Can Salt Creek become a navigable kayak trail?

Salt Creek runs near the neighborhoods of Bartlett Park and Harbordale. Many see the benefit of improving the waterway to make it more accessible for kayaking and canoeing.

KIRK BELL | Special to the Times

Salt Creek runs near the neighborhoods of Bartlett Park and Harbordale. Many see the benefit of improving the waterway to make it more accessible for kayaking and canoeing.

ST. PETERSBURG

Salt Creek begins at Tampa Bay and snakes southwest a mile and a half away to Lake Maggiore. Traversing the trail, kayakers will find families of pelicans nesting in trees or can enjoy the echoing quiet while paddling under the Third Street bridge.

But that's about as far as it gets.

Boarded up bridges and an overgrowth of mangroves prohibit Salt Creek from being used as anything other than a winding trail visible to a passing car or a pedestrian.

"Salt Creek is a wonderful-but-underutilized resource," said Tom Tito, 53, president of the Bartlett Park Neighborhood Association.

"There is a lot of junk in there," he said, considering the possibility that using Salt Creek as a recreational trail could help keep it cleaned up.

"I love the idea," said Cliff Footlick, director of the St. Petersburg Parks Department. "All kinds of neat things can be done with it."

"Just think of how exciting it would be to have kayaking access," said Andrea Hildebran, 39, a resident of Bartlett Park.

"I would love to improve the 'Salt Creek parkway,' " said Theresa McEachern, 60, president of the Harbordale Neighborhood Association.

Turning Salt Creek into a navigable trail could be a great way for the children and adults in the neighborhoods surrounding it, such as in Bartlett Park and Harbordale, to experience outdoor activities that otherwise might not be readily available to them.

"Kids would be very interested in kayaking Salt Creek," Tito said, stating that urban neighborhood kids have probably never even thought of kayaking or canoeing in the creek.

"More positive actions mean less negative actions," said Footlick. "The more positive uses we have, the better off we are."

It is not just the surrounding neighborhoods that could benefit. People who live in downtown St. Petersburg and other neighborhoods nearby could benefit from the easy access.

"Lots of folks put their kayaks on their cars and head out for an hour," Tito said. "This would really be great because all of the people downtown would be just a few minutes away."

Traversing Salt Creek by kayak or canoe could also help people who do not live in the surrounding neighborhoods become more acquainted with a part of the city that they may not see very often.

However, Footlick is concerned that the overgrowth of mangroves in Salt Creek could impede turning it into a recreational trail. Florida law protects mangroves from unauthorized trimming and removal and places the regulation into the hands of Pinellas County. The city must seek approval from the county before it can take any action in regards to the overgrowth of mangroves.

"The mangroves are 'choking out' much of the waterway," said McEachern.

In order to turn Salt Creek into a navigable trail, the city must explain what needs to be done with the mangroves to Pinellas County. The county has monitored mangroves under its City Tree Ordinance since 1972.

"Mangroves provide critical habitat and nursery areas for all kinds of marine life and seabirds," said Brian Johns, 33, an environmental specialist with the Pinellas County Water and Navigation Section. "They are a part of the marine food web, help stabilize the shoreline from erosion, and help maintain good water quality."

The city would have to present its proposal to the county, which would determine if it is an exemption to the mangrove protection law or if it requires a permit, Johns said.

"Most likely this type of trimming would be covered under an exemption in the county code," he said. If not, however, the county would work with the city to obtain the permit as smoothly as possible.

Even with a permit to trim the mangroves back far enough to create a trail, Footlick said, it would be very labor intensive with ongoing maintenance.

The city would have to ensure regular trimming and maintenance on the creek without any assistance from the county.

However, there are many federal grants for helping state and local governments acquire and develop recreational trails and parks.

The federal government offers a grant that assists states in acquiring outdoor recreation areas for use by the public with the help of the Outdoor Recreation-Acquisition, Development and Planning program. While it may help with the startup, this particular grant does not offer funding for routine maintenance and operation.

Also, under the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program, the federal government can provide grants to help local governments conserve rivers and develop trails and greenways.

Even with possible grant options, the city will have to look to its own wallet to help make a navigable Salt Creek a reality.

However, if given the opportunity, many of the neighborhoods may also be willing to do their part to help maintain Salt Creek as a kayaking or canoeing trail.

"The association would love to get involved," Tito said. The Bartlett Park Neighborhood Association has been very active in cleaning up Salt Creek by engaging in at least two large cleanups a year.

"Any opportunity to expose citizens to the natural environment makes them better stewards of the land, in addition to the recreational benefits of canoeing and kayaking," said Johns.

Sara Palmer is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Can Salt Creek become a navigable kayak trail? 03/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 6:04pm]

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