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Artist Arline Erdrich also known for conservation role in Hernando County

Arline Erdrich stands in her garage in front of her two-part panel called the Dragon and the Pure One meet the Phoenix of Cinnabar Mountain, painted in 1989. Erdrich, an avid environmentalist, died Sunday at Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill.

Times (2004)

Arline Erdrich stands in her garage in front of her two-part panel called the Dragon and the Pure One meet the Phoenix of Cinnabar Mountain, painted in 1989. Erdrich, an avid environmentalist, died Sunday at Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill.

There are a couple of ways to check out the work of Arline Erdrich.

You can go to her website, arlineerdrich.com, to view her highly regarded paintings, some of which are in the collections of museums and international corporations.

The other way is through a Google Maps search of Erdrich's adopted hometown of Aripeka. The green starts just to the south and continues mostly uninterrupted until it hits the big patches of protected land north of the Weeki Wachee River.

"We really created a corridor," said her fellow artist and environmental activist, Leslie Neumann.

By "we" she means the Gulf Coast Conservancy. And though Erdrich, 75, who died from heart disease Sunday, had help in founding the organization, she alone, Neumann said, "had the Olympian view" — saw that it shouldn't get bogged down fighting every mini-mart and instead focus on setting aside large areas of natural land.

Her biggest victory had to do with a project called Oak Sound, which was the Quarry Preserve of its day, a development of 6,000 homes and a regional mall planned for old mining land east of Hernando Beach.

Haven't heard of it? That's because in 1994, the Southwest Florida Water Management District bought the site and renamed it the Weekiwachee Preserve.

That, in turn, prevented all of the related development that surely would have branched out from Oak Sound. And because people who buy property for environmental protection prefer it to be next to existing tracts of natural land, the preserve has grown from 6,000 to 11,206 acres.

Erdrich, a New Yorker who beat Hodgkin's disease in the 1970s, when it was all but incurable, and fought a lifetime of heart trouble caused by those brutal doses of radiation, could, no surprise, be combative.

The coast, if unprotected, would be "Epcot under glass" she told the Hernando County Commission in 1992. In 2007, she called the mansion an Aripeka neighbor was building "grotesque to the ultimate." But she also worked with the commission, with the water management district, with better-funded environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy, and with reporters.

She not only supplied us with those lively quotes, but she was better than anyone else at the time in articulating what her cause was all about.

Natural beauty was, after all, the reason she moved to Aripeka in 1983 — that and like-minded artists, including her longtime neighbor, friend and landlord, Jim Rosenquist.

Nearly 20 years ago, she asked me rhetorically whether in the long run the county would be better off — more marketable, more appealing, more valuable — with thousands of additional homes or with a beautiful natural coastline.

As obvious as the answer seems in the morning-after wreckage of the real estate boom, we seem to be forgetting this — and at a time, like the mid 1990s, when landowners want to sell. The state Legislature, it appears, won't set aside any money to buy natural land this year. The County Commission seems to think if environmentally sensitive lands revenue is unclaimed, it can be spent like bills found on the street.

I wish Erdrich was around, in her prime, to set them straight.

Artist Arline Erdrich also known for conservation role in Hernando County 04/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:02pm]
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