Residents share history, heritage at Palm Valley Fest

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It was billed as a storytelling event – but don’t tell that to Rufus “Bubba” Stratton.

“I’m not telling stories,” the 90-year-old former alligator trapper insisted at Saturday’s Palm Valley Fest. “I’m telling my experiences. Everything is the truth of what really happened.”

Among his recollections: capturing more than 5,000 “nuisance gators,” including a 21-foot gator – one of the more than 1,000 he trapped and turned loose.

“I don’t believe in killing everything,” he said.

A descendant of early settler Thomas Oesterreicher, Stratton was among the longtime Palm Valley residents to share their recollections at the event. Held June 10 at the American Legion post on Wilderness Trail, the afternoon gathering was organized in support of the proposed PV Greenway initiative to create a series of traffic-separated greenway trails through Palm Valley and Ponte Vedra. In addition to enjoying barbecue and bluegrass music, guests had a chance to hear tales about Palm Valley’s early days.

“We have a lot of history here in Palm Valley that needs to be told,” said Donna Oesterreicher, one of the event’s organizers. “Our hope is to have a Palm Valley historic district, and eventually we want to make a documentary.”

Deb Chapin, founder of the PV Greenway initiative, said the efforts of her group as well as other local preservation organizations are interwoven with a desire to preserve the history of Palm Valley.

“It’s so fascinating to hear the stories of the Micklers and the Oesterreichers,” Chapin said, referring to two of Palm Valley’s earliest families. “Palm Valley is really the pearl in the back pocket of Ponte Vedra.”

Through environmental and historic preservation efforts, Chapin said, Palm Valley Fest organizers hope that the lives and experiences of the region’s early residents will live on.

“We’re trying to digitally capture the history of our oldest residents while we still can,” she said. “The question we need to ask is what is the story we want to share with future generations?”

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