COLUMN: The truth is the politics of a grass strip and small aircraft operations are akin to those of agriculture in how they utilize and sustain open vistas. And they both suffer and sometimes expire over time at the hands of residential sprawl and/or politics.
A little over fifteen years ago, the City of Plant City Commissioners unanimously approved the Midway Lake Private Airstrip – 79FD on 6 of over 300 acres owned by my family in that area going back 3 generations. Even with authorization from the FAA and the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority after reviewing it for any safety concerns, there had been more than the average amount of drama created by the request.
Some dastardly slandering propagandists had attempted to predict everything short of radioactive stars falling and the doom of agriculture in the area if pilots would be allowed to land small airplanes on a grass strip every once in a while. I must give the devil her due for the fear tactics indeed created a practically unprecedented level of hysteria at the public hearing. However, thankfully, rational heads prevailed and so began what is now over 15 years of occasional moments of safe and joyful use.
Inside the flights enjoyed so far from the strip, there are dozens of “joy rides” I’ve been privileged to give in a bird of mine. From young boys or girls trying it for the first time, to military veterans who haven’t flown since they took off their uniforms, a small airstrip is certainly the best for such joy flights.
The irony of how some of the rides I happily provided were granted at the request of some who signed the petition trying to stop me from building the strip is not lost on me. As expected, they had no idea what the petition they were being asked to sign actually said. And now fifteen years later it has borne out how being a short and narrow grass field, Midway Lake Private Airport only accommodates smaller lightweight aircraft and most often they come and go without notice or fanfare.
Now when I enjoy a sunset flight, it is also sadly ironic for me to note how some, who predicted the loss of agriculture at the hands of my strip, sell their lands to urban sprawl developers. The truth is the politics of a grass strip and small aircraft operations are akin to those of agriculture in how they utilize and sustain open vistas. And they both suffer and sometimes expire over time at the hands of residential sprawl and/or politics.
I don’t know exactly when the future will arrive for the huge areas of pastureland and park lands to the north and east of Midway Lake that I enjoy seeing more completely perhaps than anyone else from my elevated perch aloft at so many different times.
I’m sure that much of Plant City as we know it will change in years to come, and though I don’t knee-jerk bemoan the growth and change, I’m sure it will in some ways be much like how I recall watching dirt roads in Brandon become 4 lane divided arterial roadways leading through fewer and fewer groves I once harvested or drove trucks to, until the groves and agriculture there were no more.
When it became impossible to sustain agriculture in what had become a hostile environment of neighbors complaining, while many of them kept dumping their pool filters and mattresses and carpet remnants across the fence unto our land, I saw and felt first-hand what it is to watch agriculture become sprawling residential growth.
But for now, I feel sure Midway Lake and its private landing strip have provided more joy and beauty than noise or detriment to the area. And God Bless the young man who gave me a flyby in his small biplane this past weekend. Watching an inspired young man wag his wings and climb out, as a giant Amazon Jet flew above him on approach to Lakeland Linder Airport, made me smile. One might note how the jet thousands of feet above him, made more noise than the young man giving us a flyby.