CORTEZ -- Herb Hiller was riding his bicycle on Anna Maria Island for the first time when it struck him that its aura was of "a place that lives the way it was."
"This is so rare now in Florida," he told about 115 attendees at the Sustainable & Authentic Florida Conference, which kicked off Wednesday in Cortez and continues on Anna Maria Island through Friday.
A longtime travel writer who has explored most of the state, Hiller thought about places he'd seen that had successfully preserved their precious heritage but were still vital and moving toward a sustainable future.
Coastal Manatee County was among them, one reason the event was held here, said Hiller, the con
Good examples of authentic, sustainable living include Anna Maria Island's low-rise charm and glistening beaches; booming walkable downtown Bradenton and its newly-enhanced Riverwalk, and Cortez, the longest continuously working fishing village in the state.
Today and Friday, speakers will discuss three other areas that seem to have remained true to their heritage, but can look forward to a sustainable future: Wakulla and Franklin counties in the Panhandle; Miami Beach; and Hiller's home of DeLand, near Orlando.
"This conference is important in that it's a forum that brings environmental, cultural, and political thinkers and activists together," said Wednesday's keynote speaker, Margaret Anne "Peggy" Bulger, Ph.D., retired director of the American Folklife Center, at the Library of Congress.
"We've all been grappling with issues of sustainability and authenticity in our own little worlds, but rarely do we look at these concepts across the boundaries of our training and expertise," she told the crowd gathered at the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez, a restored 1912 school building on the grounds of the Cortez Nature Preserve.
"We have Floridians here who can trace the historical trajectories, outline the present realities and chart the imagined future of Florida," she said.
Some of the attendees took a walking tour of Cortez's fishing businesses and its neatly preserved cottages.
Among them was John Moran, a nature photographer, whose pictures celebrating Florida have appeared in such revered publications as National Geographic, Life, Time, Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine.
"We're off to a good start," said Moran.
For more information, visit www.sustainableandauthenticflorida.com.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.