Treasured parks need money, care
I hope that this letter will encourage Chairman Robert B. Stewart and the other Pinellas County commissioners to reconsider the proposed severe cut to the county Parks Department budget.
We all realize that the governor's mandate to cut real estate taxes has had a negative impact on communities. When citizens are not informed in advance of the effects such cuts will have on their everyday lives, the governor sounds like a hero.
My partner and I moved here to Pinellas County part time three years ago. Two years ago, we moved to Dunedin and became homesteaded Florida residents. We moved here from Delaware, where there is no state sales tax, minimal real estate tax and a low income tax. There are, however, no services. We paid for everything, including trash collection, and there are no parks except for the beaches, some of which have entry fees. You get, as they say, what you pay for.
Two of the main reasons we moved to Florida — specifically Pinellas County — were the weather and the incomparable parks. We spend much of our time in Wall Springs and Anderson parks. Unlike Delaware, we saw that parks and protected open space were treasures never taken for granted by Florida residents and officials. The proposed cuts threaten these treasures.
Although it is not commonly known, the Pinellas County parks system has a problem with graffiti. Because the employees are so vigilant at cleaning up, we don't have to see mural paintings in the restrooms and graffiti on picnic tables.
Another part of the plan, I understand, is to allow the parks to revert from landscaped to a preserve-type maintenance level. Strip-mowing on either side of the sidewalks does not allow space for playing, walking and freedom of movement.
An issue related to landscaping is the control of invasive species. Because of the information the parks provide, we are all more aware of the risk of invaders to our Florida ecosystem. With a much reduced level of care at the parks, these species surely would take over.
One of the things we noticed when we first began coming here was the quality of construction and maintenance of the park structures. Part of that is mandated by the need for strength to withstand storms. But it is also simple things such as the staining of the wood and the fact that the shelter tables are always painted and in good condition. That comes with work.
Another issue is reduction or elimination of ranger staff. The frequent appearance of rangers encourages people to keep dogs on leads and lets us know subtly that even if we are there alone, we are not alone.
What a loss these proposed reductions would cause. I urge the commissioners to find a means to spread the reductions with greater awareness of long-term consequences.
Francine R. Bradshaw, Dunedin
Benefits of parks cross generations
Many of us have fond memories of picnics in a local park with family or friends. Others remember the fun times of rooting for our child playing on a sports team at a field maintained by a local park system. And who can forget a family vacation to one of our state or national parks, to be held in awe by the wonders of creation.
Our park systems, whether local, state or federal, are now facing unprecedented challenges in maintaining adequate funding for maintenance and staffing needs. The reasons for the challenges that we now face are many, but the need for quality recreational experiences still remains for the strength of our families and communities.
My grandparents moved to Pinellas County in 1957, retiring here from Indiana. My family soon followed after visiting them in the land of sun and fun. Those were different times for Florida. Folks of modest means, like our family, could live a lifestyle equal to anything that we had in the North, but with the additional benefit of year-round enjoyment of the great outdoors.
My earliest memory at one of our parks was when my family visited Fort De Soto Park. I'll never forget those family outings to the beach or riding the miniature train that was by the old fort. We eventually moved to a house beside Taylor Park in Largo. When I wasn't in school, I spent many an hour there playing on the ballfield or the playground with my friends.
I was very fortunate to be able to enjoy a career in the Pinellas County Parks Department. Having come to the park system from another county department, I found my calling after starting at Fort De Soto. Eventually, I became the assistant supervisor at Taylor Park, the place that had been so dear to me as a child, before becoming the supervisor of Sand Key Park.
Over the years I've spent in parks, I have seen so many families, civic and church groups and kids in summer day camp programs enjoying our parks, building an outdoor recreation habit as well as good memories for those families and kids.
As we are heading into uncertain economic times, one thing I am certain about is that recreation in the great outdoors is more important than ever. During economic downturns, our park systems are the first to experience cuts, as they are not considered essential services. The fallacy of that thinking to me is that children who do not have something to do, such as our recreation programs, or a place to do them, will often find other activities to fill their free time that can have detrimental effects to themselves and their communities.
I have had firsthand experience working with troubled youth over the years and have seen the pattern of the slide into the wrong crowd and the devastating consequences repeated over and over again. Our parks and recreation departments are staffed with trained professionals who can teach them habits of sportsmanship and civic pride that can last them a lifetime.
Let's all make sure that our government leaders at all levels know how important parks are to you and our communities.
Fred Bruder, Palm Harbor