"That anyone would try to destroy such a place seems incredible, but sad experience shows that there are people good enough and bad enough for anything."
— John Muir
I took a quick trip to Brooker Creek Preserve in northeast Pinellas County. I typically find myself at the preserve on my day off. It is one of the few places in Pinellas County that affords a hiker great hiking opportunities. No mountains are found here, nor are there rushing streams. Instead, there are dark cypress domes and xeric uplands that remind you of desert landscapes out west.
This place has been a refuge for me — a wilderness playground, so to speak. I moved to Pinellas County so I could be with a special someone. I am grateful to be here with that person, but I love Florida, and what I see happening in this county saddens me.
Brooker Creek Preserve is an island of green in a sea of concrete and angry commuters. At a little over 8,000 acres, the preserve is by no means a national park. It is like many local preserves — tiny in relative size, but immensely grand in the ecological role it plays in recharging this area's local water supply.
Neither is the Brooker Creek Preserve a true wilderness. A number of roads pass through it, as do power line easements. The humming of distant traffic can always be heard. Is there anywhere in the lower 48 where you can visit without seeing discarded rubbish or other signs of Americanus slobvious? I hope pristine places are still hiding out there.
Though Brooker Creek Preserve is not a true wilderness, it is a fine representation of a Florida long gone. The preserve does a great job of keeping the trees, plants and animals from being gobbled up by local progress. There is plentiful wildlife here. Gopher tortoises dominate the sandy landscapes, while pileated woodpeckers make a thumping music among the snags found in the pine flatwoods.
The place is peaceful. The creatures here, big and small, all seem content with their existence and completely unaware of the fate of their home. Little do they know that Pinellas County commissioners have successfully put through a measure that would allow some sort of construction on up to 2,600 acres of their out-of-doors neighborhood. This measure will forever alter the county's last wild place.
Not all will be lost, but a significant chunk. Progress could bring multistory buildings. The buildings could be accompanied by reservoirs, water pipes and chemical storage units. I can only assume that they will have to build roads to access this infrastructure.
I became aware of the story after reading an article from the local newspaper. One individual challenged this proposal in court. Unfortunately, the County Commission passed the measure before the court ruled, and now it is full speed ahead for the county. That is bad news for the animals and plants clinging to survival on what little acreage remains in Florida's most densely populated county.
Over the past few days I have been trying to digest the news about Brooker Creek. I have always assumed that a preserve was meant to be in place forever. A friend I was talking to recently took the stance that a preserve is simply a preserve because at that moment there is no need for its resources. In summary, he was saying that no wilderness is held sacred when there is a hungry economy to feed.
Hiking, I tried to enjoy myself, but forgetting about the imminent threat to the preserve proved difficult. I could not stop pondering where I would go to find solitude. Where would I go to meet my hiking needs? Where would people go who are seeking refuge from an increasingly urban world?
The answers to such questions do not come easily. It seems likely that a day will come when the county will need to take another incremental piece away from the preserve's remaining acreage.
As of today, the preserve was still functioning as a rare ecological jewel. The gopher tortoises were still roaming free across the sandhills and the turkeys were still making use of the hiking trails. As for me, I was grateful for the existence of Brooker Creek Preserve.
Brandon Van Nuys lives in Palm Harbor. He has a bachelor of science degree in natural resource conservation and writes a blog about natural areas in Florida at www.pucpuggy.wordpress.com.