". . . what's past is prologue"
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
The city of Dunedin has been extremely fortunate in having had leadership which, at certain critical times in the past, made decisions that had much to do with the character and, I would say, charm of the city today.
Two of these leaders were Ed Eckert and Elbert "Red" Linville. Except for a short road at the western edge of Highlander Park named after Ed Eckert, their names and legacy are largely unknown to the citizens of Dunedin.
That is a shame. They, and their commissions, helped write the "prologue" to a script which is now in our hands.
Ed Eckert served two terms as mayor, from 1962 to 1966. During his tenure, the city acquired the "Otten tract," the "Kerr tract" and the land on which the Fisher Field recreational complex was developed.
The Kerr tract was an 85-acre parcel that an 1846 U. S. government survey identified as "wet swamp." The purchase price for this swampland was $175,000 (more than $1.2 million today when adjusted for inflation).
That swampland is a natural hardwood hammock and represents one of the last examples of a coastal forest that was typical of West Central Florida prior to development. The city's Hammock Park contains more than 300 native species of trees, shrubs, ferns, wildflowers and small animals. In addition, more than 100 species of birds inhabit the preserve throughout the year.
In addition to being a protected habitat for these flora and fauna, Hammock Park has provided what the Friends of Hammock Park in their promotional brochure describe as "natural beauty for the soul and a peaceful respite for the body."
The Otten tract, purchased for $50,000 (that would be approximately $350,000 today), was the start of our 70-acre Highlander Park, which is the setting for our LEED-certified community center, the well recognized and highly regarded Dunedin Fine Art Center, a junior olympic pool, a spray park and enough open space to host events such as the annual Art Harvest.
In an editorial prompted by Ed Eckert's death in 1973, the Clearwater Sun newspaper commented on the acquisition of Fisher Field during Eckert's term as mayor: ". . .And though there was criticism of the action at the time, it turned out to be an exceedingly astute purchase. . ." Certainly, the same can be said of Highlander and Hammock parks also.
Red Linville was a nurseryman who is described as "dynamic" by some who knew him. He felt strongly about the value of nature and was mayor of Dunedin in 1975.
That was the year the City Commission passed its Land Dedication Ordinance, or "LDO." Linville was joined by Commissioners Herb Donald Jr., Cecil Engelbert, Judy Gould and Manny Koutsourais in providing a financing mechanism to ensure that the impact of residential development on population density would be offset by making land available for parks and recreation.
Utilizing the LDO, the city has been able to provide recreational facilities such as Dunedin Stirling Links (formerly St. Andrews Links) and the Jerry Lake Recreational Complex. More passive parks such as Amberlea, Curlew Creek, Scottsdale and the newly acquired Bleakley parcel provide peaceful havens for residents of nearby development.
I believe that the real legacy of these "exceedingly astute" commissions from the 1960s and 1970s is not just in the number of acres they provided for the enjoyment of our citizens. The real legacy is in how the decisions of those commissions have helped to define us as a community and set us apart.
They clearly reached out to the youth of our city when they acquired land to provide athletic and recreational opportunities.
They realized the importance of preserving, for the enjoyment and education of succeeding generations, a natural ecosystem unique to Florida. How many communities our size can boast of a 90-acre natural hardwood hammock that "provides beauty for the soul and respite for the body"?
They understood that growth must be responsible and take into consideration the vision and culture of this community and its citizens. How often do we hear newcomers and visitors exclaim what a wonderful little town this is? Is it because we are like everyone else?
In the script that remains to be written, I hope we will see the prologue already written by previous commissions as guidance for future decisions. There will always be opportunities to reach out to our youth. Concern for our environment should always be on our agenda. Development and redevelopment must be responsible and responsive to the uniqueness of our community. Let's build on the past, not undo it.
Julie Scales is a Dunedin city commissioner.