The Econ River is an important part of this Oviedo advocate’s life, and he’s working hard to protect it for all of us to enjoy
His adventures began in the rain forests of Southeast Asia at the age of one.
Next, as a young boy, came the remote woods of Tennessee and Kansas.
Today, Oviedo’s Rob Parmelee spends much of his time as an advocate for the Econlockhatchee River – better known as the Econ – and other local natural resources. His advocacy comes honestly, as he’s a fan of the Econ as much as he’s a protector. The river is his haven.
“The Econ is such a special place,” he says. “It has this wild feeling. If you get there in the morning, fog still rising off the water, nobody else around for miles, it has this primordial quality.”
The son of an Army helicopter pilot, Rob was born in the nation of Singapore. He was too young to remember the country, though he has heard plenty of stories.
Rob spent much of his childhood in what he calls “very rural” north Tennessee and Kansas, exploring woods and creeks. His mom was a science teacher, so learning about wildlife and hunting for arrowheads was part of Rob’s upbringing.
But mostly, his was an idyllic Huckleberry Finn lifestyle about which many young kids dream.
As he grew older, Rob would stay outdoors with his friends from breakfast to dinnertime.
“We were always searching for that next big find,” he says. “A copper vein water slide, perfect climbing trees, a waterfall. That sense of adventure has stayed with me my entire life.”
Rob’s Florida adventure began in high school in 1998 when his family moved to Oviedo. Compared to his isolated childhood homes, Oviedo was a metropolis. He found solace, though, in and around the Econ. For Rob, it was love at first sight.
“It is like a family member,” he says of the river. “It’s sacred.”
There is a serious side to Rob’s relationship with the Econ – a duty that is as sacred to him as the river, itself. Rob is on a mission to educate the community about the river and help preserve it for generations to come.
Oviedo and Chuluota have exploded in population over the years, and much of that development has occurred very near the river.
Yards lead to fertilizer, Rob concedes. When it rains, those fertilizers wash into the Econ. The resulting excess of nutrients leads to the growth of algae and other plant life, which disrupts the river’s ecological balance and kills off fish and wildlife.
Rob was recently elected to the board of directors of Save Rural Seminole, an organization that fights to protect the county’s rural boundary, which includes the Econ. The group has adopted the Black Hammock Wilderness Area and, once the COVID epidemic recedes, Rob and his fellow board members plan to host events there to connect residents with the natural beauty around them and, hopefully, motivate them to care for it.
Rob has also established an online initiative called Anhinga Outdoors, with a focus on conservation and “getting people outside,” he says.
“People don’t appreciate what they haven’t seen or experienced,” Rob wrote when introducing his project, which takes its name from a cunning bird. Through the initiative, Rob is personally adopting an 11-mile stretch of the Econ River from Snow Hill Road to State Road 46.
Rob also likes to mountain bike, hike, and fish, so he is familiar with all elements of the Florida environment, and enjoying it is often a family affair. Rob is engaged, with two young children.
But, when connecting with nature, Rob is not averse to being alone.
“Solitude in the wild is what I strive for,” he says. “The chatter and static disappear for a short while. My creativity soars.”
Rob considers Florida his home for the foreseeable future. His next focus will be on preserving the state’s lagoons, which face their own perils.
But for all his efforts, Rob does not fit the profile of a humorless tree hugger.He considers himself a proponent of progress and understands that people need to make money.
“I don’t even consider myself a traditional activist,” Rob says. “Some of what I do is for selfish reasons. It’s all about getting outside and having some fun.”
Rob even finds odd charm in the invasive animal species that are so common in Florida – the Burmese pythons, iguanas that fall from trees when it’s cold, and a monster river fish called the arapaima, which can grow to 10-feet long.
“Florida is crazy,” Rob says. “Those animals are not good for the environment, but they definitely add to the adventure.”
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