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Giving Hernando Park to Brooksville an idea worth considering

Ruth Austin, 78, right, and friend Betty Winiecki, 75, both of Brooksville, play a game of pickleball at Brooksville Park.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Ruth Austin, 78, right, and friend Betty Winiecki, 75, both of Brooksville, play a game of pickleball at Brooksville Park.

Hernando Park, I noticed when I stopped there for a game of tennis the other day, looks darn good from the street.

Critics said the fence erected during those unnecessarily nasty days before May's Florida Blueberry Festival would make the park seem unwelcoming, like a private estate. It doesn't. The gates are wide open, and the new semicircular stairs practically invite people in from downtown Brooksville.

The brick walkways do the same, and connect with the sidewalk leading between the park's neighbors, Lykes Memorial Public Library and the U.S. Postal Service.

Previously, when you got out of your car on Fort Dade Avenue, you were just about stranded, with the only ways to gain access to the park being a walk down the street to a driveway or climbing up a grassy bank. Now that stranded feeling is gone.

The shuffleboard courts, demolished to make way for this entrance, were a nice old-Brooksville throwback. But hardly anyone used them, and I found on this recent visit that I didn't miss them.

As my son and I walked back to the courts, I saw that an oak planted to replace a rotten one that had been removed has gotten off to a robust start because of all the rain.

Unfortunately, the rain has also been good for the skunk and potato vines that now blanket the hedges and climb up the chain-link fence next to the courts.

The courts' surface is a mess, too. Not from the minor, easily repaired damage caused when bleachers for the festival were briefly set up. No, the fabric subsurface is shining through because the courts haven't had a new coat of sealant in years.

As you may have heard, the Brooksville Vision Foundation, which supported the festival but is mostly focused on downtown revitalization, is at it again.

Members of one of its committees have recommended that the city of Brooksville take the park over from its current owner, Hernando County.

When they and/or the festival organizers (there's so much cross-pollination here, it's sometimes hard to tell who's who) did this last spring, it generated howls of outrage from tennis players and select gadflies.

It's generating more howls now.

In a letter in Wednesday's Hernando Times, one of the gadflies, Dennis Purdy, said the foundation "wants to steal" the park "from the taxpayers of Hernando County."

No, the foundation, or at least its stakeholder committee, thinks handing the park over to the city would allow Brooksville to use it to stage events and generally draw visitors and commerce downtown.

The hand-over still has to get the approval of the foundation's board, and the City Council and the County Commission, meaning it's far from certain, which in turn means it's pretty early to start howling.

That's especially true because a transfer of ownership might not be the end of the world, after all. It might even turn out to be a good deal.

Unlike last spring, nobody is talking about removing the tennis courts. Yes, if the city owned the courts, Brooksville business interests involved with the foundation would probably have more say about how the park is operated, including, maybe, covering the tennis courts occasionally for an art show or a taste-of-Brooksville festival.

If that's what it takes to get business owners to take an interest in the park and downtown, then great. Because that hasn't happened enough in the past, and the county doesn't have a lot of money to maintain its parks. The bleeding seems to have stopped this year, but county government is so drained from the past few that it can't keep up with mowing, pulling weeds or resurfacing courts.

Yep. Just about everything I saw at the park that looked like neglect could be put on the county and, by extension, us. Taxpayers are the ones who haven't been willing to adequately fund our parks.

Meanwhile, just about everything new and nice about the park came through the festival organizers, the foundation and the private interests they enlisted to donate time, money and skill.

This might not be enough to convince everybody that the park should be used just as the foundation committee has recommended.

It is enough to talk about it rather than howl.

Giving Hernando Park to Brooksville an idea worth considering 08/23/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 23, 2012 9:24pm]

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