Final Impressions

Living’ in Lake and Lovin’ It

Written by James Combs

In October, I’ll be able to say that I’ve proudly called Lake County home for 30 years. I was only 10 when my dad landed a banking job here and uprooted the family from our Old Kentucky Home in Louisville.

Much has changed in Lake during the past 30 years.

The Villages proudly claims the title of the country’s largest retirement community.

Clermont is one of the fastest-growing cities in Central Florida and has enjoyed a population growth of 112.88 percent since 2000.

Leesburg Bikefest has become the world’s largest three-day motorcycle and music event.

The Sunnyland Antique Boat Festival in Tavares is the largest vintage boat show in the United States.

Downtown Tavares, once known as a site for government offices and not much else, has transformed into the “seaplane capital of the world.”

And yet, despite the growth and all the exciting things that have happened in this county, it still maintains a stigma among some as being very redneck and very backwoods.

My former college roommate at the University of Central Florida perfectly demonstrated this misguided way of thinking. “You ought to move away from the sticks and move back to Orlando,” he told me several years ago. The sticks? Lake is the 18th most populated county in the country’s fourth-most populated state.

If Lake is the sticks, what would that make Florida’s 49 counties that are less populated than Lake? Then there’s those hilarious Facebook posts from former high school classmates who moved from the county years ago, have no idea what’s going on here, but have no trouble bashing Lake nonetheless.

“I’m glad I’m in California now because the people here are so much more open-minded and tolerant,” wrote one classmate whom I graduated with from Tavares High School in 1994. “I couldn’t move back and feel sorry for the people who never left. Lake County is full of small towns and people with small minds.”

Okay, so you detest ignorant people but see no problem with applying stereotypes and generalizations about the county’s 308,034 residents? Oh, the irony! I’m so glad you’re one of those open-minded, tolerant Californians. Then you have some who find fault with Lake County because there’s not as much to do here as in a large metropolitan area.

Unless you’re an avid outdoorsman, there’s obviously some truth to that. But it’s also one of the biggest no-crap-Sherlock statements anyone could possibly make. Nobody with half a brain stem would expect Lake to have the extensive selection of restaurants, museums, and attractions found in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Duh! Rather than cling to the tired, old stereotypes of Lake, it’s time for some people to open their eyes and focus on all the positive attributes this county offers. They’d see a county that hosts top-notch festivals and events. They’d see a county full of innovative business leaders who gainfully employ thousands of residents.

Finally, they’d see a county with compassionate people who enthusiastically exhibit community pride and support wonderful causes. And did I mention the Harris Chain of Lakes is one of the country’s biggest fishing hotspots that continually attracts anglers from all over the world? If you don’t appreciate that, you can kiss my bass.

About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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