St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Residents will shape new Eagle Lake Park

The public will choose the future of the property at Keene and Belleair roads based on three concepts.

RICHARD DANIELSON
Published May 25, 2004

LARGO - For decades, the woods, ponds and pastures of the old Taylor property stood out as an unspoiled piece of Old Florida surrounded by a sea of ranch houses.

More recently, the property at Keene and Belleair roads served as the home of a family of bald eagles, which left after its nest fell or was blown down two years ago.

Now Pinellas County officials are working on plans to create the new Eagle Lake Park on the 157-acre property and want to know what people want to see there.

There is a lot of potential, according to an activist who recently toured the property.

"It could be a real nice little oasis," said Ellen Pfau, the conservation chair of the Clearwater Audubon Society, which has more than 900 members throughout North Pinellas.

County officials will hold a meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. today at Largo High School to get public opinion on two topics.

The first is what Eagle Lake Park should look like. There are three conceptual plans for the park in the works. All include some of the same things: a dog park, playground, an area for disc golf, walking trails, boardwalks, viewing decks, picnic shelters and restrooms.

Depending on the plan, the amenities could be arranged in different ways, and county officials want to find out what people prefer.

County officials also will ask what people expect to see when they go to a park, any park, in Pinellas County. They will consider the answers as they come up with recommendations for future park improvements countywide.

"It's actually sort of a dual meeting," said Ivan Fernandez, division engineer for the county's civil site division. "We will have an area set up to show conceptual ideas for the Eagle Lake Park. We also are going to have an area set up to show the countywide park master plan. We're hoping to get input on both those subjects."

In the past, officials have estimated that Eagle Lake Park could cost $5.9-million to create. On Monday, however, officials said the cost is not set yet.

"It depends on what kind of amenities end up in the final design," said Joe Lupardus, the county's parks and recreation operations manager.

The Eagle Lake property once was owned by the pioneering Taylor family, who settled in the area in 1835. The county acquired it several years ago.

Officials hope to have walking trails available for use by people who walk to the park by late 2005. So far, however, that is the only phase of the project that's been funded in the county's capital improvement plan.

In the long run, along with the picnic areas and dog park, officials hope to preserve 5 to 10 acres of the 35 acres of grapefruit and orange groves that came with the property. They also would keep a cottage amid the citrus trees where the groves' caretaker lived, and use that and maybe some old farming equipment as part of an "interpretive farmstead" that taught visitors about the history of the citrus industry in Pinellas County.

The park would not include athletic fields, but there would be an open field, similar to one at Philippe Park, where picnickers could play an informal game of soccer, softball or touch football.

The disc golf course, where players throw Frisbeelike discs at metal baskets, ought to be be consistent with the park's natural setting and passive uses, officials said.

"It's not like a real golf course where you have clear fairways," Lupardus said. "You play around and through the trees. It's not that disruptive to the natural environment."

After a recent tour of the park with fellow Audubon members, Pfau sent the county a letter with specific recommendations based on each plan. Generally, however, she said she's mainly concerned that all three plans envision some sort of activity in a southern part of the property that's home to the bobwhite, a bird species on decline in Pinellas, as well as Sherman's fox squirrels and a great horned owl. Ideally, she said, she would like to see nothing more than hiking trails on that part of the property.

"We weren't doing a wildlife study or anything, and we saw plenty of wildlife," she said.

In mid Pinellas, where the Eagle Lake property remains one of the last pieces of undeveloped land around, that's a rarity.

"That's the idea," Fernandez said. "People can just go in there and feel like they're somewhere else."

- Richard Danielson can be reached at 727 771-4311 or danielson@sptimes.com

IF YOU GO

Anyone interested in the conceptual plans for Eagle Lake Park in Largo or Pinellas County's master park plan is invited to a public meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. today in the cafeteria at Largo High School, 410 Missouri Ave.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.