PALM HARBOR — H.S. "Pop'' Stansell Park, a public park at the west end of Florida Avenue, is much loved for its fishing pier, band shell, playground and tranquil setting on the edge of St. Joseph Sound.
However, because teenage vandals are wreaking havoc throughout the 5-acre park, tranquility has given way to frustration. And the Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Department has been forced to spend residents' tax dollars cleaning up the mess.
For the last several months, Grant McKeel, the park maintenance crew leader for Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation, has had to make repeated visits to rebuild parts of the pier ripped apart by the vandals.
"I'd say I've made six trips out there. It costs about $100 to redo the work every time,'' McKeel said.
McKeel and other maintenance workers also have been forced to monitor the picnic area for graffiti every workday.
"Every morning we come out to the park to check for (vandalism). I've seen stuff that you definitely don't want any little kids to read,'' he said.
"We've come face to face with kids holding onto paint, and they just yell at us, telling us that they haven't done anything,'' he added. "And there's been times when we apply fresh paint over the graffiti only to come in the next day to see messages like, 'You keep painting over us, and we'll keep marking it up.' ''
Parks and Recreation director Erica Lynford stressed that vandalism is nothing new. "But it has gotten progressively worse, and that is the case all around the country,'' she said.
Lynford has a solution in mind: She plans to purchase security equipment for the park in the coming year.
Last summer, at the Florida Recreation and Park Association annual conference, Lynford went to a workshop on park security and learned about a California-based company, Q-Star Technology, that created the FlashCAM-880SX.
The motion-activated system bathes trespassers in bright lights and snaps photos of them when they enter areas that are off-limits.
"It breaks my heart to have to pay for something like this,'' Lynford said. "I certainly didn't want to spend upward of $4,000 on a device to catch citizens destroying a park we maintain for their benefit.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.