MAXWELL:  Speak up to protect Boyd Hill Nature Park

5/8/2002 – Printed in the EDITORIAL Section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper

A black racer crosses my path. A gopher tortoise nibbles grass near its burrow. A hawk floats on a wind current. Butterflies bob and weave among flower petals. An otter dives beneath a sheet of vegetation. I am in the woods enjoying raw nature, in the middle of St. Petersburg, in Boyd Hill Nature Park.

Boyd Hill is a treasure, one of the assets that makes St. Petersburg a great place to live. I do not know of another Florida city that has such a park free of commercialism, one that truly is a wild place where residents and out-of-towners experience natural woods. Here, you forget that you are in a city.

But if city officials have their way and go forward with their “Lake Maggiore Plan,” Boyd Hill will lose much of its unique character and some of its sustainability.

So let me say here and now that I, a member of the Friends of Boyd Hill Nature Park, oppose nearly every facet of the plan for several reasons. The purpose of this column is to encourage other residents who love Boyd Hill to tell Mayor Rick Baker and City Council members to do nothing that directly or indirectly changes or degrades the park in any way.

Here is a brief analysis of the city’s proposals. I think they will negatively affect Boyd Hill:

Officials want to build a temporary road for construction vehicles and a permanent hard top with an entrance at 31st Street S. A road already leads to the city’s complex near the park, so why create another? This new road will be inside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s recommended secondary buffer zone of an active bald eagle’s nest. We should avoid disturbing this sensitive site.

Further, as the Friends newsletter states, the road would “cut through the Environmental Studies Area, fragmenting the environment for several varieties of endangered plant and animal species.” The site also serves as summer camp for hundreds of children each year.

From all indications, the city intends to build a 40-acre recreation complex on the northwest shore of the lake. In the shadow of Boyd Hill, the complex will sport picnic pavilions, an adventure playland, playgrounds, a skateboard park, a dog park and docks with boat rentals.

Pam McQuire, president of the Friends of Boyd Hill Nature Park, opposes the plan: “Currently, Boyd Hill experiences light pollution from the soccer fields adjacent to a portion of the park. This means that the park will be lit on one side by the soccer fields and on the other side by a skate park. Night hikes will become less of an experience and more like walking down any neighborhood street _ no flashlights needed.”

The Friends of Boyd Hill support the city’s plan to remove muck from the lake to improve its health. But the organization opposes the site where the city wants to dry the muck. “We believe that there would be a lower environmental impact by drying the muck on the city’s storage facility site located on the property, which is already heavily altered from its natural state,” McQuire said. “The storage facility area contains fewer trees. A location with less shade would seem to benefit the drying process.”

To add insult to injury, city officials will try to make up for general revenue shortfalls in part by squeezing Boyd Hill’s budget. “The proposed budget for fiscal year 2003, which begins Oct. 1, 2002, eliminates two-thirds of the full-time environmental education staff,” McQuire said. “The city is proposing to replace long-term, very knowledgeable employees with part-time employees and independent contractors.

“It is our position that any cost savings in changing to part-time personnel does not consider the soft-dollar value of the current employees’ knowledge level. There is concern that funds are available for the creation of a recreational park, but that funds are not available to adequately staff the existing parks, let alone considering the additional staffing needs for the new recreational park.”

Lovers of Boyd Hill should attend Thursday’s City Council meeting at 3 p.m.. The public hearing items will begin as soon as the other council business ends, meaning the public hearing will begin before 6 p.m. When you arrive at City Hall, ask for a yellow card, fill it out and speak out.

About attending Thursday’s council meeting, McQuire said: “We cannot as a Friends organization sit back and allow the city to destroy the park’s most valuable resources, whether that resource is plant, animal or the knowledge and love of nature epitomized by our park rangers.”

Attendthe meeting and tell Baker and council members to leave Boyd Hill Nature Park alone.