City To Renovate Park’s Restrooms

By on July 7th, 2015 | Last updated: July 7, 2015 at 8:10 am

The city of Gainesville will renovate the bathrooms at Kiwanis Challenge park. The plan is to install tile flooring and walls, new ceilings and more efficient light fixtures. Scott St. Lifer / WUFT News

Changes are coming to the restrooms at Kiwanis Challenge Park in Gainesville.

The city will fully renovate the restrooms built in 1991 at the park, located at 2101 NW 39th Ave.

According to John Weber, parks manager for the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, the restrooms are run down and in need of a facelift.

“We need to improve them to make them cleaner, look better and more appealing to the public,” Weber said.

Renovations are expected to begin July 13 and should be completed in the next 60 to 75 days.

According to Weber, the total cost of the project will be between $50,000 and $60,000. This comes from the Capital Improvement Plan, an $18.2 million plan encompassing projects during the 2015 to 2019 fiscal years.

The restrooms currently have bare concrete floors, painted concrete walls and no working locks for patrons. The plan is to tile the floors and walls, install a new ceiling and improve the light fixtures for energy efficiency.

While the restrooms are closed for renovations, the city will provide a minimum of two portable restrooms and they may build up to three or four, according to Weber.

Some members of the community agree that the restrooms are in need of fixing but do not think portable restrooms are a necessary replacement. Community members Laura Ford and Deria Murray think there could be alternatives to portable restrooms.

Murray said she wishes the city would renovate each restroom individually to prevent total closure and the use of portable restrooms. However, she stressed that if there is no other choice then people will use what is available.


Kiwanis Challenge Park is the last remaining outdoor park to have restroom renovations under Weber’s responsibility in the past five years. The restrooms previously renovated include Albert “Ray” Massey Park, Greentree Park, Northside Park, Fred Cone Park, Lincoln Park and T.B. McPherson Park, Weber said.


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10 CAN Eases War Veteran Back Into Civilian Life

By on July 6th, 2015 | Last updated: July 6, 2015 at 4:00 pm

Jeremy Johnson wanted to get out of his hometown of St. Petersburg and do something with his life. He was 17 years old when he signed up for the armed forces.

Johnson went on three tours between 2000 and 2003. He was among the first to go to Iraq after the 9/11 attacks. During the briefing for that tour, he said he was told 50 percent of his team wouldn’t make it back.

Jeremy Johnson, an Iraq veteran, and his wife, Kelly, tend to the goats at 10 CAN Farm. By learning how to work with the goats, each one which has a different personality, Johnson has learned how to interact with people.

Iraq veteran Jeremy Johnson and his wife Kelly tend to the goats at 10 CAN Farm. By learning how to work with the goats, each one who has a different personality, Johnson has learned how to interact with people. Susan Huang / WUFT

Johnson fought every day to stay alive, make it back to the base, call home and tell his family he loved them one more time.

“It was hard,” his wife Kelly said. “But I knew that’s what you sign up for when you marry a military man.”

The patrols, explosions and attacks were endless. Friends died in front of him.

“You’re over there doing mission,” Johnson said. “You don’t have the luxury of deciding whether something is good or bad. You’ve got a job to do.”

Johnson beat the odds one more time in 2003. He made it back to the states.

But war came home with him.

Three tours in the Middle East left him with spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and no idea how to go back to living a civilian life.

He couldn’t shake the habits he learned halfway across the world. He analyzed every movement for potential threats. He slept with a gun under his pillow. Some nights he even patrolled the house.

The aggressiveness that kept him alive overseas had now built up walls around him. He knew his family wasn’t a threat, but six-to-eight months of combat mode wasn’t something he could just turn off.

“That scared the piss out of [my family],” Johnson said.

Alcohol addiction swallowed two years of his life. When he drank, he would sometimes disappear for days. There were times even he didn’t know where he went.

He hit rock bottom. He was losing his family to endless arguments. His kids began to forget who he was because he was never around. He got tangled up with the law; jail was only a step away.

He was a long way from his decorated military career.

“When you hit that point and you realize the only people standing around with you are the ones who love you and care about you, then it’s like, man, maybe I need to change,” Johnson said.

But Johnson hit a rut trying to figure out the next step in his life. He could rarely bring himself to leave the house.

He eventually picked himself up and started going to a Veterans Affairs hospital. He found a therapist that used words instead of medication, talking him through the process.

Therapy at the VA helped, but it could only go so far.

A Mile In Your Shoes

The Johnson family didn’t move on to the next chapter of their lives until his sons’ hair grabbed a stranger’s attention.

His two sons sported mohawks while attending Caregiver Resource Day at the VA, catching the attention of Matthew Burke, CEO and founder of 10 CAN. Burke felt he needed to approach the family. The Johnson’s left that day with a business card for 10 CAN, a Christian Adventure Network that works to help veterans and first responders.

Johnson didn’t want to accept any more help. But after much thought and prayer, he and Kelly decided to give 10 CAN a try.

The Johnsons were uncertain about Burke at first, as they were with anyone new they let into their lives. But the first time they stepped onto his farm, they found out Burke also served three tours in the Middle East. And he was working through his own injuries and PTSD.

Johnson didn’t need to explain every little thing to Burke, the triggers or the body language that could be read as threatening.

“You realize someone has walked a mile in your shoes,” Johnson said.

Burke remembers Johnson was rough around the edges when he first started — lost in transition. And Burke didn’t claim to have all the answers.

“Everyone’s war is different,” he said. “Sometimes Jeremy just wants to talk. He don’t need me to respond or try to fix something.”

As the two men walked through this new life together, Burke helped pull Johnson out of the nightmare in his head.

“Do I want the way he deals with his issues?” Johnson asked. “Yeah, cause he deals with his issues a whole lot kinder than I do.”

Johnson said others were quick to give advice.

Burke was quick to be a friend.


10 CAN didn’t feel like therapy. The farm Burke owns is 10 acres of grass and blooms, trees dotted across the fields thick with the promise of future fruit.

Kelly Johnson and her 8-year-old son, Aiden, plant marigolds. The entire family is part of the therapy at 10 CAN because the founder, Matthew Burke, believes that if you help the family of the veteran, you end up helping the veteran too.

Kelly Johnson and her eight-year-old son, Aiden, plant marigolds. The entire family is part of the therapy at 10 CAN because the founder Matthew Burke believes that if you help the family of the veteran, you end up helping the veteran too. Susan Huang / WUFT

The list of tasks was unfamiliar at first. But step by step, the Johnsons learned to plant potatoes, grow mushrooms and take care of flowers.

Johnson learned how to stop coming off so aggressively. The goats helped.

Johnson compared the goats to people.  If they don’t like a person’s aura or atmosphere, they’ll keep away, just like others used to keep away from Johnson because he carried himself in a threatening way.

As he learned to lead goats to greener pastures, his personal connections began coming back.

That meant going back to church again and letting God back in his life.

His faith gave him confidence that life was in God’s hands, not his. It helped him worry less about his problems, like his three-year fight to get 100 percent permanent and total disability coverage from the VA.  He believes there are reasons it took that long. The government didn’t provide that kind of spiritual guidance.

“If you don’t believe in something,” Johnson said. “You’ll fall for anything.”

He started to pray with his children, which made him feel like a good father.

Johnson connected with his community too, finding a new purpose in working with 10 CAN’s volunteer efforts. Together with 10 CAN, Johnson harvested a crop of potatoes. Two hundred pounds of the harvest went to families in need.

He was growing again.

A Ways To Go

Johnson and his family spend three-to-five days at 10 CAN each week, still learning but comfortable. They feed the goats, clear out the woods and play with the chickens in the morning. In the blistering afternoon heat, they seek refuge in the dappled shade of the trees while sipping milkshakes from a nearby coffee shop.

Jeremy Johnson coaxes 6-year-old River Nico into petting one of the goats at 10 CAN Farm. Nico’s father, Richard Nico, was the winner of the 10 CAN Survival Race and donated his winnings back to the organization because he believes in its mission.

Jeremy Johnson coaxes six-year-old River Nico into petting a goat at 10 CAN Farm. Nico’s father, Richard Nico, was the winner of the 10 CAN Survival Race and donated his winnings back to the organization because he believes in its mission. Susan Huang / WUFT

Johnson has come a long way from the 17-year-old eager to serve his country.

He watches his sons fool around on a tree swing and his wife feed the remains of her milkshake to the dogs. He’s found a place where he can continue moving forward.

“I’m better than I was six months ago,” Johnson said. “Still got a way to go though.”

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July 6, 2015: News In 90

By and on July 6th, 2015 | Last updated: July 6, 2015 at 6:41 pm

Alexis Cruz produced this update.

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Resident Volunteers Keep Dignity Village Standing

By on July 6th, 2015 | Last updated: July 6, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Most mornings volunteers go out to do the jobs nobody else in Dignity Village wants to do: throw out garbage, pick up litter or mediate arguments.

The faces change every few weeks. Homelessness, after all, is a fluid state; people come and go as often as their luck changes. But when one volunteer leaves another soon takes his or her place.

Tygur Scott, 34, is the resident responsible for organizing the group of community volunteers who help keep the camp clean and running as smoothly as possible.

Tygur Scott, the 34-year-old lead advocate coordinator in Dignity Village, picks up trash littering the village's wash basin area. Scott, alongside his group of volunteers known as community advocates, works to keep Dignity Village clean and mediate disputes between residents whenever they might arise.

Tygur Scott, the 34-year-old lead advocate coordinator in Dignity Village, picks up trash littering the community’s wash basin area. Scott, alongside his group of volunteers known as community advocates, works to keep Dignity Village clean and mediates disputes between residents whenever they arise. Andres Leiva / WUFT

He wears utilitarian camouflage pants and a score of shiny rings on his fingers when he works. A wide-brim hat usually shades his face, and in between trips to the dumpster, he puffs on Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Scott’s history with what would become Dignity Village began around the time campers living in the informal neighborhood known as “Tent City,” just south of the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, were being evicted from the wooded property.

“When I first got here, Dignity Village didn’t even exist,” he said, sitting underneath a tarp in the Occupy Gainesville campsite, the unofficial headquarters of Scott and his group of volunteers, who are known as community advocates. He reckons he began helping people move out to the property bordering GRACE Marketplace in May 2014.

There were no zones or rules regarding campsite placement back then, he said. The land Dignity Village now sits on was not even leased by the city, and there were no large organizations providing logistical and organizational support to residents.

Things are different now.

Randy Stacey, director of the Helping Hands Clinic, walks alongside Scott down one of the asphalt pathways that run around the inner perimeter of the camp. They read numbers off a clipboard as they walk and compare them against the actual count of tents and residents.

Stacey is a common sight around Dignity Village. His organization visits the community on a weekly basis, bringing supplies and offering medical services to those in need.

The work performed by Scott and the advocates is extremely important to Helping Hands, Stacey said. Because the advocates reside in the village, they can give informed estimates of the camp’s population at any given time, and they’re up-to-date on problems plaguing residents.

Stacey isn’t the only one relying on the advocates for their knowledge of the inner workings of Dignity Village.

Lieutenant Rob Koehler of the Gainesville Police Department also highlights the importance of the advocates’ insider knowledge.

“Tygur’s been great,” Koehler said. “He’s been someone I can come and talk to. We need that liaison, as many as we can get.”

He said the identity and purpose of Dignity Village is not clear yet, but the volunteer group’s work helps buy some time until the city figures out how to manage the tent neighborhood, a question that has become one of the biggest issues the community advocates face.

The Gainesville City Commission has been negotiating a contract with Helping Hands for up to $50,000 to grant the organization management of Dignity Village.

The Empowerment Center Oversight Advisory Board recommended the county provide $25,000 to share the cost equally with the city commission, said communications and legislative affairs director for Alachua County Mark Sexton, in an email. But in June, the board decided to wait to discuss the funding until budget workshops take place later in July.

For now, there are every day problems to deal with.

In the yard where Scott constructed a pair of makeshift showers, a volunteer helps him free a trashcan from a chain securing it to a shower column.

It’s been here for a few days, Scott explains, and the combination lock won’t come free. They struggle to snap the chain with a pair of pliers. After a few violent shakes, the chain snaps and they grin.

The volunteer offers to take the trash can to the dumpster. His name is Scott Paris, and he speaks in a Kentucky drawl.

The 34-year-old started helping out Tygur Scott late last year with some of the chores around camp: transporting trash, clearing abandoned tents, sorting donations, that sort of thing, he said.

If you were to see him hauling the trash can to the dumpster, you might wonder why he does it. The trash smells awful, the can is awkward to carry, and the dumpster is so far away. But if you ask him, he’ll just tell you that he likes helping people.

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Longleaf Pine Restoration Helps Environment And Economy

By on July 6th, 2015 | Last updated: July 6, 2015 at 12:39 pm

The longleaf pine, a species of pine tree, once used for timber and naval stores is making a comeback with The Longleaf Pine Initiative, a 15-year restoration plan that began in 2009.

Longleaf pine forests covered more than 90 million acres of North America prior to European settlement. Today only 3.4 million acres exist, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Now the restoration is getting a bit of a kickstart. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced July 1 that it would provide $4.6 million in grants to support the Range-Wide Conservation Plan for Longleaf Pine.

The funds will be used to “restore more than 11,600 acres and enhance more than 163,000 additional acres of longleaf pine habitat,” according to a press release from NFWF.

The Partnership

The longleaf partnership council was formed in 2011 to coordinate all activities and collaboration among the partners interested in restoring longleaf. The partnership council consists of 33 members, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Defense, natural resource management agencies, private landowners and timber companies.

Together these companies support restoration initiatives for the pine ecosystem that the NRCS claims is one of the most “ecologically diverse in the world.”

“There’s been a lot of momentum involving Longleaf,” said Clay Ware, longleaf pine recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We’ve been fairly successful in increasing acreage of up to about four-and-a-half million acres with a goal of eight million.”

Containerized longleaf pine seedlings are removed from a growing tray. They are then counted and placed in a wax coated cardboard shipping box.

Andrew’s Nursery provides containerized and bare root longleaf pine seedlings. The containerized seedlings are removed from their containers and then counted and placed in a wax-coated cardboard shipping box. Photo provided by Steve Gilly

Ware said the overall goal is not only to increase the acreage of longleaf pine but to restore the entire forested ecosystem, including the plants and animals that depend on this forest type.

Longleaf pine stands out from the other popular pines, such as slash and loblolly, because it is fire resistant, more drought-tolerant, more resistant to insects and diseases and puts down a longer tap root making it more resistant to heavy winds, said Ware.

Steve Gilly, owner of Andrew’s Nursery in Chiefland, has been in the pine business for 28 years and understands why people are interested in using longleaf pine.

“The reason people like longleaf pine so much is because it’s very naturally disease resistant and very resistant to insects like southern pine beetles and other pests like that,” Gilly said. “If you get longleaf established, it’s great.”

The conservation program is working on returning the fire component to the longleaf ecosystem.

Prescribed burns mimic what would have occurred naturally because, historically, low-intensity fires helped shape the ecosystem.

Ware said they have numerous burn programs doing this when conditions are right.

“With restoring longleaf and re-introducing fire in the forests, we are helping to restore a healthier, native forest and a better-quality wood product that will support the local economy,” Ware said.

Beyond the Burn

Landowners also see the benefits of planting the longleaf, with the increasing animal habitats, including those of gopher tortoises and eastern indigo snakes.

David Brown, professor of Free Enterprise in the Warrington College of Business Administration at the University of Florida, is a timber company landowner. After being educated on longleaf pine, he now uses it on his property.

He said he is doing his part in helping the planet by choosing to restore longleaf pine.

“It’s a much better habitat for wildlife,” Brown said.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a new Farm Bill program, helps its partners, such as private landowners, conservation organizations and states receive financial support for planting and maintaining longleaf pines, according to America’s Longleaf website.

Monica Jones, district conservationist for NRCS, promotes the Farm Bill and its focus points on longleaf pine.

“I think its important because it’s what was here years ago, so restoring the pine to its natural state is probably a very good idea,” Jones said.

Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO at NFWF, said in the press release announcing the grant program: “The $4.6 million in Longleaf Stewardship Fund grants announced today will continue to build on that record of success and serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of public-private partnerships in conserving America’s natural wonders.”

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In The News: SpaceX To Relaunch Soon, USWNT Wins World Cup, Gainesville Physician Remembered, New State School Board Director Selected

By on July 6th, 2015 | Last updated: July 6, 2015 at 10:31 am
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Brain Training Center Treats Learning Disabilities

By on July 5th, 2015 | Last updated: July 6, 2015 at 10:07 am

The bell rings as Bonnie Willingham and her 13-year-old son Nate walk through the door of Brain Works.

They are greeted by owner and operator Diane Daniels, who opened her brain training center to help children like Nate who have learning disabilities.

Nate steps into the first room, puts on the bone conduction headphones and adjusts the balance board. The modified classical music begins, and he carefully gets on the board, grabbing a hold of the tennis ball hanging by a string from the ceiling.

His goal is to stay balanced while maneuvering the tennis ball over blocks marked with different patterns.

Nate Willingham focuses on matching three cards based on color, shape or pattern during his Brain Works session on Friday. This card game is used to improve visual perception.

Nate Willingham focuses on matching three cards based on color, shape or pattern during his Brain Works session on Friday. This card game is used to improve visual perception. Madison Schultz / WUFT News

Triangle, circle, cross, square. Repeat. Triangle, circle, cross, square. Repeat.

It is visual-motor-balance activities and other brain-stimulating tasks paired with audio played at different frequencies that help stimulate neural growth.

Daniels, an educator and education psychologist, said the brain training can improve attention span, auditory processing, sensory integration and motor skills.

While a wide range of clients has sought her help, Daniels said the majority of her clientele are children in late elementary or middle school.

She recently finished working with her youngest client, a 4-year-old with autism. Adults also come for treatment after strokes and concussions.

For Nate, the brain training is to help with his dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia—problems he’s been struggling with since he was in elementary school.

Doubts That Resulted in Progress

As Nate’s home-school teacher, Willingham first noticed her son’s learning disabilities when he was 8 years old and multiplication tables were added to the curriculum.

Initially, she was not sure if he was being lazy or just being resistant to home-schooling.

A year later, she decided something needed to be done, trying other forms of curriculum like one-on-one training and using more flashcards, but nothing worked.

“I’m supposed to be the teacher, I’m supposed to figure out how to help a child and I wasn’t able to do so. I was frustrated with myself,” she said. “And then as a mom I was horribly frustrated with myself again. I’m supposed to be able to help, I’m supposed to be able to fix things, and it just wasn’t happening.”

She began researching online, finding several websites about dyslexia. Some included dysgraphia, a processing issue with handwriting, but none covered dyscalculia.

After six months, she finally found information about dyscalculia; it said he would never learn.

“It was pretty hopeless,” she said.

A Glimmer of Hope

Prior to resorting to Brain Works, Willingham attempted using the Wilson Language Training program to re-teach Nate how to read.

The program explained that children like Nate learned backwards.

“When you’re in kindergarten, you learn ‘A-ah-apple,’ but with dyslexic children, you have to teach them ‘A-apple-ah,’” she said. “That’s where we started, getting word associations to learn the sound.”

She began noticing improvements in his spelling, hearing him phonetically pronounce words before spelling them out.

Nate said reading syllable cards helped improve his reading, but it was a very slow process.

After a year and a half with barely any progress, Willingham and her husband, Dan, knew they needed to begin researching again to find another curriculum to help with math.

“Yes, he learned how to use a calculator well, but that’s not something he can always rely on,” she said.

The next morning, Dan Willingham attended a Business Networking International meeting where Daniels spoke about working memory that helps store and process new information.

After researching Daniels and her business, they brought Nate in to see Daniels for an interview. They were interested, but the financial aspect stood in the way.

Daniels offered Willingham a job, asking her to help at Brain Works in exchange for a discount on the treatment.

“It really helped me to make the decision,” Willingham said. “I was able to work with this little boy and just in the time frame that I was there, I saw improvements.”

In his 13 sessions at Brain Works since March, Daniels has noticed similar improvements in Nate including speed of reading, mathematical calculations and articulation.

“Three weeks later I noticed a difference in his reading. I had a mommy moment,” she said while holding back tears.

Nate notices the changes, too. His face lit up when Daniels told him he shaved a minute off his time completing a set of fast-paced math problems.

“Multiplication and division are easier,” he said. “I learned tricks with multiplication, like with the 9s, and I’ve memorized a lot of the others now.”

Limitation Free

Willingham is overjoyed knowing that Nate is not going to be limited by his learning disabilities.

“It has given me hope that he is going to get to go to college and be able to choose a career and not have a career choose him.”

As a teacher at a small, private homeschool, Willingham wishes the training available at Brain Works were available to every child.

During her 14 years operating Brain Works, Daniels tried unsuccessfully to bring the training exercises into the school system.

“I would go back to the school that I worked at and offer my services,” she said. “And they weren’t convinced that they could find the time or the place to do this training,” she said.

Daniels admits the training techniques at Brain Works are not well known. The two main companies involved in brain training, Lumosity and Posit Science, produce computer software that focuses on visual activities and auditory training exercises. Her business combines those practices with visual-motor-balance and interactive language activities.

“Neurons that fire together, wire together,” Daniels said, quoting a phrase often used to describe the Hebbian theory. This theory in neuroscience seeks to explain how neurons adapt during the learning process.

Susan Leon, a research assistant professor in the University of Florida’s department of neurology and research investigator at the Brain Rehabilitation Research Center at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center, said she’s not sure how effective these methods can be on traumatic brain injuries, where damaged areas of the brain cannot regrow.

“I think the applications to developmental disorders, especially those involving an acquired or congenital auditory processing problem, may be legitimately beneficial,” Leon said.

Daniels said she doesn’t see her efforts as a cure-all for her clients, but rather a supplement to speech and occupational therapies that many of her clientele are engaged in.

“There are many pieces to a puzzle to get somebody functioning in the norm,” she said.

For Nate, who has only eight sessions left at Brain Works, it’s been a big piece.

“He’s already 100 percent better than he was when he started,” Willingham said. “I cannot wait to see how much further he’s going to be when he finishes.”

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Gainesville Riders Hope To Start Bike-Sharing Program

By on July 4th, 2015 | Last updated: July 3, 2015 at 3:28 pm
Troy Butler, former UF football player, said, "Why am I going to waste time on a bust when I can go on my bike twice as fast?"

Troy Butler, former UF football player, said, “Why am I going to waste time on a bus when I can go on my bike twice as fast?” According to Butler, a bus trip to the mall could take two hours while taking his bike would only cost him 30 to 40 minutes. Jessica Pereda / WUFT News

Shane Hartley, 25, rides his Bianchi all-road to make deliveries for his job. He believes his bike is a better investment than a car and chooses to live his life on it.

Troy Butler, 49, built his bike from used parts he found around GRACE Marketplace and other places. As he bikes to work, he drags in one hand a large wagon, which holds lawn equipment for his lawn service job.

Advocacy groups in Gainesville have debated a larger integration of bikes in community in venues like the meetings held by Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation. A bike-sharing program has been discussed as a solution to issues surrounding transportation around the city.

Gainesville has many elements that make for a city that can integrate bike transportation– a strong bike community, relatively small distances and a range of residents who would benefit from the program.

While the city is slowly putting new bike lanes into place, like the new lanes on 8th Avenue and NW 34th Street, a bike-sharing program would be an official transportation system that allows citizens access to bikes at convenient locations.

Starting A Trend

A bike-sharing program is a city-run program that is usually a blended public- and privately-funded extension of a city’s public transportation system. Users can place credit card information in the system and ride a bike for 30-minute intervals to travel short distances normally under three miles.

“It’s public infrastructure in the form of bikes,” said Kristen Young, vice president of Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation, “It would be an extension to the already existing model of RTS.”

About 33 universities have their own bike-sharing systems in place.

Ron Cunningham, executive director of Bike Florida, said at a GCAT meeting that each bike in the program can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 to put in place.

“When the bike share concept started in 2010, it cost $6,000 per bike,”  Cunningham said. “Now it’s $3,000 to $5,000 per bike.”

City Commissioner Randy Wells suggested placing the bikes at the University of Florida, Innovation Square, RTS Transit Center, downtown and Santa Fe College. Several of these areas were previously chosen for the first attempt at a bike-share system in Gainesville.

In 1999, Gainesville tried to grow a bike-sharing program. The idea was to use the bike and leave it for the next person. It lasted about two months until the bikes all disappeared.

But renewed interest in a bike program came from an agenda raised at a city commission meeting last month where employees expressed their desire for another mode of transportation, according to Wells.

Access Matters

Employees, students and other higher-income residents are the targets for this program. However, one huge issue with this is giving all Gainesville residents a chance to access the bikes.

“You’re further pushing an already neglected community by putting them only at the university, at Innovation Square,” said Patrick Dodds, vice president of The Freewheel Project. “You’re not really dealing with the issues that exist with the infrastructure at the time… So you distance yourselves from them more.”

Dodds said his organization found that residents who have lower incomes rely on bikes as their transportation when the bus is not affordable or efficient for them.

“A bus trip to the mall – you got to get on three different buses and it’s gonna take about two hours,” Butler said. “If I get on my bike I’ll be there in 30 to 40 minutes.”

Why Bikes?

Hartley said his bike riding is a lifestyle choice and a whole mentality.

“It’s my belief that I can go my life without a car. It’s like a lifestyle choice,” he said. “Financially, environmentally, it’s like a health thing. It’s everything. It’s the simplicity.”

Yet, according to Dodds, the possible negative connotations of bicycling is another obstacle to providing pubic bikes to the community.

“That’s what we really need to work on. It’s that people think it’s a product of their circumstance rather than a choice they have to make,” Dodds said, “If you go to the east side, they hate their bike. Their bike is like a symbol for what they don’t have. It’s they don’t have a car; they have to ride this bike.”

Open Possibilities

Young remained with a hopeful enthusiasm that a bike-sharing program could be specifically tailored to meet the needs of a place as diverse as Gainesville.

“It’s a very malleable program. It’s not one thing or the other,” Young said. “And so in order to get it to be a Gainesville program, we need to have people all over Gainesville to be involved.”

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Photos: Scenes from Fanfares and Fireworks 2015

By on July 4th, 2015 | Last updated: July 4, 2015 at 9:07 am
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Florida Fishermen Face Fierce Competition

By on July 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: July 3, 2015 at 5:35 pm
Scott Richardson, 52, co-owner of Northwest Seafood Inc., fillets fresh-caught red grouper purchased from one of Northwest Seafood’s trusted fisherman in Yankeetown, Florida. “It pays to know your fish man,” said Lee Deaderick, Richardson’s business partner.

Scott Richardson, 52, co-owner of Northwest Seafood Inc., fillets fresh-caught red grouper purchased from one of Northwest Seafood’s trusted fishermen in Yankeetown, Florida. “It pays to know your fish man,” said Lee Deaderick, Richardson’s business partner. Debora Lima / WUFT News

Salmon and grouper share the same shelf at Northwest Seafood Inc.’s Millhopper Marketplace store, but how they got there is a different story.

The distinct paths they traveled to Gainesville illustrate the past and present of the commercial seafood industry, which, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, now increasingly relies on imports.

This is a problem for local fishermen and consumers alike.

Worlds Apart

The red grouper sold at Northwest Seafood in early June was touched by only three people: employee Matt Baez; owner Scott Richardson and David Runkel, the Yankeetown, Florida, fisherman who caught it.

But there’s no telling how many people handled the 500 pounds of salmon that arrived three days later.

Nova Sea farm-raised it in Norway. Rank Trade Services Inc. received it in Miami. Go Fish Inc. hauled it up the Florida peninsula. And more than 4,000 miles later, Mike Litrell unloaded it, at Northwest Seafood’s back door.


Salmon and grouper, two local bestsellers, travel different paths to reach your plate. More than 500 million pounds of salmon were imported in 2014. Raymond Brown / WUFT News

This journey is increasingly common. According to NOAA, about 90 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported.

“I’m surprised by how many imports there are. And I think people would be surprised by that, too.” said grouper fisherman Paul Loughridge of Crystal River. “We have fresh fish that’s available right here from the Gulf.”

NOAA states on its website that a significant portion of imported seafood is originally caught by American fishermen but is exported to countries with lower labor costs then reimported to the U.S.

“Labor rates to fillet a small flounder are not really feasible (in the U.S.) for any real volume,” Deaderick said.

The large gap between where seafood is caught and where it is sold raises questions of consumer safety because seafood is highly perishable. But if the fish is handled according to guidelines set forth by government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, Deaderick said, safety should not be a concern.

Flavor, on the other hand, may be compromised due to routine food-processing measures, like chemical treatments to retain water and color, Deaderick said. But there is more to it than taste.

Ethics are part of the picture, too. 

Jim Anderson, director of the forthcoming Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at the University of Florida, said imports bear a question mark because some trade partners offer limited transparency of labor practices and standards.

“When you’re importing stuff from every country on the planet for Americans to eat, it has to make you wonder,” he said. “We gotta make sure that the products we are importing aren’t riskier to eat than the products we have locally.”

Little Fish, Big Pond

“I went to my first little conference in Orlando, and what did they serve?” Anderson asks rhetorically.


He’s shocked by how often he comes across salmon on menus, recalling a recent visit to Ballyhoo Grill.

“You ask (waitstaff at local restaurants), ‘What’s the best thing on the menu?’ And their favorite thing is salmon,” Anderson said. “So you go, ‘what are the local guys doing wrong that they’ve been out-competed by salmon?’”

It is partially a supply-and-demand issue.

Local fishermen can’t fill orders despite the fact that per-capita consumption of fish has decreased in recent years, according to the National Fisheries Institute.

“Local harvest does not come close to supplying the demand,” Anderson said.

Unpredictable fishing weather is another reason imports continue to grow.

“If you’re a big company like Darden Restaurants … you want something that’s available all the time (and is) relatively consistent,” Anderson explained. “What’s the characteristic of local fish? Not consistent. Not consistent and a bunch of variation.”

And as Anderson put it, “you gotta get your fish from somewhere.”

“If you want salmon all portioned, cut, bone out, the Chileans will provide that — week after week after week after week.”

One way local fishermen can even the playing field, Anderson said, is by marketing their fish as a speciality good rather than a commodity.

“When you have a highly variable or special product that only pops in occasionally or can be harvested in one bay or region, don’t try to pretend you’re corn or chicken.”

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