EAST LAKE — The Pinellas County School District is building a fence to keep four-wheelers and unwanted trespassers out of a nature preserve that doubles as an outdoor learning lab.
But some residents of a nearby condominium community are angry the fence will keep them from enjoying the beauty of nature in the 63-acre area.
"There's nothing we can do about it and the community is upset," said Evan Pedone, 31, a three-year resident of Lansbrook Village who has used the area often. "There are deer that would go back and forth and there's the aesthetics of the fence.
"Why should it be closed off to the community? It's public taxpayers' dollars and schools feel like they can isolate the public when we fund this nature preserve. It should be open."
But school district officials say it's a matter of safety and preserving the area that nearby Cypress Woods Elementary and thousands of county elementary school children use as an outdoor learning lab.
Teachers conduct class in the nature preserve, which doesn't have a name. The classes walk through the area off East Lake Boulevard and south of Cypress Woods Boulevard and identify the different plant species.
"Earlier, there were four-wheel drivers and mud bogging, tearing up the place," said Michael Bessette, the School District's associate superintendent for facilities, operations, safety and security. "One must have gotten stuck in the mud so someone broke the stick for a classroom sign to get out the mud.
"We are primarily doing this to stop the vandalism and the safety issue with kids out there."
Bessette said there also were a lot of debris and lawn clippings being dumped and it appeared it was a party area at one time.
The chain-link fence will be 3,200 feet long and 6 feet high, said Terry Huberty, area maintenance supervisor for north county. It will cost $40,000.
Because of some rain delays, Huberty said he didn't know when the fence would be completed.
Pedone lives in The Hamptons, a 254-unit condominium community that's within Lansbrook Village, which has more than 700 homes in all.
He said he has never seen four-wheelers or heard people party on the property that backs up to the Brooker Creek Preserve. Pedone said the residents were "good stewards of the area."
"That may have happened, but one incident and the entire community is locked out?" Pedone asked. "I have seen young kids take a stroll through the nature preserve. I've never seen a kid go in there and vandalize it. I've never seen anyone acting mischievous in there and I go in there all the time."
Ib Jakobsen, 64, is retired. He said the fence will go directly in front of his condominium door. He's used to seeing deer, wild turkeys and peacock roam the preserve and said it was "absolutely beautiful."
"To me, it makes absolutely no sense," Jakobsen said of the fence. "It's going to look like crap in front of my house."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727-445-4174.