Sunday, March 5, 2017
What happened to Ochopee?
What Happened to Ochopee? by Jeff Whichello Like a tall palm tree growing from a single seed, the community of Ochopee emerged from one man’s solitary dream. In 1928, twentyeight-year-old James Gaunt saw undiscovered potential in the swamp that lay on either side of the new road that connected Tampa to Miami. His love of farming and community fueled his actions to build his own world. One of the top producers of tomatoes in the country, Ochopee earned its place on the Florida map but when the market dropped, other adventurers joined. Only people with a certain creativity, workethic, and talent succeeded in this mucky land. An airboat and a swamp buggy venture, animal exhibits, real estate businesses, a water company, a mining operation, restaurants, a motel, bars, a general store, a campground, movie makers, and a skunk-ape followed Gaunt to the grassy field he first declared his home. A small twentieth century pioneer town prospered on the open plain where children were born and families lived in peace. Then, the takers came. These big-picture people were unconcerned about the details of their actions while staring at a map of Florida from their government offices. They were unable to imagine or realize the activities of this unique community living free in the wild. When environmentalists and developers collided on the Ochopee battle ground, it was the common person, the one who scrambled every day to feed their family who suffered in this war. The only one with a stake in it, they had something to lose.