W - Harvest Festival

Crowds line the street in Alachua's downtown area. The festival has been held in Alachua for a number of years, featuring food, arts and crafts and souvenirs.

 ALACHUA – It was a beautiful stroll down Main Street for Brighton Taylor and her dog, Tyson, on Sunday, Nov. 10. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze and the sweet smell of kettle corn filled the air. They did not have the street to themselves, however. They shared this picturesque day with hundreds.

There were booths and tents lining the street as far as the eye could see for the annual Alachua Main Street Harvest Festival. People from all over Alachua County walked the main street in downtown Alachua, taking in all the festival had to offer.

“There is really a little bit of everything,” Taylor said. “I like to look at the art and different crafts that people bring.”

This was not Brighton’s first time visiting the annual festival, but it was Tyson the dog’s first time experiencing the day. He seemed really excited to be around that many people and kids, Brighton said.

With all of the booths available for people to browse, there was no shortage of options. Several offered fried food, featuring fish, scallops, clams and crab cakes. Others had cotton candy and kettle corn, along with drinks and other snacks.

But food was not the only thing bringing in the crowds. There were some attractions for kids, with bungee jumping trampolines set up, as well as a small track where kids could drive motorized animal carts.

Local businesses brought out displays to attract possible future customers. A roller derby team was out looking to recruit future members.

The Alachua Police Department was in attendance, with a squad car they let kids climb into.

Bill Blake, a Newberry resident who made the trip with his sons to visit the festival, was more pleased with the weather than anything else.

“It is such a nice day out, really,” he said. “It could not have been picked any better,” Blake said.

He brought his sons, Dillon and Colby, and they loved that there was a shaved ice truck with so many options for flavors, Blake said.

More than anything else, vendors had food and crafts for visitors to peruse. Woodworking, clothing and trinkets of all sorts were heavily featured along the walk.

“This isn’t my first festival,” Blake said. “I’ve probably been to four or five. And after today, I don’t think it will be hard to get the boys to come back next year, either.”

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W - Camp K 1

The Aldridge family gives a special presentation with Delilah, a 400 pound Burmese phthon. Camp Kulaqua sees around 50,000 guests each year.

HIGH SPRINGS – Children laughed, roasted marshmallows and shared stories around the campfire.

This all happened as Camp Kulaqua celebrated its 60th anniversary. Camp Kulaqua is a youth camp and retreat center that hosts over 50,000 guests year-round.

In the early 1950s, many young people from the Seventh-day Adventist Church had a passion for camping and the experience that can be found in the outdoors. Up until that year, the only available option was O’Leno State Park, which they had used for several years.

In 1953, the decision was made to purchase a property near the state park named Hornsby Springs, and what it is now known as Camp Kulaqua was born. Wayne Foster, founding camp director, first started developing the land, and since then, Camp Kulaqua has experienced much growth and expansion from several innovative leaders in the last 60 years.

For several years though, this place did not have a name. In 1959, a naming competition took place. The name chosen was submitted by the Coral Gables Pathfinder Club. It was named Camp Kulaqua, meaning cool water, because of the beautiful clear cool spring that stayed the same temperature year-round.

This year, Camp Kulaqua is celebrating 60 years and hosted an event to commemorate the occasion.

On Sept. 19 through Sept. 21, the camp welcomed more than 400 “alumni” and founding members to celebrate.

Many had not visited the camp in over 50 years and were overjoyed to see the growth.

“It was such an incredible moment to see people of all ages, from two to 92, take such joy in the wonderful experience that is camp,” said Gabriel Saldana, alumni and development coordinator.

Many previous directors and leaders were present and shared what camp was like during their eras.

As part of the event, a special dedication was made for the founding director Wayne Foster and his wife Reba Foster. The designs for a new welcome center were unveiled that Saturday afternoon and dedicated to Foster’s legacy.

The current camp director, Phil Younts, said he was excited about celebrating the camp 60th year anniversary.

“Prior to my arriving here in 1983, there had been a group who was trying to sell Camp Kulaqua and move the camp operation closer to the central part of the state,” he said. “But overwhelmingly, the constituents of Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists voted to keep Camp Kulaqua within High Springs because they love the area and love the people.”

Today, Camp Kulaqua serves the constituents of the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, as well as local community churches, civic groups, and schools.

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ALACHUA – Alachua-based RTI Surgical was one of 12 businesses in Alachua County to receive an award from the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce in its fourth annual Business of the Year awards.

RTI Surgical is known for its work in surgical implants in sports medicine, spine and orthopedic procedures.

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce awarded the company with the Best Business Expansion after it bought Pioneer Surgical in July of 2013 for $130 million. RTI is expected to earn $75 million in annual revenue from the purchase.

The company also broke ground earlier this year to build a 41,000-square-foot building in Alachua to expand the company’s headquarters.

“All of us in the park are excited and proud about this award for RTI,” said Patti Breedlove, director of the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator. “They’re already the largest employer in Progress Park and they’ve been a tremendous leader.”

With the expansion of RTI, Progress Corporate Park is growing in businesses, with RTI remaining its largest.

“The park is seeing a lot of growth,” said Jenny Highlander, manager of corporate communications for RTI. “Nanotherapuetics is growing out here, and it definitely goes to show that there is a lot of growth and potential and innovation happening up here in the Progress Corporate Park.”

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce was not the deciding factor in who won the awards, but a board of local members of the community, said Deborah Bowie, vice president of chamber development.

“I think the highest honor that anyone can receive is when your peers tell you, ‘hey, you’re the best at what we’ve seen,’” Bowie said.

When Bowie was sitting in the room watching the award ceremony, she said the effort and work that every local business had put in to becoming one of the best in the community left her in awe.

“I think that when you’re in the mix with peer companies who are maybe doing something better than you, or you are doing something better than them, it’s sort of that rising tide concept,” Bowie said.

The event has helped inspire other businesses in the community by feeding off of the successes and creativity each company offers, Bowie said.

In addition to RTI, local business Peerfly also was awarded with the Overall Best Small Business of the Year. Peerfly is an Alachua-based sales and marketing company, and made the list of the top 30 startup businesses on Entreprenuer.com.

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Jim Dyksterhouse and Rodger Chambers show off the model of the town in the 1920s, complete with a working train.W - HisstoriS5000031 1

HIGH SPRINGS – The sound of a train whistle and wheels running on metal tracks can be heard as visitors enter the main display room of the museum.

The High Springs Historical Society’s (HSHS) Railroad Museum, located in the Historic High Springs Elementary School and Community Center, hosts a small diorama of High Springs, showing visitors what the town looked like in the 1920s, complete with a running train.

The first section of the 6-feet-by-7-feet model was built by Jim Dyksterhouse, vice president of the HSHS. It took him three months to build.

“We wanted the children to see what the town looked like in the past and how it has changed,” said teacher Sara Kirk, who visited the museum with her students. “Many of them had never seen an electric train before.”

“They were enthralled with the trains,” she said.

Representatives from several private and public schools in the area are talking with HSHS members about bringing their kids in to see the historic diorama, displays and trains.

The excitement of the schoolchildren was one of the most fulfilling parts of the visit, said Bob Watson, president of the HSHS.

“The smiles on 93 kindergarten faces was worth everything we had done,” he said. “We enjoyed their visit as much as they did.”

As the children looked at the model of High Springs, they could see glimpses of history, including a hospital, which existed between 1896 and 1902. The hospital was eventually closed because only 18 patients were seen during those six years.

In addition to the diorama of the past, the room also contained items from the city’s old 1924 LaFrance Fire Truck, still housed at the fire station to this day. Hoses from 1913, a ladder, a mask and several tools were on display.

Rodger Chambers, HSHS secretary and retired construction engineer, curated the fire display and elements of George’s General Store, originally located on 9th Street.

“It was where all the activity was back in those days,” Watson said. Visitors and area residents supplied many of the items in the recreated store.

“We’re always looking for more,” Chambers said.

The group has used the remaining walls to display photos of the city’s history.

“It’s interesting to see how the town has changed,” he said.

In the first four days of November, around 60 visitors stopped by to see the displays, Watson said.

“I think the diorama of the train yard and first section of the city has really excited people,” he said.

In another room of the museum, known as the Youth Center Room, there are three running models of trains on two separate boards. One of them is the Polar Express, complete with an engine, a coal car and three passenger cars. It travels just past models of internally-lit homes and buildings.

“It looks really amazing at night,” Watson said.

By Christmas, there should be a lot more trains running in the museum, along with interesting buildings, he said. For example, there might be a model of an old McDonald’s restaurant. Visitors might hear a voice ordering lunch, and see a model car drive around the old-looking, but still familiar building to pick up the order.

“Our people are looking for more of that type of stuff at an upcoming show to bring the scenes in this room to life,” Watson said.

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ALACHUA – The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC) struck down the City of Gainesville’s proposal to buy the GREC biomass plant for $400 million on Thursday, Nov. 7

The City of Gainesville exercised their contractual right to make an offer first. The city offered $400 million dollars for the plant on Oct. 22. On Nov. 7, GREC officials responded, stating that they would not accept Gainesville’s offer.

The GREC biomass plant will now have a year to search for a buyer that meets their preferred price.

According to a provision in the contract that was signed between Gainesville and GREC in 2009, if the plant were to be sold, Gainesville would be given the right to make an offer, provide 30 days of consideration, and if they chose not to sell to Gainesville, the plant would be sold for more than what Gainesville offered.

The biomass plant and the Gainesville City Commission could not agree on a price because the owners of GREC felt the plant was worth much more than what was offered, said chief financial officer of the GREC plant, Albert Morales.

However, Morales said that the price for the plant was not determined by any specific set of standards.

“The city commission authorized an offer of $400 million with conditions,” said City Commissioner Randy Wells. “Those conditions were intended to protect the utility and the rate-payers from any unforeseen risks coming from buying the plant, as opposed to contracting the power.”

Some of those risks include the plant not operating as designed or not meeting all the permitting and legal requirements. These risks were included in the purchase offer so that the city would make up for the upkeep of the plant, Wells said.

The lead negotiator of the GREC biomass plant came back to the city commission on Nov. 7 and told them GREC was worth hundreds of millions dollars more than the offer Gainesville gave, Wells said.

If the plant is not bought within the next year, the City of Gainesville will be able to put in another bid and the entire process would restart itself, Morales said.

“As a commissioner who voted to make an offer, I clearly believe that with all the evidence available is that a purchase at the right price and right conditions would offer a great deal of value to our customers,” Wells said.

While GREC looks for buyers, residents of the Turkey Creek neighborhood in Alachua are still unhappy with the plant.

Turkey Creek residents are still coming to Alachua City Commission meetings to voice their concerns about the loud noise the plant generates, as well as the dust and odor coming from GREC.

GREC hopes to install noise-dampening panels to help with the problem, aiming for a December completion date.

Russ Pisano, Turkey Creek resident, said the plant should be shut down completely until they resolve the issue.

Various local officials are getting complaints from affected residents through email.

“How is someone expected to cope with such constant stress?” wrote resident Greg Williamson to the Alachua County Commission.

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ALACHUA – Local leaders representing Alachua County, the City of Gainesville, the City of Alachua and law enforcement from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Gainesville Police, Alachua Police and Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) continue to meet to address the quality-of-life complaints related to the new Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC).

The panel has been meeting since mid-October to discuss community concerns regarding noise, odor, and fugitive dust and debris issues related to the GREC facility. The most pressing concern discussed was setting up a centralized process to efficiently receive complaints and ensure the proper follow-up action is completed.

The panel is made up of Alachua County Manager Betty Baker, Gainesville City Manager Russ Blackburn, Alachua City Manager Traci Cain and Assistant Manager Adam Boukari, GRU Interim General Manager Kathy Viehe, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones and Alachua Police Chief Joel DeCoursey.

Telephone complaints continue to be processed by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Combined Communications Center and the Alachua Police Department Communications Center. Sheriff Darnell continued to express concern that 911 lines and personnel are being tasked with non-emergency related duties and suggested the creation of a call center for deflecting GREC calls away from the communications center.

The call center began operation on Nov. 7, and can be reached at 352-338-2479.

During the Oct. 31 meeting of local leaders, GRU agreed to utilize and pay for a call center for complaints pertaining directly to the GREC facility. This call center will handle only the quality-of-life complaints related to the facility and will not handle actual emergencies where response from law enforcement, emergency medical or fire are needed.

The purpose of the call center is to track non-emergency complaints specifically related to the GREC facility, and serve as a mechanism for local agencies to take necessary steps to address the complaints.

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ALACHUA COUNTY  – The communities of Alachua and High Springs are joining forces again this year for the annual American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser.

The event had its official kick-off meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 6. In the upcoming months, the teams will conduct more fundraisers, about one program per month.

Sharon Yeago, the event chair for High Springs, will be co-chairing the event with Dr. Mitch Fearing, who practices medicine in Alachua, on May 9.

“Working towards a common goal, the 2014 Relay for Life ‘Hooked on a Cure,’ we hope to sign up at least 25 teams and raise at least $36,000,” said Yeago.

There will also be upcoming joint fundraisers for the two cities at restaurants. On Sunday, Nov. 10, there was a booth at the Main Street Festival in Alachua.

Last year, they had city officials from both cities bartend at a local restaurant, and all the tips and a portion of the sales went toward cancer research. The teams aim to get in touch with different businesses and will try to raise money from the community before the next event.  

“This is such a great opportunity to bring the Alachua and High Springs communities together,” Yeago said.

The event, an overnight community fundraising walk, is slated to take place in May at a currently unannounced location. So far, 11 teams have signed up from both cities.

In the coming months, Yeago hopes to raise as much as possible for cancer research through the Alachua and High Springs teams’ programs and activities dedicated to the event.

“I think we can do this because of the great folks from these two, very special communities working together," Yeago said.

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