First he got his ode to the Withlacoochee River posted in a Pasco County park. Now, it's in a Hernando one too.

"It makes me really proud," Wendell Speer, 62, said. "They see it as a very worthwhile thing, and they're happy to help memorialize the river."
Published February 7

BROOKSVILLE — Wendell Speer's poem has headed downstream.

A sign bearing the Dade City man's ode to the Withlacoochee River went up in Pasco County last summer. Now there's one along the Hernando section of the river, too.

"It makes me really proud," the 62-year-old said. "They see it as a very worthwhile thing, and they're happy to help memorialize the river."

The latest sign went up in December at Lake Townsen Regional Park in Brooksville. The Withlacoochee, one of only two rivers in Florida that runs north, cuts through the lake on its way up the state.

"I felt the poem was fitting for the setting at Lake Townsen Regional Park, and the perfect place was right next to the fishing pier and boat ramp that sits right along the Withlacoochee River," said Harry Johnson, head of Hernando County's parks and recreation department.

Speer approached Johnson's department about six months ago to share his poem, the parks official said. After looking the piece over, hearing Speer's pitch and seeing how little it would cost the county (less than $100, Johnson said), the department agreed.

The poet gave Johnson's staff the exact dimensions for the sign and a specific Pasco manufacturer so it would match the one in that county. All the Hernando parks staffers had to do was build a frame for it with some material they already had and stand it up along the water.

"I think people will get some joy out of that sign, out of that poem," Johnson said.

Speer wrote the poem in 2017, lacing it with imagery of the river he grew up exploring. He uploaded his piece to Facebook, and people started reading.

Last April, he asked members of the Pasco parks crew if his poem could be posted on a sign at the county's riverside park. The next month, it was done.

"It was a beautiful poem," Pasco parks superintendent Cristina Cordon said last fall. "A lot of people love that poem."

The piece details natural life around the river.

"Though wild in swampy wilderness,

You at times will higher banks caress," go two lines.

"Untamed, but gentle, where wily otters splash,

Alligators bellow and with each other clash," go two more.

The poem is part of a series Speer is writing about the region, which are posted on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Dade-City-Poems-323101394856579.

He is one step closer to getting it displayed in each county the river snakes through. He said signs were set to go up soon in Marion County.

With all that time spent hopping between counties, does he still get out to his spot by the river in Pasco? "As often as I can," he said and laughed.

Contact Justin Trombly at [email protected] Follow @JustinTrombly.

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