Spencer Henderson: Canopy roads are an iconic feature of rural Florida. These shady paths lined by tall, overlapping trees cut a path through our landscape and our history. An example of a canopy road can be found in Southeast Tallahassee, on Old St. Augustine Road.
Huge moss-draped live oaks, hickory trees and stately pines arch over the two lane road. An enclosed fence extends on each side of the road. Behind it lies active farmland.
This road is essential to the everyday life of farm animals such as cows and horses and wildlife such as raccoons and deer. These animals flock to cool places where they can feed on the vegetation that grows densely here.
And it has been that way for hundreds of years. Old St. Augustine Road dates all the way back to the 1600s. Back then Spanish settlers used this path as a way to go westward from St. Augustine, Fla., through Gainesville, to Tallahassee, ending in Pensacola. St. Augustine Road could be considered the first highway built in Florida. It even predates America! Even before the Europeans traveled here- Indian tribes passed under these ancient trees for centuries.
Since the road was completed in 1820s it has remained relatively unchanged. But with the charm of this historic canopy comes a modern burden. When rain dampens the old branches, the extra weight causes them to break off and block parts of the road. These trees becomes especially hazardous during hurricane season. But the risk of fallen limbs is a small price to pay for the joy of traveling this storied canopy road. It brings a sense of peace to rural life, and gives us a glimpse into the past.
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