualty when the highway gets its much anticipated widening.

But that doesn't mean Citrus' connection with De Soto will die. A new move is beginning to awaken interest in De Soto and his travels through Central Florida 466 years ago.

Last week, several Citrus representatives attended a meeting to discuss a new De Soto Trail marking system. Much to the surprise of Mary Craven, the county's tourism development manager, three Citrus sites are tapped to be part of the trail.

Historians have used De Soto's diary and its detailed descriptions of his travels to determine points along the way where he and his entourage likely camped. There are three spots in Citrus County: at Floral City near Duval Island, in Inverness somewhere on Lake Tsala Apopka and at Turner Camp.

Last week's meeting brought together representatives of the National Park Service and the Florida State Park Service as well as representatives from communities stretching from Manatee through Citrus counties. Craven and Tom Franklin, chairman of Citrus County's Historical Resources Advisory Board, attended the session.

Counties north of Citrus are scheduled to meet soon to discuss the new trail-marking program.

If the effort finds the support it needs, Craven said, new informational kiosks and displays might be built at the three local sites. One part of the display would address the entire trail; the rest would provide information about that particular site based on the diary accounts.

De Soto landed in Tampa Bay in May 1539. According to historians, he made his way north, reaching a small village called Vicela on July 23, 1539. Vicela is near present day Istachatta in northeast Hernando County.

The following day, the men continued north and reached the village of Tocaste, which was on a large lake. Tocaste was adjacent to the lake and east of Floral City.

In the next several days, De Soto moved into what is now Inverness, where he was attacked by Indians. On July 26 he crossed the "Cove of the Withlacoochee," which is at Turner Camp Road.

Craven said the hope is that local jurisdictions might help set up the new informational displays. For example, Inverness might want to install a kiosk in either Liberty Park or Wallace Brooks Park. Locations could also be found near Duval Island and Turner Camp.

The new trail would promote history-based tourism, Craven said.

While she cannot say for sure how much tourism in the county is history-based, she said it could be as high as 30 percent. But that percentage would increase if she counted people who come to the community for more ecotourism opportunities and also take advantage of historical displays and attractions.

If the new trail is assembled and promoted as the organizers envision, that would bring more history enthusiasts into Citrus County.

"I think it would be great, absolutely," Craven said. "I think there was certainly a lot of interest also from Mr. Franklin as we talk about our heritage." Franklin will bring the project back to his advisory board for further discussion.

The plan is to develop the two main trail heads to start at Bradenton and Tallahassee. "Then we would fill in in between," Craven said. "The higher the level of participation from the local entities, the faster it will get done."

--Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 21, 2005, 02:30:30]


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