Busy au­thor, his­tor­i­cal hike leader blazes new trails to­ward West

Orlando Sentinel - - FUNNY PAGES - Joy Dick­in­son

“The walker in the fa­mil­iar fields which stretch around my na­tive town some­times finds him­self in another land,” Henry David Thoreau once wrote, and it has surely been my ex­pe­ri­ence that on the walks through fa­mil­iar Cen­tral Florida ter­ri­tory led by au­thor Steve Ra­j­tar, I have found my­self in another land —the past.

An out­door en­thu­si­ast, Scout leader, pro­lific au­thor and lawyer, Ra­j­tar has for years been an in­dis­pens­able source of in­for­ma­tion about Cen­tral Florida’s his­tory.

Not only has he led hun­dreds of free weekend his­tor­i­cal hikes, dis­pens­ing nuggets of in­for­ma­tion and good hu­mor along the way, but he’s now work­ing on his 26th book — his third col­lab­o­ra­tion with his wife, writer Gayle Ra­j­tar. Many of those vol­umes are about Florida’s her­itage.

I’m al­ways think­ing I’ll join Steve Ra­j­tar soon on another trek into his­tory. So, like a lot of other folks, I was rocked re­cently to learn that, if I’m go­ing to do that, I’d bet­ter get mov­ing — be­cause only five more Ra­j­tar-led Cen­tral Florida walks are sched­uled af­ter to­day.

The end of th­ese trails is for a happy rea­son: The Ra­j­tars are start­ing a new chap­ter of their lives, leav­ing in late Novem­ber for Sam­mamish, Wash., — a sub­urb of Seat­tle that Forbes has deemed one of the na­tion’s friendli­est towns.

Here, Ra­j­tar has led 373 “walks (and pad­dles and bike rides) for the Florida Trail As­so­ci­a­tion,” he wrote re­cently, also list­ing his fi­nale sched­ule: Mi­canopy on Oct. 26, Geneva on Oct. 27, the Lake Ivan­hoe area in Or­lando on Nov. 2, fol­lowed by Lake Chero­kee on Nov. 10, and Green­wood Ceme­tery on Nov. 16.

All th­ese walks start at 9 a.m., ex­cept for the one in Mi­canopy, which starts at 10, Steve writes. Note that his walk at Green­wood, the city of Or­lando’s his­toric ceme­tery, is a morn­ing jaunt and is dif­fer­ent from the ceme­tery’s Moon­light Walk­ing Tours, sched­uled on or near the full moon (for more on them, go to green­wood­ceme­tery.net).

Tales of the pioneers

Afew years ago, I joined Ra­j­tar and about 20 other folks on a 2-mile saunter through part of Green­wood. Amid old oaks and grassy lawns, we hik­ers Steve Ra­j­tar (2nd from left) ex­plains the his­tory of one of the his­tor­i­cal build­ings along Church Street dur­ing a walk­ing tour of down­town Or­lando in 2007. Over the years, he has led more than 370 treks along Cen­tral Florida’s his­tor­i­cal trails for the Florida Trail As­so­ci­a­tion. learned about the folks who built Or­lando.

There was James Hughey, for ex­am­ple, whose name sur­vives on a down­town street. He ar­rived at the dawn of time in Or­lando terms — 1855 — and built a log house where Grace and Macy streets would later in­ter­sect. Now, not only Hughey’s cabin but those streets are long gone, sac­ri­ficed to In­ter­state 4.

We also learned about Big Tom Shine and his cousin Lit­tle TomShine (another street name), and years af­ter them, Edna Giles Fuller, the first woman elected to Florida’s leg­is­la­ture, in 1928.

I es­pe­cially liked Ra­j­tar’s notes about Dr. R. H. Peak, 1841-1919 (“a good man loved by all,” his head­stone says), who con­cocted a bev­er­age out of pal­metto berries called “Peak’s Pal­metto.” To say that it did not fore­shadow the suc­cess of Coca-Cola would be an un­der­state­ment.

Ra­j­tar has sto­ries about dozens of th­ese wor­thy builders of Cen­tral Flori- da, many of whomhad ex­cep­tion­ally di­verse ca­reers: They ran liv­ery sta­bles and steam laun­dries, clerked at ho­tels, taught school, worked in dry-good stores, built churches, de­liv­ered the mail.

What’s im­pres­sive “is that a lot of them did so many things,” he said as we walked through Green­wood, and I’m re­minded that the same is so true of him and of Gayle — so many walks, books, ar­ti­cles, so many gifts to our com­mu­nity.

By the way, as the Ra­j­tars pack up, they are also wrap­ping up that lat­est book, ti­tled “Gone Pro: Florida,” about the nearly 700 Univer­sity of Florida alumni who went on to pro­fes­sional sports or the Olympics. That’ll be on book­store shelves some time next year.

To learn more

For more in­for­ma­tion about the up­com­ing hikes led by Steve Ra­j­tar — two this month on Oct. 26 and 27 and three in Novem­ber — in­clud­ing how long the walks are, how to get there and where to park, visit meetup.com/ Florida-Trail-As­so­ci­a­tion-Cen­tralFlorida-Chap­ter/

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