Agri Leader

Eyeing art, discovering ag history in Lake Placid

– It’s easy to take the tourist attractions around us for granted. When I still lived in the Washington, D.C., area, I rarely visited the Smithsonian museums, despite their fabulous exhibits and free admission.

I imagine it’s the same for some of you who live near Lake Placid. I only recently discovered the town’s murals, and they’re a unique way to learn more about local history as well as agricultural heritage in the area.

I reached Lake Placid’s Chamber of Commerce office on a recent sunny Saturday not long after it had closed. As luck would have it, Lake Placid Mural Society co-founders Bob and Harriet Porter had to return to the office. They let me come in, and Porter told me how more than 20 years ago, during a motorcycle trip through British Columbia, she and her husband were inspired by some murals there and believed their town could benefit from the same idea.

The town now has 46 murals, with the most recent one completed in August of last year. All of the murals were painted by professional artists, and each depicts history or culture from Lake Placid and surrounding areas, said Porter. The murals adorn the sides of various local businesses. “Lake Placid is a town with history all around. The murals beautify the town and tell its history,” said Porter.

The chamber of commerce gets 13,000 visitors who are interested in the murals, but the actual number of mural visitors is likely larger, she said.

If you want to use some of the murals to learn about the area’s ag history, start with the Cracker Trail Cattle Drive mural on the side of the Winn Dixie Supermarket at U.S. 27 and CR 621 East. The mural depicts cattle that were herded through Lake Placid during a challenging journey on the Cracker Trail. Watch out — there’s a cow coming right toward you! Hear him? Some of the cows depicted on the 175-foot-wide by 30-foot-high mural seem to jump off the wall. And the mural actually has sound, so you’ll hear cattle mooing and thunder if you visit.

The Cracker Trail Cattle Drive is the largest mural among those in town, and it was funded in part by a radio broadcast held at one point atop the mural and by the Highlands County Cattlemen’s Association, said Porter. All of the cows in the mural were “sold” to different ranchers in the organization.

Get another larger-than-life ag view at the mural Our Citrus Heritage, which was completed in 1997 and is located at the corner of North Main Ave. and East Park St. The mural begins by showing a boat used by Spanish explorers, who originally brought citrus to the Sunshine State in the early 1500s. The mural shows the face of an explorer side by side with modern-day ranchers, in a Mt. Rushmore like style. Then, the mural shows citrus trees and grove workers picking fruit. If you want an extra challenge while looking at the mural, see if you can spot the four hidden oranges with smiley faces. (Each mural has something hidden for visitors to find.)

Another ag-centered mural is Caladium Fields, which reflects Lake Placid’s nickname of “Caladium Capital of the World,” as more than 95 percent of the world’s caladiums grow in the town. The mural shows fields of green, pink, white, and red caladiums. You’ll find that one at the Lockhart Service Center on East Interlake Blvd.

Other murals depict the numerous flora, fauna and wildlife in Lake Placid as well as the stories behind the town’s famous places and people.

If you decide to visit the murals, the $3 guide “The Murals of Lake Placid” will provide the story behind each mural. You can buy the guide at the chamber of commerce office and at some local stores. Wear your walking shoes, too.