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High fun without high cost: TDC lists 10 things to do in the Highlands, for free

SEBRING — Looking at paying bills from Christmas and Uncle Sam hasn’t given a return yet?

Don’t fret. Aside from annual events like the Roaring ‘20s Festival and Lake Placid’s Arts and Crafts Country Fair that took place this month, the Highlands County Tourist Development Council (TDC) has compiled a list of attractions that can provide family fun without straining the wallet.

According to the TDC, Avon Park, Sebring and Lake Placid have a “blend of quaintness and quirk” to satisfy the need to get out and go without giving up all your dough.

Maxwell Groves

The quintessential Florida experience, for tourists or residents, is a sip of orange juice in a rocking chair at a grove house, like the one at Maxwell Groves, a fruit stand since 1935.

Delight yourself also with citrus-flavored treats, such as preserves, jams, honey and a dairy-free orange soft serve ice cream made from freshly squeezed Florida orange juice.

Steve Maxwell himself might be there, to tell stories about his family, business and the citrus industry over the past several decades.

Sun ‘N Lake Preserve

On the far west end of Sun ‘N Lake Special Improvement District is an undeveloped area, much of which has been conserved into “The Preserve,” a “go-to place for locals and visitors alike,” according to the TDC, with a mix of hiking and biking trails and opportunities to see Florida wildlife.

The Preserve has freshwater marsh, cypress swamp, cutthroat grass seeps and environments, home to alligators, deer, turtles and river otters, among the many animals there.

Avon Park Air Force Range

While the Avon Park Air Force Range is a military training facility, it’s 100,000-plus acres are also open for outdoor recreation for both military personnel and the general public, whether that fun is fishing, birding, hunting wildlife and other outdoor recreation.

The TDC reports that visitors may hike the trails or pitch a tent and camp overnight. Hunting permit holders age 18 and older may bring up to three minors free of charge.

Jacaranda Hotel

Another piece of local history, the Jacaranda Hotel’s 1920s-style elegance will add a unique touch to any Sebring area visit.

Admire the hotel that once hosted guests such as Babe Ruth, Clark Gable and more through the 1920s. Though the Hotel Jacaranda exudes antiquity with its traditional touches, themed rooms, and historic elevator, it stays updated with new amenities and renovations for overnight guests.

Just outside is Avon Park’s historic Main Street and Mile-Long Mall with photo ops and quaint shops, the TDC states.

Wildflower Wayside Shrine Trail

Part of the Museum of Florida Art and Culture at South Florida State College, the Wildflower Wayside Shrine Trail — mofac.org/wayside — allows visitors to take a leisurely self-guided tour. Close-toed shoes, hats, water, sunglasses and sunscreen are recommended.

Archbold Biological Station

Open since the 1940s, Archbold Biological Station has hosted research all that time into Florida’s endangered plants and local ecosystems. A hike of The Discovery Loop, only a few hundred yards and 30 minutes long, provides one look at these habitats. The Explorers Loop, a half-mile long, features denser habitat and more informational signs along the path. Give that one an hour.

Donaldson Park

Perfect for hosting a weekend barbecue, a quick getaway, a day trip to a playground or an evening of s’mores and hot dogs, Donaldson Park provides a neighborhood beach area for swimming and sandcastles, the TDC states.

Donaldson is also ideal for boating or hosting an outdoor party. City Pier Beach in Sebring and H.L. Bishop Park in Lake Placid also offer the same amenities.

Military Sea Services Museum

With veteran volunteers giving guided tours, get rare information and once-in-a-lifetime stories from the Military Sea Services Museum, a “military must stop” for the whole family.

The museum features a “Memory Walk” displaying veterans names carved in stone and brick. Guests have an opportunity to add names of their own family members who have served.

The Murals of Lake Placid

With 49 murals in downtown Lake Placid, you can learn a lot about the town or Florida history, local wildlife and local culture from just the large-scale hand-painted works that make Lake Placid an unforgettable piece of any vacation.

Lake Placid Historical Society Depot Museum

Filled with fascinating memorabilia, the Lake Placid Historical Museum shows a locally filmed video, a brief overview of the city’s history. Tours with Lake Placid residents provide stories about each and every photo, sculpture and artifact.

History buffs will also love the Avon Park Depot Museum and can relish in Avon Park’s past and the Sebring Historical Society, where they can learn all about the City on a Circle. There is no admission fee, but donations are appreciated.

Thompson, 22, dies in car wreck

LAKE PLACID — The Florida Highway Patrol released the report for a fatal wreck about 6:40 p.m. Sunday. According to the FHP report, Riley Carrington Thompson, 22, of Lake Placid, died. The next of kin has been notified.

The FHP report shows Jocelyn Megan Parris, 32, of Lake Placid, was driving her 2017 Hyundai Elantra southbound on Hallmark Avenue nearing Fillmore Avenue. At the same time, Thompson was riding a bicycle also in the southbound lane of Hallmark Avenue in the right side of the south travel lane.

The front of Parris’ car collided with Thompson.

The report stated Thompson left the bicycle and and traveled southwest, ending up on the grass shoulder to the west of Hallmark Avenue.

FHP said alcohol was not a factor in the wreck. Parris was wearing a seat belt; Thompson was not wearing a helmet. There is no word on charges as the wreck is still under investigation.

According to the unofficial records kept by the Highlands News-Sun, this is the sixth person to die on roads in Highlands County.

kleatherman /  COURTESY/MISS


2020 Miss Highlands County Pageant winners revealed after a tough weekend of competition. Back left is 2020 Miss Highlands County Kinsloe Barben, beside her in the navy blue dress is the first-ever 2020 Teen Miss Highlands County Reagan Richards. Front left is 2020 Little Miss Highlands County Carly Vega and on her right, in the floral gown is 2020 Jr. Miss Highlands County Maria Swaford.

Marking population density: Popular seats at SNL may depend, in part, on urban areas

SEBRING — While Sun ‘N Lake of Sebring looks at moving to a popular vote, its current configuration with landowner votes makes it unique in Florida.

Reportedly, it may be the only — if not one of the few — improvement districts in the state as old as it is without having made the conversion from having any landowner seats to having all five seats of the Board of Supervisors elected by popular vote.

Currently, the board consists of two landowner seats and three popularly-elected seats. At a recent landowner election, Craig Herrick won a vacant landowner seat on the board, filling in the last two years of a term vacated by Dan Stegall.

Herrick joins Mike Gilpin, who was reelected without opposition for another four years to his landowner seat.

The board now consists of Gilpin, Herrick and the three popularly-elected supervisors: Joe Branson, Raymond Brooks and Neal Hotelling.

The list would be very different, according to one former board member, if it had already been converted to a popular vote, in part because the management company that owns Tanglewood — a large subdivision of the district — owns a large number of lots and still participates in elections.

It’s the contention of David Halbig, former board member, that if Tanglewood hadn’t voted in the Jan. 24 landowner election, Mark Camp would have won that vote.

Camp is also a former supervisor who resigned his post last year.

There might be political will to continue a move to popular seats, Halbig said. He states that four previous board members wanted to go to popular seats.

Halbig also said when he served on the board, studies done to determine the amount of urban area in the district, as well as population density, varied in the percentage of “urban area” the district has.

Those maps, done in 2007, he said, ended up taking the board from two popular seats to three, but might have changed the vote even further, if the board at that time had adopted a different map.

For example, a map counting a minimum average urban density of 1.5 people per acre showed 1243.07 acres of urban density in the district out of 5,772.25 total acres in Sun ‘N Lake, according to maps from the study, provided by the District.

A map that also tallied single-family homes on 2.5 acres, with access to improved roads, counted 1,505.92 acres of urban density in the District.

A similar tally, which included district-wide access to paved roads as a criterium for those same single-family homes on 2.5 acres with paved-road access, resulted in a total of 3,979.13 acres of urban density out of the district’s 5,772.25 acres.

Halbig said the board at the time chose a lesser density map, one that results in 41.26% of density, and kept the existing landowner seats.

“Time will tell how this all plays out,” Halbig told the Highlands News-Sun after the recent landowner election.

Right now, the district has options, he said, of keeping voting and representation as it is, petitioning the Highlands County Board of County Commission to create five landowner seats — because changes to the district charter must be done by the county commission — or going to system of one acre/one vote.

Halbig was one of three supervisors who, in 2015, resigned after allegations of violations of the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine law in the midst of supervisors and a former district employee also being in conflict.

All three resigned eventually for various reasons: One for health and another, who got reelected, for political differences with the rest of the board.

The board has rotated through members, to some degree, since then, some of whom have been appointed by a majority of the board to fill vacancies until each next election.

Residents have, for many years, spoken about the value of going to a popular election method for all five seats, but vestiges of the original system — designed to protect interests of large landowners and, in the past, the original developer — have remained for now.

Solar Orbiter blasts off to capture 1st look at sun's poles

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Europe and NASA’s Solar Orbiter rocketed into space Sunday night on an unprecedented mission to capture the first pictures of the sun’s elusive poles.

“We’re on the way to the sun. Go Solar Orbiter!” said Cesar Garcia Marirrodriga, project manager for the European Space Agency. “It’s a fantastic moment ... it’s like, well, we’re unstoppable.”

The $1.5 billion spacecraft will join NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, launched 1 1/2 years ago, in coming perilously close to the sun to unveil its secrets.

While Solar Orbiter won’t venture close enough to penetrate the sun’s corona, or crown-like outer atmosphere, like Parker, it will maneuver into a unique out-of-plane orbit that will take it over both poles, never photographed before. Together with powerful ground observatories, the sun-staring space duo will be like an orchestra, according to Gunther Hasinger, the European Space Agency’s science director.

“Every instrument plays a different tune, but together they play the symphony of the sun,” Hasinger said.

Solar Orbiter was made in Europe, along with nine science instruments. NASA provided the 10th instrument and arranged the late-night launch from Cape Canaveral.

Nearly 1,000 scientists and engineers from across Europe gathered with their U.S. colleagues under a full moon as United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket blasted off, illuminating the sky for miles around. Crowds also jammed nearby roads and beaches.

The rocket was visible for four full minutes after liftoff, a brilliant star piercing the night sky. Europe’s project scientist Daniel Mueller was thrilled, calling it “picture perfect.” His NASA counterpart, scientist Holly Gilbert, exclaimed, “One word: Wow.”

NASA declared success 1 1/2 hours later, once the Solar Orbiter’s solar wings were unfurled.

Solar Orbiter — a boxy 4,000-pound (1,800-kilogram) spacecraft with spindly instrument booms and antennas — will swing past Venus in December and again next year, and then past Earth, using the planets’ gravity to alter its path. Full science operations will begin in late 2021, with the first close solar encounter in 2022 and more every six months.

At its closest approach, Solar Orbiter will come within 26 million miles (42 million kilometers) of the sun, well within the orbit of Mercury.

Parker Solar Probe, by contrast, has already passed within 11.6 million miles (18.6 million kilometers) of the sun, an all-time record, and is shooting for a slim gap of 4 million miles (6 million kilometers) by 2025. But it’s flying nowhere near the poles. That’s where Solar Orbiter will shine.

The sun’s poles are pockmarked with dark, constantly shifting coronal holes. They’re hubs for the sun’s magnetic field, flipping polarity every 11 years.

Solar Orbiter’s head-on views should finally yield a full 3-D view of the sun, 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from our home planet.

“With Solar Observatory looking right down at the poles, we’ll be able to see these huge coronal hole structures,” said Nicola Fox, director of NASA’s heliophysics division. “That’s where all the fast solar wind comes from ... It really is a completely different view.”

To protect the sensitive instruments from the sun’s blistering heat, engineers devised a heat shield with an outer black coating made of burned bone charcoal similar to what was used in prehistoric cave paintings. The 10-foot-by-8-foot (3-meter-by-2.4-meter heat shield is just 15 inches (38 centimeters) thick, and made of titanium foil with gaps in between to shed heat. It can withstand temperatures up to nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (530 degrees Celsius).

Embedded in the heat shield are five peepholes of varying sizes that will stay open just long enough for the science instruments to take measurements in X-ray, ultraviolet, visible and other wavelengths.

The observations will shed light on other stars, providing clues as to the potential habitability of worlds in other solar systems.

Closer to home, the findings will help scientists better predict space weather, which can disrupt communications.

“We need to know how the sun affects the local environment here on Earth, and also Mars and the moon when we move there,” said Ian Walters, project manager for Airbus Defence and Space, which designed and built the spacecraft. “We’ve been lucky so far the last 150 years,” since a colossal solar storm last hit. “We need to predict that. We just can’t wait for it to happen.”

The U.S.-European Ulysses spacecraft, launched in 1990, flew over the sun’s poles, but from farther afield and with no cameras on board. It’s been silent for more than a decade.

Europe and NASA’s Soho spacecraft, launched in 1995, is still sending back valuable solar data.

Altogether, more than a dozen spacecraft have focused on the sun over the past 30 years. It took until now, however, for technology to allow elaborate spacecraft like Parker and Solar Orbiter to get close without being fried.

Fox considers it “a golden age” for solar physics.

“So much science still yet to do,” she said, “and definitely a great time to be a heliophysicist.”

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.