Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Portions of Largo Nature Preserve reopen after long delay

LARGO — Rick Rudloff joined his wife and a friend for a brisk walk through Largo Central Park Nature Preserve on Monday morning. It's something they weren't able to do on their trip to Largo last year.

In the fall of 2010, the city closed the entire park to complete a project on the preserve's stormwater treatment pond. Much of the park reopened just last week, but parts are still closed because of arsenic contamination.

"We come down every winter for a few months," said Rudloff, 69, who is from Morrisville, Pa. "We love this park."

Work on the pond was finished months ago, but the city wasn't able to reopen the park until Jan. 10, said Greg Brown, the city's parks superintendent. That's because his department lost half a position and didn't have enough staff to maintain the facility.

Park patrons weren't happy.

"People have been begging us for a long time to reopen it," Brown said.

He approached the city manager for permission to open portions of the preserve after several incidents of vandalism. Vandals broke into the restrooms and another building, burned a plastic picnic table, broke an otter statue and stole a water fountain and a metal grate used to filter trash.

Now, the park is partially maintained by inmate crews. About once a month, they edge the trails and trim the trees. But Brown still needs volunteers for other tasks, such as picking up trash or opening the front gate in the mornings.

Meanwhile, fences block off the preserve's observation tower and walking paths near the back of the park. They've been closed since late 2008 because of high concentrations of arsenic in the soil.

Arsenic was found throughout the preserve at varying levels, but the tower area was identified as the hot spot. Soil tests near the tower showed one spot measured 138 parts per million, more than 11 times Florida's target level for cleanup of arsenic in industrial areas.

Those tests came months after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection told the city that it might not have done enough to protect the public from exposure to arsenic at the preserve. The news surprised officials, who thought they had resolved the problem years earlier.

Arsenic can be toxic, but the likelihood and degree of harm is related to exposure, experts say. The mere presence of arsenic does not mean there's a health risk.

Parts of the preserve were used as a landfill from the 1960s through about 1984. And portions of the property may have been used for agriculture. Officials think some of the contamination may be from naturally occurring background levels or past uses. But, they say, high levels of arsenic near the tower are likely linked to its construction. It was built with pressure-treated wood, which historically contained arsenic.

Last spring, the city of Largo sent an extensive report to the DEP. It included the results of tests for contaminants throughout the preserve.

"We're still waiting to hear back from them on their review of what we submitted," said city engineer Leland Dicus.

In the meantime, they're working with a consultant to come up with a plan to deal with the contaminants.

Ana Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said the department has been working with the city and provided verbal direction to remove soil in areas of the highest arsenic concentrations. It also acknowledged that more sampling would be needed to complete the site assessment, which must be done before a cleanup plan can be finalized. The 31-acre park is teeming with wildlife. Otters, alligators and more than 100 species of birds live there.

On Monday, Bob Fritts, a snowbird from Bethalto, Ill., strolled the boardwalk around the stormwater treatment pond. He pointed out a turtle, a fish and a couple of birds.

"I like to walk around the lake," Fritts said. "You can see fish swimming and birds hunting."

He also noted an assortment of plastic cups, soda cans and bait buckets littering the water. "It's not as clean as it used to be," he said.

Reach Lorri Helfand at or (727) 445-4155. Go to to submit a letter to the editor.

If you go

Largo Central Park Nature Preserve is located at 150 Highland Ave. SE, just south of East Bay Drive. The park is open daily from 6:30 a.m. until one hour before sunset. The city's parks department is seeking volunteers. For information, call (727) 586-7415 or email

Portions of Largo Nature Preserve reopen after long delay 01/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 5:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Power struggle: Latvala targets Putnam's large donations from electric utilities


    TALLAHASSEE — The 2018 race for Florida governor will be about power — not just political power, but electric power.

    Scott Crellin, a trouble man for Duke Energy, works to cut tree limbs from a Tarpon Springs power line after Hurricane Irma. The utility's problems with getting power restored after the storm, and it's contributions to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's campaign for governor, have become an issue in the governor's race. [CHRIS URSO  |   Times]

  2. Authors R.L. Stine, Neil DeGrasse Tyson coming to Tampa Bay this week


    AUTHORS: Neil deGrasse Tyson, R. L. Stine, Finn Murphy

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12:  Author R.L. Stine attends “Goosebumps” New York premiere at AMC Empire 25 theater on October 12, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
  3. Brothers' fatal shootout at Plant City ranch draws lawsuit from survivor


    TAMPA — George "Terry" Long escaped with his life last spring when his wife's ex-husband tried to gun him down at Plant City's Rocking V Ranch.

    This Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office photo shows part of the scene at the Rocking V ranch in Plant City where two brothers were shot dead April 15 during a family confrontation. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Florida Gators' Jordan Sherit out for the year after hip surgery


    Florida Gators defensive lineman Jordan Sherit will miss the rest of the season after undergoing hip surgery earlier this week, coach Jim McElwain said Wednesday morning.

    "It's a bad deal, man," McElwain said.

  5. 5 things to do under $5: Wiener dog racing, Streetcar Festival, Clearwater chalk art, Dia De Los Muertos


    1Wienerfest: They had us at wiener dog racing. This day devoted to dachshunds features racing, a dog costume contest, food trucks, photo booth and raffles at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Saturday. Leashed dogs of all breeds welcome. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. Free admission. (407) …

    An entry in the costume contest from 2015's annual Dia de los Muertos Fiesta, or Day of the Dead Festival, hosted by Casa Tina's Mexican Restaurant.
photo courtesy Mikell Herrick