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Mud-boggers roil bottom of Crews Lake

The lower water levels attract large-wheeled pickups that churn the muddy flats. Park visitors say that threatens the lake's ecological balance.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


SHADY HILLS -- The drought has attracted three forms of wildlife to the shores of Crews Lake in Pasco County -- carrion-eating birds, dragonflies and mud-bogging aficionados.

Guess which form of wildlife is generating the least enthusiasm among park visitors?

The lake's lower-than-normal levels have created muddy flats on which off-road vehicles can cut loose. On a good weekend, as many as a dozen large-wheeled pickup trucks churn the sandy shoreline and lake bottom.

Although off-road vehicles are banned from Crews Lake Park, the county park on the western edge of the lake, park employees said trucks are reaching the grounds from private property north of the lake.

"They're just out here raising hell and having fun," park manager David Jay said. "As long as they're not harming the park, there's not much we can do."

But park visitors like Stefanie Schatzman, who spotted about four pickups driving across the lake bottom on May 27, say the revving revelers threaten the ecological balance of the lake.

"I mind what they are doing," Schatzman said. "It destroys the lake bottom. You're not supposed to destroy peat on the bottom of the lake."

Schatzman recalled how several years ago mud-bogging trucks helped destroy the peat layer -- the partly decomposed vegetation on lake beds -- at Lake Loyce.

Some fish and frogs and reptiles lay their eggs in the muck.

Crews Lake bears the signs of recent mud-bogging. On Thursday, tire tracks crisscrossed the shoreline nearest the park, some of the tracks extending into the shallow lake itself.

Two grungy sneakers floated in what's left of the lake, not far from the beached carcasses of two fish. A used automobile tire lay among the weeds.

County parks manager Rick Buckman said Crews Lake's large shoreline -- smaller during droughts, wider during rainy spells -- complicates the job of enforcement.

The park occupies 111 acres between Shady Hills Road and U.S. 41. The lake at its greatest extent is about 500 acres.

"The lake is so big we can't get everywhere," Buckman said.

In the past, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office has staked out the property to catch trespassing drivers. But deputies have yet to nab anyone this summer.

"If they're having an ongoing problem, as they have in past years, we'd be more than happy to work with them," sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers said.

Park managers said they will do their best to block the trucks with poles, gates and fences. But some mud-bogging fans are sure to slip through.

"We go through it every year," Jay said. "When the lake dries up, the trucks come out."

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