Days of Heaven

By staff February 1, 2006

Barely 15 miles from Sarasota, Myakka City exists in another world. It has always been a country place-rolling hills, pristine oak hammocks, grazing cattle, pickup trucks with gun racks and rebel flags. But its ranches are vanishing, and along with them a part of Florida's soul.

"There's not going to be any rural Sarasota or Manatee County in 10 years," says Al Robinson, a farmer who owns 700 acres in Myakka City. He sees the day coming when all the land will be divided into three- and five-acre tracts. For many city folks, three and five acres still sounds as rural as it gets, but for the Florida farmer and rancher, it means the end of a way of life.

Myakka City's Kimmi Abbott has sold her 20 acres near the recreational center and is moving east to Hardee County. And her cousin, Allie Hobbs, has a "For Sale" sign on her property just down the road. It's not the profit motive that's prompting the change. They think that Myakka is getting too crowded and the traffic on Highway 70 too heavy. It's time to pack up their horses, cows, goats, dogs and cats, and move east.

Development has become the pursuer. Bill Corbett, who moved to Myakka City three years ago from Placida to escape the crowd, is now contemplating another move, this time to West Virginia. But Al Robinson, whose grandparents came to Florida from North Carolina in an ox cart, has a more pragmatic outlook. "Times change. They've been doing that since time began." The way he looks at it, most people who move out here will get a horse or two, and although he already has a booming business selling 50,000 square bales of hay each year, he knows the new people will need hay to feed their animals.

Maybe he's right.

But in Myakka City itself, that tiny settlement halfway to Arcadia, time hangs suspended in the fading afternoon sun. The lone traffic light flashes, stray dogs wander by, a real cowboy pulls up to the general store in his truck. The change is coming. But for one last moment Myakka City is still there.

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