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Urban fishing ponds face budget cutbacks

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I was fortunate there was one small patch of the Garden State that hadn't been paved: Oak Tree Pond.

This small body of water couldn't have been more than an acre or two. It had its share of litter and discarded tires, but it was loaded with fish.

Nothing fancy. No largemouth bass. Just panfish.

We called them "sunnies," and caught them by the dozen.

They'd eat just about anything. Canned corn. Hot dogs. Worms, if we were lucky enough to get a hard rain the night before.

And looking back it would be safe to say Oak Tree Pond probably kept me from a life of crime. When others skipped school and stole cars, I skipped school and fished at Oak Tree Pond.

Times have changed. Many neighborhood ponds (including Oak Tree) have succumbed to developers or pollution.

The folks at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have tried to preserve some of these fishing holes for children and adults alike.

The Urban Pond Program maintains and stocks ponds, but those days may be over soon.

If approved, Gov. Jeb Bush's budget would cut the $1.5-million that funds this worthwhile program.

"It provides great opportunities for kids, especially those in the inner city," said David Meehan, an FWC board member from St. Petersburg. "But we have a lot of worthwhile programs and unfortunately only so many dollars."

The wheels of government move slowly. You have time to write your senator or representative, and when you are done, why not take a child fishing.

These ponds were selected for location (in populated areas so anglers need not travel far) and facilities (parking, restrooms, picnic areas and shelters).

Five bodies of water in the Tampa Bay area offer fishing for channel catfish, brown bullhead, bluegill, redear sunfish, largemouth bass and blue tilapia:

Freedom Lake Park, Pinellas Park, southeast corner of U.S. 19 and 49th Street. This 7-acre pond is an average of 5 feet deep. Call the Pinellas Park City Parks Division, (727) 541-0769. Walsingham Park, Pinellas County, 102nd Avenue, 2 miles west of Seminole Boulevard. This 100-acre park is an average of 10 feet deep with a maximum of 20. Call (727) 549-6142. Al Lopez Park, Tampa, Himes Avenue, south of U.S. 92. This 10-acre pond is an average of 6 feet deep with a maximum of 8. Call the Tampa City Parks Department, (813) 931-2121. Dover District Park, Hillsborough County, Route 574 and Gallagher Road. This 14-acre pond is an average of 15 feet deep with a maximum of 25. Call (813) 757-3837. Stephen J. Wortham Park, Hillsborough County, Rhodine Road, 2 miles east of U.S. 301. This 10-acre pond is an average of 5 feet deep with a maximum of 12. Call the Hillsborough County Parks Department, (813) 975-2160. These ponds have special regulations.

For more information on the Urban Fishery Project, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 3900 Drane Field Road, Lakeland, FL 33811; (863) 648-3202.

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