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Park logging project complete

Flatwoods Park returns to normal hours after workers thin the forest to attract wildlife and promote new undergrowth.

By JACKIE RIPLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


HUNTER'S GREEN -- Joggers, bikers and hikers will be happy to hear Flatwoods Park is once again open from sunrise to sunset seven days a week, now that a logging project is done.

The park reduced operating hours in April while the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the 3,700-acre park, thinned out some stands of pine. The purpose was to promote new undergrowth and attract wildlife.

"There was quite a bit of outcry when we first announced this," said Kevin Love, land manager for the district, referred to as Swiftmud. "People were concerned about the prospect, but once we educated them about what we were going to do, we got zero complaints."

Swiftmud planted nearly 250 acres of slash pines during the 1970s along the northern boundary of the wilderness park to replace trees lost to wildfires and logging. The plan at the time was to come back over the years and cull a percentage of the trees.

Swiftmud thinned the trees by about 50 percent to allow sunlight to reach the ground. Before they did, the pines were so thick wildlife in the area was beginning to decline because the plants and grasses animals feed on were unable to survive, Love said.

Officials estimate they cut about 20,000 trees and sold them for early $41,000.

"About 5,500 tons of wood came out, or about 1,950 cords," said August Fox, senior land management specialist for Swiftmud. "Or by logging trucks, 199 loads of wood came out."

The trees were cut from a 500-acre stand that backs up to Cory Lake Isles, Arbor Greene and Hunter's Green, as well as a portion of Flatwoods Park.

Earlier this year when the project was announced, residents expressed concern that the cutting was being done for money and would damage their views of a peaceful conservation area. But now that it's finished, Cory Lake Isles resident Mary Bruin said, folks are pleased.

"They did a great job. It looks wonderful," Bruin said. Except for a few spots, "You can't even tell. They stuck to what they said they would do."

The project was even finished a few weeks ahead of schedule.

"There were no rain delays," Love said, and "we had a really small but efficient crew."

No, the loggers didn't spot the elusive big cat reported by Hunter's Green residents. The sighting prompted Hunter's Green Community Association to hire a trapper and hand out fliers urging caution.

A wildlife officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it was possible the feline was a Florida panther, because there is a lot of land to travel on in the conservation area, but it would be unusual.

The gates at Flatwoods open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

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