In the swaying cattails near the foot bridge to tiny Lake Maggiore Island, an alligator bellowed, its back rising rhythmically above the water. On land, a raccoon ambled by and from above came the calls of a northern parula. Across the lake, the domed roof of Tropicana Stadium shone.
Mostly, though, within Boyd Hill Nature Preserve's more than 245 acres of sand scrub, pine flatwoods, willow marsh, swamp woodlands and hardwood hammock, the intrusion of modern life seemed far away.
And that's the way environmentalists like Lorraine Margeson would like to keep it. Margeson has gotten the support of new City Council member Amy Foster to advocate for extended protection for the park at 1101 Country Club Way S. Only about half of the park is officially a preserve.
The city's charter requires a referendum for any major change in use for most parkland, but Foster and Margeson say Boyd Hill, with its wildlife and rare botanicals, needs full protection. Foster is asking that the entire park be made a preserve.
"It really is a beautiful property and this just seems like an easy task for us to complete," Foster said. "St. Petersburg has a long history of protecting its land and we've had visionary leaders that made sure we protected our waterfront and now we enjoy that."
Foster, who recently toured Boyd Hill with park volunteers, said she saw many places without the preserve designation that are habitats for wildlife such as the threatened gopher tortoise and the endangered plant, nuttall's rayless goldenrod.
Adding that Pinellas County is the most built-out county in the state, Foster said making the whole park a preserve would protect it "for future generations."
Margeson concurred, saying it would assure residents "that this gem will receive the proper management and restoration" it deserves.
The preserve designation would add "an additional layer of protection and is more defended," Mike Jefferis, director of parks and recreation, said. He added, though, that there is a misconception that encroachment has already occurred at Boyd Hill in the form of adjacent fire and police training areas and athletic fields. Those areas have been there for decades, with the athletic fields in place at least since the 1950s, he said.
Credit for conceiving the park as a place of natural beauty is given to Boyd H. Hill, a former St. Petersburg park superintendent who envisioned a nature trail about 60 years ago.
Last week, Margeson, a life member of the Friends of Boyd Hill — formed in 1981 to support the park — helped show off the area. Gopher tortoise burrows were abundant amid tufts of wire grass and George Heinrich, a herpetologist working with volunteers, was conducting a population survey of the threatened animals.
Park supervisor Barbara Stalbird said the gopher tortoise count is an important piece for getting state funding for habitat improvement. During the tour, Stalbird talked about the cattails around the lake and said they serve as an important wildlife habitat. Since they can be invasive, a lot of work goes into managing their growth, she said.
That day, Gabriel Vargo, who has volunteered with Boyd Hill's birds of prey education program since it began in 1987, brought out Abiaka, a feisty male bald eagle just approaching adulthood. Vargo, retired associate professor emeritus from the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science, supports the quest for a preserve designation.
"The park is a very unique feature of the city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. It contains several different environments and is a refuge for many species that you would not otherwise find in Pinellas County," he said.
"You might think of Boyd Hill as St. Petersburg's Central Park. It's a wild area within the city."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.