Where citrus once thrived and cattle grazed, county residents will soon be able to exercise, explore nature and get a glimpse of Florida history.
In March, the Pinellas County Commission will consider bids for construction of Eagle Lake Park at the corner of Belleair and Keene roads.
County officials expect construction on the 163-acre park to begin in May or June. The project should take about 18 months, with completion tentatively scheduled for December 2009.
In 1998, the county paid nearly $13-million to buy 157 acres from the Taylor family, who were Largo pioneers. The Taylors sold the county an adjacent 6-acre plot for $2.25-million in 2006.
The property is bordered by Belleair Road to the north, Keene Road to the east, Lake Avenue to the west and McMullen Road to the south.
Highlights of the project include the following:
• Observation decks overlooking two of the property's three ponds.
• Walking and bike trails.
• A dog park in the southeast corner along Keene Road.
• A playground in the northwest corner, near a picnic area.
• The Taylor home, built in 1929, several outbuildings and farm equipment will remain, to be used for educational purposes. Heritage Village will coordinate educational programs.
• Some of the remaining 18 acres of citrus grove will stay. Pinellas County Extension will support the restoration and preservation of the grove area.
The result will be a park that retains the land's natural features and its historical significance, said Paul Cozzie, the county's bureau director of culture, education and leisure. "The goal is to allow visitors to kind of get an idea of what life was like when the citrus and cattle industries dominated Pinellas County," Cozzie said.
The deadline for submitting bids for the project was Feb. 7. The county received submissions from 13 companies. Original estimates put construction costs around $12.9-million, Cozzie said. However, the bids ranged between $8.4-million and $11.3-million.
The lowest bid was submitted by the Diaz/Fritz Group Inc. The highest came from Phillips and Jordan Inc. "The bids that came in were significantly lower than our original expectations," Cozzie said.
Historical records say the Taylors bought property in the Eagle Lake Park vicinity in the 1850s, though local histories place the family in the county as early as the 1830s.
The family settled on that land in the late 1860s, said Ellen Babb, Heritage Village spokeswoman. "There's such an enormous history in Pinellas County, of citrus and cattle that's no longer visible, and we in the future want to be able to share that with visitors," Babb said. "When you think of Florida and the citrus industry, Largo was the hub of the grapefruit industry and the Taylor family was integrally woven into that."
The park gets its name from the bald eagles that once lived there.
Floyd Crawford, the county's central district parks supervisor, said an aerie on the northeast corner of the property disappeared in 2002, presumably downed by strong winds. Since then, eagle sightings have been infrequent, Crawford said.
Moments later, two of the large, majestic birds took flight from the top of a towering longleaf pine.
Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4162.