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Limits set for new coastal state park

Officials rule out a fishing pier and beach. "We can overdevelop parks, too,'' says a Pasco resident who prefers a natural preserve.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park will have boardwalks but no beaches, canoeing but no catamarans, sightseeing but no swimming.

When you're Pasco County's first state park, you can't be all things to all people, but you can try to preserve one of the last west Pasco tracts not gobbled by development.

On Monday, for the first time, the public got a more detailed glance at plans for the 3,300-acre coastal park that will stretch from Port Richey to State Road 52.

Named for longtime Pasco builders Gene Werner and Bill Boyce, who sold most of the land to the public at a discount, the park is expected to open next year with an infusion of about $500,000 in state money.

Officials with the state Division of Recreation and Parks displayed two large color aerial maps of the property at a public meeting at New Port Richey City Hall.

Parks officials promise a Venice of shallow creeks offering a chance to canoe and kayak about 70 to 100 miles of aquatic trails. The size of a boat would be limited by what a person could carry to the launching site.

Although boardwalks will be the main way to access the salty, marshy terrain, the small part of the property that is higher and drier will have about 5-10 miles of bike trails.

Future additions to the park, assuming more money is forthcoming, would include a visitor's center, observation platforms for wildlife watching and camp grounds.

"That half-a-million isn't going to build everything," said Lew Scruggs, the planning manager for the state parks division.

The initial public access to the park will be on Scenic Drive in Port Richey, where a small section of the park, complete with picnic tables and parking spaces, is scheduled to open in March.

The bulk of the park, with its main entrance near Gulf View Square Mall, likely will open next year.

Not everyone got everything they wanted from the park.

Pasco resident Pat Raimond, who sat on a park citizens advisory committee, wondered why the state didn't drag a line along the ocean floor to make a sandy beach.

"It would be a boon to our area," Raimond said.

Parks officials quickly shot down the idea. They said Pasco's mangrove-fringed coastline, as the southernmost extremity of the Big Bend Salt Marsh System, can't be tampered with.

"We don't build beaches. We manage natural systems," Scruggs said.

New Port Richey Councilman Tom Finn got no further with his inquiries about allowing swimming in the salt springs that gave the park its name.

Scruggs said a swimming hole would be unmanageable and probably polluted.

As for a fishing pier Finn sought for the park, Scruggs said: "For the life of me, I don't know where we could build a fishing pier. It's nearly a mile to the gulf."

Another Pasco resident, Jim McKay, worried the state would tamper too much with the natural beauty of the property.

"We can overdevelop parks, too," McKay said. "Parks can be too much of a tourist attraction."

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