February 10, 2007

Highway would split 7-generation homestead

WINTER HAVEN - The Atkins family is proud of its heritage and deep roots in Polk County.

A visit to the family homestead is a trip back in time.

The oldest home [on the property] is a beige two-story house built in 1850, and at one time it was the only house between Winter Haven and Bartow. It is filled with beautiful old furniture, and black and white family pictures line the walls.

Today, the Atkins family faces the prospect of a modern highway that they say threatens their way of life. The road, an extension of Thompson Nursery Road, could split the 180-acre homestead that has been in the family for seven generations.

"For 150 years we've hunted, fished and gone horseback riding here," said Ken Atkins. "This would destroy us."

There are two proposals for the 8-mile Thompson Nursery Road extension through the Atkins land.

One would have the road curve through a nature preserve filled with gopher tortoises and scrub jays.

Worse for the Atkins family is the second proposal. It has the road curving south directly behind one of the oldest houses in Polk County.

Instead of pastures and grazing cattle, the family would have a view of concrete and cars. [....]

Ken Atkins has urged the county to consider a different plan that would have the road running next to the land. He said the current proposals have too many curves and aren't well-designed.

"I was hoping that my grandkids would be able to enjoy this like I did," Robert Atkins said. "My father would not be happy."

Update, Feb. 15, 2007: County officials hear plea to reroute highway; ask planners to prepare alternative proposals for consideration

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