Pinellas County is justifiably proud of its 26 parks. They are big, beautiful facilities, well maintained, and most get heavy use. ¶ But look at a map of the park locations in the county, and it is easy to see that most of the county parks are clustered along the Gulf of Mexico and around Lake Tarpon. There is no county park on the eastern side of the county between Philippe Park in north Safety Harbor and Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg. That's a significant gap, and it means that people who live on the eastern side of mid-Pinellas have to drive farther than other residents to reach a county park.
For those people, especially, it is good news that soon the county will begin development of Eagle Lake Park on 163 acres at the intersection of Keene and Belleair roads in Largo.
In 1998 the county reached a deal to buy 157 acres from the pioneering Taylor family, which had grown citrus and grazed cattle and raised generations of family members on the land. An additional purchase of 6 acres in 2006 completed the boundaries for the park.
The county fenced the property and has held on to it, waiting for the right time and sufficient funding to develop the park. That time arrived this year, and so far, budget cutting going on at all levels of government in Florida has not skewered the time table for Eagle Lake Park. Construction is to begin in May or June and be completed in late 2009.
When it opens, the park is expected to have miles of trails for walkers and bicyclists, a dog park, boardwalks through wetlands, a picnic area and playground. It won't have gulf beaches or the expansive lake views of county parks around Lake Tarpon or Lake Seminole, but it will have three ponds, with observation platforms overlooking two of them. There will be plenty of places to watch the hawks, fox squirrels, gopher tortoises, coyotes and otters that populate the property, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the bald eagles for which the park is named.
The park also will have a couple of features most other county parks don't have: a working citrus grove that will be maintained by the county extension service, and the Taylor home, built in 1929 on what was then a working farm.
Largo was once the agricultural center of the county, booming with citrus warehouses, feed stores and miles of groves and pastures. The city hosted the annual county agricultural fair on land that is now Largo Central Park. So it is appropriate that county park officials have sought to retain some of that agricultural flavor in designing Eagle Lake Park.
And with the parkland surrounded on all sides by dense development, it is appropriate that Eagle Lake Park also be a quiet, passive place for the wildlife forced onto its acres by the construction of homes and roads. Active uses like the dog park are best located on the fringes.
If construction of the park goes forward on schedule, by the end of next year residents of mid- and eastern Pinellas will have, for the first time, a county park conveniently close to them, as well as a refuge for the wildlife so at risk in congested Pinellas County.