At the gateway of the Pinellas Point community just south of Lakewood High School is a hub of activity and tranquility nicely packaged into one of the city's most beautiful parks.
The sprawling park's trail, dog park, baseball fields, skate park and other amenities cater to sports enthusiasts as well as young and old couples out for a morning or evening stroll.
It stands to reason that Lake Vista Park at 1400 62nd Ave. S is getting some major upgrades.
The park is in the Pinellas Point neighborhood, but it is used by residents of Bahama Shores, Bayou Bonita, Lakewood Estates, Lake Maggiore Shores and other neighborhoods in the southernmost part of the city.
The $700,000 in enhancements will include:
• Expanding the 1-mile loop that meanders through the park so that a 6-foot-wide asphalt trail adjoins the 4-foot-wide shell trail.
• Adding lighting along the trail.
• Creating a boardwalk leading to an overlook in the lake.
• Replacing the picnic shelters and adding picnic areas.
• Creating landscape islands in the parking lot.
• Adding an asphalt loop system around the lake and picnic areas.
The first addition is an outdoor exercise area dubbed the "Fitness Zone" that opens this weekend.
"The Fitness Zone is a prototype," said Phil Whitehouse, the city's parks and field operations superintendent. "The city is currently going through Florida's Trust for Public Land to apply for grants with the hope of adding the feature in five or six other city parks."
The Trust for Public Land is part of a national nonprofit group that conserves land for parks, gardens, historic sites, rural lands and other natural places. The agency helps create close-to-home parks in and around cities across the country.
Last week as Chris Wade and Titus Gunter of Precision Sports Fields of Jacksonville installed the equipment for the Fitness Zone, they drew a steady flow of curious sports buffs at the park.
The 40- by 40-foot workout area, which is in the southwestern part of the park, features eight stations that can accommodate up to 16 users at a time. The stations are a lat pulldown, chest press, ski runner, sky runner, stationary bicycle, pendulum swing, situp bench and leg press.
According to Whitehouse, the city got the idea for the workout area from Freedom Lake Park in Pinellas Park.
It chose Lake Vista for the prototype because "it's one of the most used parks in the city," he said. "From early in the morning to late in the evening, there's a constant flow of people using the facilities there."
The numbers tell the story. There are 54,780 permits issued annually for classes and other offerings at the park's recreation center. That does not include the hundreds of walkers and runners on the trail, tennis courts, pool, outdoor basketball courts and skate park.
"It has always been one of our most heavily used parks — particularly the picnic areas," said parks operation manager Mike Vineyard.
Other popular city parks are Crescent Lake and Walter Fuller, he said.
So how will the new Fitness Zone work? Will park patrons be required to sign a waiver before using it?
"No. It's no different from any other play or exercise equipment that we have in the parks. It's open to the public and anybody can use it at any time," said project manager Steve Ochsner.
The next improvement at the park is the 1-mile trail project, which should get under way next month and be completed by the end of the summer. According to city officials, the paved trail is intended for inline skaters, not bicycle riders, since there are bike lanes on many city streets.
Some of the improvements, like the new lighting, will be gradual. Others, like the boardwalk and overlook, will take more time, said Ochsner.
It should all be finished by the end of the year, he said.
Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at email@example.com or at (727) 893-8874.