They once lugged buckets of water across the street, chased kids away and tossed sand, all to protect a bit of history. Now some Pinellas Point residents have finally gotten some additional help preserving their neighborhood's 1,000-year-old American Indian burial and temple mound.
"It's been five years since they first started listening," said Vicki Imbach, who has lived across the street from the mound for more than 30 years. "One voice doesn't get heard."
Imbach and other neighbors have already put in a lot of work. In the fall of 2007, a group that included Imbach and Ray Wunderlich spent 12 hours a day for two days building a fence around the mound. Imbach admitted riding a bike on it as a kid, but now chases bikers away to preserve it. She remembered lugging reclaimed water from her back yard and watching men throw sand to keep the mound from washing away.
County money will go toward stopping that erosion and replacing signs, among other things, said St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation assistant director Phil Whitehouse. He said about $150,000 from the Penny for Pinellas tax has been earmarked for the project, which started last month with tree removal.
Imbach said the removal of Australian pines will help the erosion problem "immensely." She said the pines cause erosion by taking away sunlight from the mound. The pines are one of eight "invasive exotic plants" that are to be removed.
Wunderlich, who first discussed the mound with the neighborhood association three years ago, researched the plants.
"Natives used plants to survive," Wunderlich said. Women used the sabal palm to weave ropes and baskets.
The historical significance of the mound has attracted attention from Indians. George Garcia, security director for the American Indian Movement's Florida chapter, said the circumference and size of the mound tells him it was used as a burial ground, temple or place of worship.
"To us, it's sacred, it's our ancestors," said Garcia, whose heritage is Comanche. "It's their resting place."
Garcia said he hopes to educate people and provide a "blueprint" for other cities to prevent digging.
"It's no different than a cemetery, you don't want your ancestors dug up for jewelry."
State archaeologist Jeff Moates, who assisted the city and neighborhood association with the mound, said mostly shell tools were found. He added that the Tocobaga tribe likely inhabited the mound 1,000 years ago before the Spaniards arrived.
"When a specific chief or high political figure dies, a lot of times they are buried on the same surface they lived on," he said. The Tocobagas burned everything on the mound then added sand so that the new leader would live on sterile ground.
Imbach was happy to learn more about the history of the mound she sees every morning. She said that in the 1920s, residents would dig up mounds to fill the roads. Imbach hopes that all the progress the neighbors have made on the mound is preserved.
"If I protect the mound, the hurricane gods will protect me."