A bit of beach reborn
By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
HUNTER'S GREEN -- Al Donn learned to love nature and the outdoors from his parents.
For vacations, they camped in Michigan where he grew up. On every trip, they followed the same rule: Leave the place cleaner than when you arrived.
Decades later, Donn hasn't forgotten that.
Donn, 53, has spent hundreds of hours picking up trash along the beach at the west end of Cypress Street in the Westshore area. This month, those efforts earned him a national award. Later this year, the site becomes Tampa's Cypress Point Park.
"It's been neat to see a really trashed area grow into something that Tampa will be very proud of," says Donn, who lives in Hunter's Green.
He found the secluded waterfront spot in 1993 while driving on the Howard Frankland Bridge. It looked scenic and inviting, the perfect place to walk or have a picnic.
A closer look revealed its uglier side. Discarded tires, mattresses and appliances covered the site. For years, people used it as a dumping ground.
Still, he saw potential.
"I thought if we got a bunch of people together, we could make it a really nice place," he says.
The city of Tampa bought the land in 1996 through Hillsborough County's voter-approved Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program, or ELAPP. In November, they plan to dedicate it as a city park.
Officials credit Donn with helping to make the 43-acre park possible. Plans call for new parking, restrooms, picnic shelters, trails, a bus stop and kayak launch. Dune and beach restoration projects will protect the natural terrain.
The issue of dogs has not been decided, said Brad Suder, a city landscape architect. The area is a favorite among many dog owners, who exercise their pets on the beach and in the water.
Suder doubts it will become one of the city's official dog parks.
Donn and his wife, Dorothy Holle, organized the first cleanup at Cypress Point in 1995 as part of the annual Florida Coastal Cleanup. It started with about a dozen volunteers. Last year's event drew about 120, mostly co-workers at AT&T and their families.
The first few cleanups required lots of heavy lifting, Donn recalls. Washing machines, old asphalt and other debris filled oversized Dumpsters. Today, most of the trash washes onto the beach during storms.
Donn's work received this year's National Volunteer Day Award from the Points of Light Foundation. The group mobilizes millions of volunteers to help in their communities.
The award recognizes families, businesses and nonprofit groups that go the extra mile to get families involved in volunteer projects. Donn and other recipients were honored June 9-11 at a national conference in Salt Lake City.
"It's not often you see people volunteering for environmental causes," said Diane Fabiyi-King of Points of Light, who reviewed the nominations. "I can't imagine how many hours this has taken."
Sylvia Foster, head of AT&T Pioneers of Tampa Club, nominated Donn and his family for the award. The cleanups involved many AT&T employees and their families. Donn's wife and parents, Ray and Ruth Donn participate every year.
Donn says watching families come together for a common cause has been the best reward.
"We're not used to being recognized for the work that we do," he says. "We just do it because we enjoy helping the environment. We do it for the feeling."
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