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For a while, nature reclaims Fred Howard Park and beach, closed for bridge reconstruction

TARPON SPRINGS

Since 1968, visitors to the beach at Fred Howard Park have swam and fished in the warm, clear waters surrounding the 5-acre island and sunbathed on its pristine beaches.

But after the closure last year of the 1-mile causeway leading to the beach for bridge reconstruction, a new type of visitor has moved onto the island.

Birds of all shapes and sizes have taken up residence on what these days looks more like a slice of old Florida than a modern, groomed beach.

"It's been just great to watch," said Pam Traas, park supervisor for Fred Howard Park and its adjacent beach. "We've seen bald eagles, which usually nest in the park itself, fly out to the island and sit on the beach.

"We've even seen brown pelicans land out here, which we never see," she said.

The causeway closed last September because salt water corrosion had damaged its two aging bridges. They are being replaced with new structures, designed to last for up to 75 years. A more modern concrete mix with additives is being used to combat corrosion on the 120-foot long bridges.

Construction has gone well and is 30 days ahead of schedule, according to Ruben Pittman, job superintendant on the site. ZEP construction, of Fort Myers, has been the contractor for the causeway improvements.

Additional work remaining on the project includes pouring the approach slabs to the two bridges and installing water and sewer lines. Portions of the causeway also will be repaved, Pittman said.

The causeway and beach should reopen as scheduled in late September or early October, weather permitting. The rest of the park remains open during the construction.

In addition to the bird migration, native vegetation has grown amongst the sea oats and palm trees planted on the man-made island by the county. There is also evidence of fiddler crabs, something Traas does not remember seeing when the island was visited by hundreds of people each day.

"They are like the earthworms of the beach," she said.

Although Traas has been thrilled to see the wildlife on the island, she is looking forward to the day when the causeway and beach will once again be open to visitors of the human variety.

"This is such a family-friendly beach," she said. "And we enjoy the best sunsets in the world out here."

By the time people return to the beach, it will be returned to the way it was before the construction project began. Traas estimates it will take just a week or two to groom the beaches and remove the overgrowth.

For a while, nature reclaims Fred Howard Park and beach, closed for bridge reconstruction 07/07/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 2:40pm]
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