Editor's note: The following are some of the letters the Tampa Bay Times received following last Sunday's story about Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos' suggestion that Crest Lake Park should be redesigned to make it more like Largo Central Park.
Appreciate this gem: Crest Lake Park is a real gem that only the homeless have come to appreciate. I believe we should borrow against the $1.5 million Penny for Pinellas money that has been earmarked for this park to do the following:
1. Improve the lawns
2. Unlock the existing restrooms and have daily police patrolling to reduce homeless camps.
3. Install an attractive marquee at Lake Avenue and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard to announce community events held at the park, i.e., farmers market, craft shows, etc.
4. I think the parking might be an issue if you build a better park to attract the community, however the existing street parking fits in with the neighborhood. Maybe additional grass parking could be installed at the north side of the lake at Cleveland Street.
I am a business owner in this neighborhood and continually use the park as a landmark when giving directions to my business, only to be surprised that the local residents don't even know where Crest Lake Park is! That doesn't happen at Largo Central Park.
Linda Backer, Clearwater
The potential is great: I have lived two blocks from Crest Lake Park for 25 years. I love the park and see it as a huge opportunity to become more like Largo Central Park, it just needs some attention.
The south side of the park is in good shape with the much-used dog park. I do like the berms on the south side — I think it helps keep the noise down and helps isolate the park from the hustle and bustle of traffic on Gulf-to-Bay and protects the natural serenity of the lake.
As for the north side, I would love to see the playground expanded and modernized. I don't know if is possible but it would be great to have a fountain at ground level, the kind that shoots intermittent streams of water for children to play in on our hot summer days.
And it would be nice to see an overall sprucing up of the landscape on the north side with added picnic tables and benches.
I would also like the city to consider utilizing the lake with kayak or canoe rentals on the weekends. It would be nice to have events like a children's fishing tournament, toy powerboat or sailboat races. I would love to see maybe some permanent wooden swings lakeside, the kind that seat two or three.
The potential is great, but I feel if they want to make it a destination park having bathrooms is critical.
Stacey Skinner, Clearwater
Fiscal responsibility is key: Being new to Clearwater after spending nearly 20 years in the liberal tax-and-spend state of Maryland, I found Times staff writer Mike Brassfield's slanted article Green Space Envy very interesting.
I walk my dog in Crest Lake Park at least three times a week. I find the park to be adequately maintained, picturesque and safe. I personally could not wish for more from a small park.
I would really like to know the true agenda of JoAnna Siskin, who, despite considering the park to be a "jewel" and being "beautiful the way it is," apparently wants to throw money in its direction.
I know very little about the politics of the area. I can, however, appreciate the fiscal responsibility in using only $86,000 to maintain the park as opposed to what has been spent on Largo Central Park.
I have grown very tired of elected officials with huge egos needing to build monuments to their administrations. Is it better to have a park with manicured lawns and statues, or have the money used more wisely on less glamorous endeavors such as improving education, improving roads, or adding more police and firefighters?
John Muhlenbruch, Clearwater
Bring back park's glory days: Once you get past the fact that the Clearwater City Council appears to be completely clueless with their mind-boggling flip-flopping behavior regarding Crest Lake Park, it's ultimately great news that they now want to spend newfound energy and money to fix up the same park they have so diligently neglected for so many years.
Mayor George Cretekos has declared he now thinks Crest Lake Park should be more like Largo Central Park, with its nice public restrooms, picnic tables and events.
Well, funny story. Crest Lake Park used to have public restrooms instead of "creepy-looking bathrooms welded shut." There used to be large picnic tables, comfortable benches and manicured lawns. There was even a huge ivy topiary of a St. Bernard surrounded by flowers in a giant planter that greeted dog owners. (Now the planter is full of dirt and a new law makes it a crime to sit on the edge.) There were bio-degradable doggie bags available and fire hydrants painted bright colors by artists.
And because of these amenities, there were events; movie night, craft shows and kayak races.
If the city wants Crest Lake Park to be more like Largo Central Park, all they need to do is bring back what they've spent so many years taking away.
Shannon O'Leary-Beck, Clearwater
Bring park to life: Life! That's what our park needs. Larger playground area in shade. Pavilions for group parties, grills and trash bins. Art for the eye. Large restrooms — at least ones that are open!
Build it and they will come. Maybe if we had more people visiting Crest Lake Park then the riffraff would go away. This park has become too scary to visit. I went there alone a month ago to take pictures and was very nervous walking around. Kept looking over my shoulder. This was a beautiful day at 3 p.m.
Sharon Humphries, Clearwater
Fun for families: With an expanded play area, with a gate and security fence like Largo Central (Park), more families would go and make it less hospitable to the homeless who congregate there.
I have often wondered why Clearwater hasn't joined some neighboring cities with a sprayground for kids — very popular destinations in Dunedin and Oldsmar. Crest Lake would be a great location for one.
And if the city did make a lawn area like Largo Central has, they could show an occasional movie there and subsidize the cost with a few vendors selling treats. My son and I saw a movie there a few years ago, and regularly attend the free movies at Pier 60.
Some enhanced picnic shelters would be good. Largo Central is always hosting birthday parties throughout the weekends. And of course, bathrooms are a must!
Sue Ellis, Clearwater
Police need to step up: I've lived here for 25 years so I have a good sense of the downward progress of this area and this city as a whole. This park desperately needs attention.
A few years ago the city planted dozens of new trees below the water line of the lake (i.e. underwater) where the trees promptly died and have been left as-is for years now. I've contacted the city parks department several times to clean it up but nothing happens.
Bums sleep in the park constantly or when awake, they are begging for money. Predators harass female joggers. Drug deals occur all day and night along the S Glenwood Avenue parking strip. Stabbings, muggings, murders, these are all commonplace at Crest Lake. Rarely do you see nice families enjoying the park with their children — we all drive to other cities to visit their parks!
It would be fantastic to rebuild Crest Lake Park a la Largo Central Park. Or a spray-park area for kids like Dunedin's Highlander Park would be wonderful too. But even if the police just did their job and arrested the vagrants, that would improve the park.
I've never once seen a police office get out of his car and walk the park, but they do park their cruisers on the grass, in the shade, on their lunch breaks — an area with signs designating "no motor vehicles" (along Cleveland Street). How is the grass ever supposed to grow when the police drive their cruisers on it every day? I've watched them — they aren't policing the area, they're taking a break in the shade.
Kevin "Todd" Schnell, Clearwater
New system caused problems: Our mayor is quoted as saying "it's not that green kind of lawn we see at Largo Central Park."
Well sir, that problem started years ago when a new system was started in the city. City workers drove city trucks all over the park. Start with a supervisor who drove a dump truck, five days a week, off Cleveland Street to the lake, creating a new road for himself between the lake and sidewalk, up to the dog park. He sat there, motor running for more than half an hour, five days a week, waiting to see if he could nab someone whose dog was off leash.
And city workers, in as many as seven trucks, motors running, passing the time of day for a minimum of half an hour, then driving again over the grass to the job they were already late for.
How much money was wasted on those silly topiaries at the dog park entrance? You could have asked for volunteers. Skycrest Neighbors would have paid for lumber and paint and we would have found a school kid to paint a sign. The sign could still be there. How much money was wasted on flats of begonias and pansies and the like? A couple of small bushes would do.
To fix the park, start with opening the bathrooms, no vehicles making new traffic lanes in the park, put back the regular park benches and tables in case a little kid gets tired and wants to lay in his mommy's lap, or it might be someone who wants to have a small picnic. Who knows, it might be someone who votes and pays taxes.
B. J. Walsco, Clearwater
Keep out the trucks: As for how to make Crest Lake Park a better, more inviting place, I think Mayor George Cretekos is on the right track: Those low hills/high berms along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard have to go. But of course, it takes money to make things go away, just as it took money to build them. Obviously, they should not have been built in the first place.
The sidewalks in the park, both around the lake and further out around the park itself, are old and narrow. As a cyclist, I find them too narrow to ride and share with pedestrians, so I mostly don't use them. I go around the park, instead of through the park. And again, it would cost money to go in there and replace all of those narrow sidewalks with wider asphalt recreational paths.
Here's something they can do for free to make the park a better place: STOP DRIVING TRUCKS IN IT. Seems like every time I've ridden by that park on a weekday lunch hour, I have seen big municipal vehicles parked out in the middle of the thing, all under the trees. They don't seem to have any real, official reason to be in there, other than their drivers wanted to have a nice, shady lunch in the park, and no one would think to stop them. That might explain the lousy condition of the grass in there. And why no one else wants to share the park with a bunch of big trucks.
Chip Haynes, Clearwater
Send the right message: Many pet owners utilize the fenced-in dog compounds. My husband and I went there a while back during the day and found it mostly deserted.
There is an excellent grouping of outdoor exercise equipment which we enjoyed. We encountered a couple of disheveled-looking men lying in the grass — apparently asleep?
The closed-down bathrooms are simply hideous and should be either reopened or bulldozed over. What kind of message does this send to visitors to our area?
• Rent/purchase individual portable toilets
• Install cameras
• Involve locals in patrolling the park like a community cop and getting involved in the reestablishment of grass, flowers, etc. Get local church groups or school groups to adopt the park and fix it up.
• Assign police to police the area regularly.
LuVerne Taylor, Clearwater
Put safety first: I have lived here since 1958 for the most part, so Crest Lake is a huge part of my family history on a personal level. We had many happy outings to Crest Lake — family get-togethers, playing in the park and even attending the fishing jamboree they once held there.
As a young adult I migrated to Columbus, Ohio, to be near my now-husband of 36 years. We moved back to Florida in 1980, into my family home with our two daughters.
Not long ago, I took my 5-year-old and almost 3-year-old grandchildren to the park I loved so much, as a fun outing to play on the playground. My daughter called on my cellphone. I told her we were at Crest Lake Park. The panic in her voice was undeniable. Watch them closely, please, that park is dangerous, there are homeless people hanging around and there have been incidents there.
The little ones needed to use the bathroom. We walked over to the building housing them. None of the bathrooms were open. I am angry and just plain sad that the life has been allowed to be sucked out of this city park!
So, what does it need? Someone to patrol to keep the park safe. No one will come if dollars are poured into the park but they do not feel safe. They will of course need more parking if they hope to draw back the love of the community.
A new playground would be in order, and picnic shelters that invite family gatherings would be lovely. The dog park is is nice, but let's be honest, they are a dime a dozen, with many communities sporting their own dog parks, so why should people come to a park with their dogs where vagrants approach you for handouts? Or people are sleeping on the ground or picnic benches or playground equipment?
I love this park, but I will not go there with my grandchildren again.
Jean Grizzell, Clearwater
Site doesn't measure up: With Crest Lake Park positioned directly on the main entranceway to our local showplace, Clearwater Beach, it should represent the city better than it does.
I'm a dog owner, but the southwest corner of the park, up against Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, is not the best place for a dog park. Chain-link fence and nearly dead grass is not attractive. Why wasn't the dog park positioned on the Cleveland Street side with far fewer cars passing and less visibility?
The playground equipment is sad at best. And soldered-shut restrooms should be illegal in a public park with a playground. Why can't someone do a better job of curtailing the problems and keep the restrooms open?
I'm a lifelong resident of Clearwater and spent plenty of time at Crest Lake over the years. Now, I take my grandchildren to Largo Central Park, but never any Clearwater parks. They just don't begin to measure up.
Lois Ezell, Clearwater
Mentality must change: Crest Lake Park is symbolic of all that is wrong in Clearwater. In the over 30 years that I have been a resident, I have seen every aspect of the city overtaken by a military mentality. (Is there a department of city government that is not directed by retired military?) Rules and following rules are the most important thing.
How little money can we spend on the things that really matter to people, that make a city worth living in? Libraries, parks, community centers? Who needs these?
Lock the bathrooms. Turn off the electricity. Budget money for real programming that residents of a community make actually enjoy? Ho hum, not us. What makes a community a good place in which to live? Clearwater lost sight of that long ago.
Vicki Adelson, Clearwater