DUNEDIN — For those who revel in nature, Hammock Park seems like a rare and thriving slice of old-time Florida.
But the eastern side of the park is in trouble.
It's too dry for the species that belong there. But a city drainage project is tackling the problem.
In the late 1960s to early '70s, the city dug ditches and channels to drain housing developments, according to city engineer Tom Burke.
The channels altered the natural flow of storm water. Hammock Park bears the scars of that development.
Along the northern part of the park, the portion of Cedar Creek in the park called "Channel A" is more like a drainage ditch than a stream. And on the eastern edge of the park, the banks of the ditch called "Channel C" keeps storm water from flowing into the park.
Trees that once thrived in the wetter landscape, such as black gum and sweet bay magnolia are in decline. And species that grow in drier landscapes, like hickory, are moving in.
A city project aims to restore the moisture.
A small dam will be created in the northeastern corner of the park. During storms, it will raise the water level of Channel C, the ditch along the eastern side of the park. Then water will flow into the park through two new openings cut into the sides of the channel.
"It's a fabulous thing," said Dunedin Commissioner Deborah Kynes, who has championed the project. "We're restoring an ecosystem."
She said the project will also reduce sedimentation and erosion farther downstream, filtering pollutants from water that flows from Lake SueMar through Hammock Park to Cedar Creek.
"It will have a big effect on water quality eventually going into St. Joseph Sound," she said.
At the park Friday, Parks Superintendent Art Finn and city arborist Alan Mayberry led a group of Friends of the Hammock through the park to tour the construction under way and a new 5-acre addition to the park, the Harris tract. Most of the trail there is closed to the public during construction.
The Friends of the Hammock will lead tours up a new trail on the eastern side of Channel C during the trail's grand opening on Jan. 31. But the trail is already open, with an entrance off McCarty Street where it intersects with Patricia Avenue.
The morning was drizzly, but nothing a few outdoors people couldn't handle, including Ben Fasnacht, the 15-month-old son of the group's president, Steve Fasnacht.
Mayberry pointed out trees in decline for lack of moisture. The roots of many were exposed, an indicator that water has receded. "It's the trees that are most affected," he said. "When you start to get roots undermined, it causes problems."
He stopped to look at a large, dying sweet bay. "We have lost a lot of these sweet bays in a storm," he said. "They are not anchored as well when the roots subside."
And the saplings and young trees are not sweet bays. "You don't see the young ones," Mayberry said. "That's what's really indicative of the problem here."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.