Sarasota County is an amazing place, sixth, in fact, in Florida’s overall healthiest places to live.

But buried in that same Robert Wood Johnson health survey of Florida’s 67 counties, DeSoto County rests atop the list for physical environment, things such as air and water quality. Other factors relating to drive times and housing are in the survey.

But it appears that DeSoto County is one of the state’s more physically beautiful places, too, its land a little greener, its oranges a little juicer, its people a little nicer than, say, coastal cities where they stack on top of one another and wait and wait in the baking asphalt.

That’s at least according to a gaggle of visiting pilots to Arcadia Municipal Airport. Several dozen members with the Old Farts Flying Club were in town last week, visiting the airport’s fly-in campground, the amenities, fueling up on cheaper-than-normal gas, enjoying a splendid morning in the heartland.

But the overriding theme was just how special DeSoto County is … from the air.

The region, said Lisa Heidinger, a Cessna pilot visiting with husband Albert from the club’s home base in Port St. Lucie, “is really pretty. The orange groves look greener. Word is getting around that this is absolutely worth visiting.”

The flying club has some 450 pilots who rally up on Thursdays for targeted fly-ins. They’ll hit places such as DeSoto County once, but plan to return. The idea is to be around other pilots, Heidinger and others said, but to also share that passion with younger people, to get them interested in recreational aviation.

“A fantastic place to share aviation and pizza,” said Aaron Wohl, an emergency-room doctor co-piloting a Fort Myers-based biplane. “Who could complain about this,” meaning the day’s brisk breeze under warm skies in sunny DeSoto County.

One tool for attracting others to DeSoto County is the fly-in/over-night campgrounds at Arcadia Municipal, said George Chase, president of the Friends of Arcadia Airport group, the nonprofit that last year added a shower/restroom facility for visiting campers. The group also added a loaner van for pilots to ferry back and forth. Because DeSoto County features things not along the coast, even in other rural spots—rodeo, ecotourism, the downtown antique shops, plenty of food choices and outdoor recreation such as fishing and canoeing—“it’s just a unique site,” Chase said. “There are very few places like it in the U.S.”

And take that, Sarasota County.

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