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    Preserve to come with a beach

    The state, county and Oldsmar chip in to buy 14 acres of sand and forest as part of Mobbly Bayou preserve.

    By ED QUIOCO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


    OLDSMAR -- Right off Shore Drive lies a chunk of native Florida with pine flatwoods, a coastal hammock and a sandy area with mangroves and coastal grasses.

    Thanks to a partnership between the city and Pinellas County, this slice of beach at the top of Old Tampa Bay will remain undeveloped.

    The beach, a popular local hangout for years despite being privately owned, will be open to the public and added to the adjacent Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve, which is planned to have more than 200 acres.

    "It was a no-brainer" to preserve the beach, said Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland. "That's fabulous."

    Pinellas County has a contract with the family trust that owns the property and is scheduled to close the deal before April 20, said Ellyn Kadel, Pinellas County's real estate administrator. Oldsmar and Pinellas have preliminary approval for a state grant from the Preservation 2000 Program to cover half of the $900,000 to buy the 14 acres. The city and county will split the other half.

    The county has been negotiating for about a year with Mary Holmes, the trustee of the Mary Fisher Holmes Revocable Trust, for the property, Kadel said. The county got two appraisals for the property, and the average of those two was $957,500.

    "It's been on our wish list for preservation," Kadel said. "That entire Mobbly Bay area is something that has a variety of different habitats, and it is a fragile coastline."

    The 14 acres has about 1,650 feet of shoreline and about 1.3 acres of open sand and sandy areas with coastal grasses. The property features mature live oaks, a coastal pine forest, flatwoods, gallberry and other native plants.

    The property also is inhabited by bald eagles and ospreys and provides feeding areas for a number of wading birds such as roseate spoonbills, white ibises and little blue herons, according to the city's grant application.

    "Having this under public ownership will allow us to maintain it and manage it effectively," said Craig Huegel, environmental lands division manager with Pinellas County "The property will allow us to do a number of things. This would be a great location for a trail head with a beach and a small parking area."

    The city plans to realign Shore Drive about 200 to 300 feet to the east and expand the upland area next to the beach to make room for parking spaces, picnic tables and grills, said Oldsmar community development director Nick Staszko. Although the city plans to clean the shoreline and remove some undergrowth, the beach area will keep its natural, secluded feel.

    "This is not going to be Clearwater Beach," Staszko said. "The beach area that is out there now is about the beach area that will be there."

    Oldsmar has entered into a management agreement with Pinellas County for the preserve. The city used a $1.4-million state grant to purchase about 80 acres of uplands and wetlands that will be combined with city and county land to create the preserve.

    Plans call for the preserve to have trails, an open-air classroom, a picnic area, an information center and a canoe launch. The city and county are scheduled this year to work on the preserve's engineering, permitting and road and trail development.

    With the purchase of the 14-acre property, the preserve also will have a passive shady beach area near the tip of the Mobbly Bay peninsula.

    "It was worth buying it and preserving that down there," Beverland said.

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