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No Place Like Home: A Sunday morning spoiled

By JEANNE MALMGREN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 26, 2002

SEMINOLE -- As you read this, most likely chain saws are whining and pine trees are falling at Lake Seminole County Park. Our Sunday morning bike ride will never be the same.

That's a good thing, say the park rangers and county officials and a University of Florida forestry expert called in to back them up. Got to thin out those diseased trees, let some sunlight in there and do the job that wildfire would normally do.

That's a bad thing, say the activists who fought for months to hold off the chain saws. It's a mistake to cut so many trees. This will ruin one of the lushest urban forests in the county.

I don't know who's right. I'm not a forester. And these are not ancient redwoods, just a gang of scraggly slash pines.

All I know is: I loved riding along the curved black ribbon of path, listening to the wind in the tree tops, inhaling the musky smell of pine needles. It was only 2 miles -- maybe a 10-minute ride -- but it was heaven. A green shrine, a cathedral where chit-chat seemed unnecessary; profane, almost.

We saw eagles, tortoises, armadillos. Once, a yellow rat snake coiled on the asphalt.

It was our escape from civilization, only one traffic light away from our house.

When we arrived on a recent Sunday, the bikes in the bed of my truck, I knew the timber harvest was coming. I just didn't realize it had started. We read the sign: This Trail Will Be Closed for Renovation Six to Eight Weeks, Beginning Sept. 3. We looked around. Saw no barricades, only joggers and skaters cruising by, although fewer than usual. We unloaded the bikes.

It was a bittersweet ride. Swipes of blue paint decorated half the tree trunks -- the unlucky ones. A stand of saw palmetto had been laid to waste. The trucks had already left deep, muddy ruts.

Obviously the work had begun, and would continue on Monday. Somehow we had been given a reprieve, the chance for one last ride before the forest changed forever.

Warm air hit my face as we pedaled. The familiar earthy aroma.

"Daddy, what's that sound?" our daughter asked from her child carrier on the back of his bike.

Crickets.

Not traffic noise, not crackling power lines. Just crickets.

We rode the loop a second time.

This little forest is only 100 acres, a mere thumbnail of green in a county of gated subdivisions, high-rise parking garages and countless intersections where Walgreens and Eckerd glower at each other from opposite corners. Wild in the midst of tame. But not too wild.

To the foresters, it was overgrown, a botanical mess that must be managed. To us, it was Sunday morning church.

-- "No Place Like Home" highlights underappreciated people, places, things and experiences in the Tampa Bay area.

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