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Lawmakers hope to mark trail of 'Walkin' Lawton'


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 1999

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida has a Buccaneer Trail, an Old Spanish Trail and a Florida Cracker Trail. Now, if two state lawmakers have their way, there will be a Lawton Chiles Trail.

Under their plan, highway markers would document Chiles' historic 1,033-mile walk through Florida's heart, from the Panhandle town of Century all the way to Key Largo.

It is only fitting, said Tampa Rep. Les Miller, that the route of the man who came to be known as "Walkin' Lawton" become an official Florida landmark.

Miller, Democratic Leader of the House, and Senate Democratic Leader Buddy Dyer, D-Orlando, are filing a bill to create the trail.

Before his death, Chiles already had a road named for him: the Lawton Chiles Parkway in Polk County, near Lakeland.

The Lawton Chiles Trail would cover many state roads. The road names wouldn't change, but the route would be traced with historic markers.

Chiles made his unusual 91-day statewide walk during his 1970 run for the U.S. Senate. It made him a legend in Florida politics. His journal entries show that sometimes he walked alone, and other times he met ordinary Floridians along the way. In later years, he recalled that the walk made him see Florida's natural beauty -- and problems -- with fresh eyes.

When Chiles died last month, a motorcade escorted his casket through the Panhandle portion of the walk. "I think it's a very nice thing to do," said Ed Chiles, the late governor's son, adding that his father was reluctant to have anything named for him while he was alive. "I know he would be very pleased at the outpouring that there's been about the issues he cared so much about."

Miller said he expects little opposition.

"I think there will be bipartisan support for this," he said.

Dyer said Democratic lawmakers briefly considered battling to rename Florida's Turnpike after Chiles. Last year, the Republican-led Legislature renamed the turnpike for Ronald Reagan. In the end, Dyer said, the Democratic lawmakers decided Chiles wouldn't have liked that kind of political fighting over his legacy.

The Lawton Chiles Trail would join some 900 special road designations in Florida that memorialize historic figures and events. Dade County alone has 62 special road designations, including what may be one of the longest road names in the state: the Mayor General Ignacio Agramonte Y Loynaz Roadway, named for a Cuban war hero.

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