SEFFNER — Terry Flott joked that her lobbying was more like pestering as she thanked a group of Hillsborough County workers and residents who attended the opening of the Seffner CommUNITY Park and Gardens Monday.
Persistence from the Seffner community activist finally paid off after years of budgets, site plans and input from residents came to fruition as the newest county park opened at 406 N Kingsway Road, adjacent to the Seffner-Mango Branch Library.
"We went through and wore out I don’t know how many commissioners and their aides," said Flott, thanking the likes of Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Mark Sharpe, aide Eric Larson and members of the Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation department.
"Our vision for this park was to create a park that would have a sense of place for people to come together; someplace that is quiet but usable," she said.
Crist, the county’s District 2 representative, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and credited Ed Radice, who led Hillsborough’s parks department for 28 years and died in 2015, for putting the property aside nearly 20 years ago.
"He taught me the value that today we recognize what we need for tomorrow," said Crist, noting the need for more trees and a wall on the north side of the property in the near future. "And that green space is necessary for society. It’s good for the mind, the body, the soul and the quality of life."
The first designs for this property came through 17 years ago, but the plans sat on the shelf — until Flott started putting pressure on the county to dust them off. The 166th park in unincorporated Hillsborough County is multifaceted, with a fenced community garden, three separate walking trails tallying nearly a mile of sidewalk; a gazebo and two shelters with picnic tables. The project also included lighting, drainage and landscaping work.
"There is so much potential for this site," said parks and recreation planning and development manager Kyla Booher, noting the centerpiece gazebo was designed terraced out and overlooking a great lawn for potential movies in the park or concerts. "The gazebo is really the focal point to be the hub for the community."
Flott stressed that the Seffner CommUNITY Park and Gardens’ main purpose is to be a "passive, natural park" featuring roseate spoonbills and coral honeysuckles in lieu of plastic playground equipment and sports fields.
After the new year, she plans to help organize the implementation of a $100,000 public art grant so visitors can "grow intellectually as well as physically and spiritually."
Look for "usable art" like sun dials and hop scotch (that promotes counting and coordination) and other old-fashioned games spread throughout the park. While the park could one day host the likes of Christmas tree lightings, Easter egg hunts, pumpkin patches or food truck rallies, for now it invites reading with mentors and enjoying nature.
To that end, green-thumbed residents can rent a plot in the community garden. It’s $50 annually for approximately 50 square feet of irrigated soil. There’s already a dozen plots featuring everything from marble peppers, collard greens, lettuce, arugula and heirloom tomatoes to a teaching garden area featuring Indian blanket flowers.
"I’ve been wanting to do this for so long," said Joy Ingram, the community liaison and president of the nonprofit group overseeing the garden. "I wanted to have an area where there’s communal gardening and everyone splits up the harvest or we donate it to a food kitchen. We will probably get to that point."
Contact Eric Vician at [email protected]