PALM HARBOR — The wildlife that flocks to Wall Springs Park will soon have cleaner water in which to swim, eat and drink.
A recent grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District will help fund environmental improvements at the Pinellas County park. County officials say the work is much-needed.
"This is a project we've been wanting to do for a long time," said Debbie Chayet, a Pinellas County grants specialist and former county horticulturist.
The project has two parts: restoring a
1-acre pond downstream from the spring with native wetland plants and restoring the water flow between two tidal bays. Both parts of the project are expected to improve water quality.
The water district and the county will split the estimated $700,000 needed for the project. Chayet said the county's share is already in the capital budget. The work is in the design phase now, with construction expected to be completed by December 2011.
Chayet and Wall Springs park supervisor Don Wilson led a tour of the park on a recent morning. The recreation area is popular with residents who arrive by car, bicycle or on foot, often carrying picnic baskets and fishing tackle.
The tour started at the spring, the source of water in the adjoining pond that will be stocked with native wetland plants. The spring water was so clear, fish were easy to see and identify from the boardwalk.
In the pond, ducks were swimming past cattails. Chayet said the cattails, Brazilian pepper, torpedo grass and other non-native plants will be removed from the pond's shoreline. They will be replaced by natural plants, including black rush, cord grass and — on higher ground — sweet acacia. The vegetation will provide habitat, help stabilize the shoreline and more.
"The plants we are going to plant will take up nutrients, which will improve water quality," Chayet said. "Typically, water coming out of springs can be a little high in nitrogen."
The second part of the project will restore the water flow between two back bays of Boggy Bayou.
A previous landowner created a narrow land bridge to what was once an island, where there are now picnic pavilions and an observation tower. The earthen walkway connected the island to the mainland, but it also stopped the flow of water between two bays.
The county plans to build a wooden span on top of the land bridge and dig out the ground beneath it. Then the tides will once again flow freely from one back bay to the other.
"Tidal flushing is going to be a big cleansing action for these back bays," Chayet said. "It will help both sides."
Through a break in the foliage in the vicinity of where the bridge would be located, about 75 wading birds could be seen fishing in the northern bay. From little blue heron to assorted larger ones to numerous white ibis and a lone roseate spoonbill, they probed the shallow waters.
Jagged oyster beds exposed in low tide dotted the bay surface.
Then four or five white ibis, with long, curved orange bills, flew low over the earthen pathway toward the more southern bay, joining an anhinga drying its wings in the sun.
Canoeists and kayakers might have room to pass under the bridge during high tide someday, Chayet said, once a canoe/kayak launch is built in the undeveloped northern part of the park.
"There certainly will be some beautiful, scenic views from that bridge, too," she said. "Low tide, bring your binoculars. Great birding."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at email@example.com
or (727) 445-4170.