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Residents assess plans for park

By ALICIA CALDWELL and DEBORAH HIRSCH
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 10, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Community members, children in nature programs, Eckerd College students and environmental activists gathered at City Hall on Thursday to help determine the future of Lake Maggiore Park.

About 90 people voiced their opinions on a preliminary $5-million master plan for 478 acres surrounding the city's largest lake. The proposal includes new picnic areas, boat ramps, an environmental studies center, leisure docks, a playground and a dog park.

While some praised the value of recreational areas, others cited environmental damage that would come with any development.

Lake Maggiore Shore Neighborhood Association president Bernice Darling said residents there are looking forward to a safe place for their children.

"We are so delighted with the proposed improvements," Darling said. "We have worked like dogs over the last eight years to improve that park to make it user friendly."

A nice park would bring positive attention to the neighborhood, said nearby resident Joan Lindsey.

"I think we need this desperately for our children on the south side," she said.

Wildlife proponents protested the disruption of the property's natural charm.

Children ages 3 to 10 who participated in organized activities at the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve sent in cards opposing construction and loss of staff members at the park.

One child wrote, "If you tear down Boyd Hill, you'll tear down my heart." Another stated simply, "Mayors don't hurt nature."

The improvement plan, to be financed in annual increments through 2010, would coincide with a $13-million lake cleanup project.

Over the years, stormwater runoff has befouled the water, leaving about 4 feet of muck on the bottom. Several governmental agencies are providing funds for the lake cleanup, which could take more than three years.

While most people seemed to support the lake cleanup, some were concerned about the impact on wildlife. The plan proposes paving an existing dirt road through Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

"I'm very cautious of anything that will compromise nature," said Dennis Coley, who lives near Lake Maggiore. "Every animal in there is an endangered species. When it's dead, it's gone."

Some opponents complained about recreational areas that would cut into lake shoreline.

"Why do we need another expensive, multiphased park?" asked Libby Steele, a resident near the park. "It's a wonder to me because money isn't that easy to come by."

The plan would enhance these areas of the park, which borders Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) Street S:

Lakeview Neighborhood Park: a 21.5-acre park near residential areas and school at the north end of the lake. Restrooms and drinking fountains would be replaced. New picnic shelters with tables and grills, a playground, a group picnic area, paved parking, a gazebo and fishing pier and a walking bridge.

Picnic Park: a 16.2-acre recreation area on the east side of the lake, historically the main access point for boaters. Improvements would include upgrading boat ramps and adding docks and a pier.

West Lake Park: a 31-acre park at the northwest end of the lake used for city yard waste recycling, public safety training and storage. The plan calls for creating a recreational area with a fishing dock, boat ramps, a playground, a group picnic shelter, parking and restrooms.

Environmental studies area/Pinellas Pioneer Settlement: 56 acres used for camps and activities. The plan calls for upgrading cabins, adding fencing and building an Environmental Services Center with classrooms and meeting spaces.

None of the park plans have been finalized.

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