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Lodge owner gives nostalgia a last chance

Attention nostalgia buffs: You have about 30 days to wrestle up $375,000 if you would like to keep a historic lodge standing.

The clock is already ticking.

Preservationists have plenty of will to preserve one of the last vestiges of the former Moon Lake Gardens and Dude Ranch.

The cypress lodge, once part of a rustic 9,000-acre resort of the 1930s that drew celebrities like Joseph P. Kennedy and Gloria Swanson, sits on 26 acres off Moon Lake Road, and the property owner has a demolition permit pending. But he says he is willing to delay tearing down the lodge in the hope of recouping some of $740,000 he has spent into the property.

"If anybody's sincere, I'll hold off. But I have to do something with it shortly," owner Richard Fedash said during a telephone interview from his home in Idaho. He lives part-time in Largo.

Fedash, who bought the property nine years ago, has offered several times to sell it to the county, most recently for $375,000.

"I'm taking a beating, but I'll work with them, because I want to sell it," he said, noting that the dilapidated lodge is a liability.

The lodge and surrounding property used to be part of a 9,000-acre hunting resort, open from 1937 to 1942. The ranch included horse-riding trails, gardens with native and exotic trees, plants and flowers, a casino, dance hall and cottages.

But as much as they would like to preserve a piece of Pasco's heritage, county officials insist the county won't put up any money. County commissioners instead have encouraged local groups to lead the effort, possibly by applying for a state grant. Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the lodge today at 9:30 a.m. at the government center in New Port Richey.

George Percy, director of the Division of Historical Resources, said grants for outright purchases are rare, though he could think of a few examples over the years. The grant would have to go to a non-profit organization.

His agency has one grant available for such purposes, but the deadline for applications was June 1. Also, historic buildings qualify for purchase under the state Conservation and Recreation Land program, but Percy said such purchases generally apply to buildings of statewide historical significance.

"It's going to be a pretty tough road," to get the little-known Moon Lake lodge on the list of properties to be purchased through CARL, Percy said. And lining up any grant in a month is out of the question.

In other words, it's up to some local organization to come up with the money to buy the property. And that could be a trick.

"We all know it can't be done in a few weeks or a month's time," said Lucille Gerber of the Moon Lake Civic Association. "We've got the will to work, but we don't have any money. And Moon Lake's not an area where you could collect a lot of money in a hurry."

Fedash had planned to tear down the lodge and sell off its virgin cypress lumber, though he said he will hold off until about mid-July. He said he has had plenty of interest expressed in the property over the years, but rarely from anyone with money.

Cynthia Roman of New Port Richey is one of those who sees plenty of potential for the lodge. Roman is organizing a group to help single mothers and their children, and she sees the lodge as a great shelter for five or six families. The Christian-oriented group, which she calls the "Rachel Project," is not yet incorporated, but she hopes to begin raising money to lease the lodge.

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