In these times of tight city and county budgets, grants from outside agencies or groups can provide a way to keep worthy projects on track. An example is a major project planned for Wall Springs Park in North Pinellas.
With the help of grant funds from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Pinellas County plans to improve the natural environment at the park off Alt. U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor. The bill for the entire job is $700,000, but the county will have to invest only half that, thanks to the grant funding.
Wall Springs is one of the newest county parks, an undiscovered gem for many Pinellas residents. The park borders the coastline, with the property extending out into a peaceful waterway known as Boggy Bayou. Kayaking, picnicking and bird watching are popular activities there.
One of the county's goals since acquiring the property has been to improve water quality in the park's various water bodies. Before the park opened, the county did substantial work to clean up the freshwater spring that gave the park its name.
Now, using the grant from Swiftmud, the county plans to restore a 1-acre pond near the spring that is being overrun by cattails and non-native plants. Crews have been working hard to try to control the plants, even pulling them up by hand, but the project now planned will remove the nuisance plants entirely and replace them with plants that will stabilize the shoreline and provide habitat for fish without becoming a problem.
Another part of the project — and one park visitors will be able to see and enjoy — will create a wooden bridge between the mainland side of the park and an island in Boggy Bayou. Visitors can now walk on an earthen causeway of sorts between the two sections of the park. The earthen bridge, created by a former owner of the Wall Springs land, unnaturally partitioned Boggy Bayou into two parts and blocked tidal flow.
The county plans to dig out a portion of the land bridge and build a wooden bridge over the gap so people can go back and forth to the picnic area on the island. Restoring the connection between the two parts of the bay will allow tidal flushing and create a healthier environment for the wildlife that live and feed along the waterway.
As the combination of tax cuts and a slowing economy takes its toll on government budgets throughout Florida, officials no doubt will consider environmental projects easier to cut than, say, law enforcement or fire services. Yet with Pinellas' natural areas already so affected by population growth and exotic plant species, their environmental value could be lost if they are ignored too long. Local governments that lack tax dollars to properly maintain these precious natural areas should aggressively seek grant funding for environmental projects until better times return.