My little town is expecting visitors this weekend for the Inverness Country Jam, which makes its debut to replace the annual Cooter Festival.
Liberty Park will be closed to the non-paying public for the three-day event, but the state trail is open, so I expect plenty of hustle and bustle from folks who are perhaps visiting Inverness for the first time.
I gear up for opportunities such as these to meet out-of-towners, answer any questions they may have, and generally be as good an ambassador for Inverness and Citrus County as I can.
It got me thinking: What message do we send to visitors?
I’m not talking about the official company line that comes from the chamber of commerce or county tourism. They portray Citrus in a positive light, of course.
What about you and me? What are our interactions with visitors like?
In my Chronicle years, anytime I interviewed residents I always asked how long they’ve lived here and what brought them to Citrus County. Some came with jobs, others had family or friends living nearby.
Some, though, visited Citrus for an occasion and saw/heard/met something that caused them to return permanently.
So when people ask me what I like about Citrus County, I have numerous answers:
— Plenty to do. Both Crystal River and Inverness have charming, walkable downtowns. Same for Floral City and Homosassa.
— Bike trails, if you’re into that sort of thing. Great golf. Family friendly parks. Fresh- and saltwater fishing.
— It’s affordable. Look, I know that term doesn’t mean the same today as it did a year ago, but if someone’s in the hunt for a house, this is a good place to look.
— Great location. Gainesville, Orlando and Tampa are all an hour away.
— Incredible people. We care about our neighbors. Awesome organizations that keep watch over the children, animals and less fortunate in our community. If you’re interested in someone other than yourself, Citrus County has needs.
You get the idea. Others can probably share their experiences of boating, hiking, working and living in Citrus County.
So there’s the things we say to people. What about the way we see ourselves?
At Commissioner Holly Davis’ strategic planning afternoon last Sunday, there was interesting talk about raising the bar in Citrus County for our expectations. Instead of being giddy every time some national chain wants to drop anchor here, or a developer eyes a thousand homes on unplatted land, we should set the standard for others to follow.
That doesn’t mean we stop growth. In contrast, the opposite. We attract residents who purposely make Citrus County their home because of an exceptional quality of life.
That means we’re inclusive. On S.R. 44 east headed into Inverness, someone has planted a sign expressing a common refrain among certain people these days. I will paraphrase:
“Joe Biden (drinks from a straw).”
I almost took a photo but decided against it for the same reason the TV networks don’t show wackos running on the football field (unless this happens).
That kind of thing drives me nuts. Not for political reasons, but because it’s so trashy and rude.
So here’s what I say to visitors who wonder if that’s how we think: Ignore the outliers, most Citrus County residents are warm and inviting. We’re opinionated as hell in a polite manner.
One of the very fun things about Just Wright Citrus is the civil discourse. Sometimes debates go all over the place, but we keep it nice here. It’s OK to debate without being a jerk about it.
What do I enjoy most about my hometown? It’s all of the above and more. Citrus County is alive and active, peaceful and serene, Republican, Democrat and everything in between. We work, we play, we’re grateful and we gripe at the little things.
And there’s no place else I’d rather live.
If you’re visiting this weekend, I say welcome to my wonderful community. Please enjoy your stay, and return.
Join the discussion on our Facebook page.