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Recreation destination needs time to recover from Frances

(ran East edition)

Any given weekend, Lake Park is bustling. This county park off N Dale Mabry Avenue offers a wide span of activities, including fishing, picnicking, horse riding, archery, bicycle motocross and radio-controlled car racing.

This month, however, almost any given weekend seems to bring a hurricane. Frances, in particular, dumped so much rain on Lake Park that the popular recreation destination has been closed since Labor Day.

Inconvenienced equestrians, cyclists and archers will have to wait awhile to resume their pastimes at the flooded park, which encompasses 600 acres south of Van Dyke Road. While front portions of the park could reopen as soon as this week, the back portion _ where the BMX and horse riding areas are _ will be closed longer.

"The back portion of the park is the hardest hit," said John Brill, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. "We've got a lot of large trees down, more than we expected to have. And some parts are so wet and saturated, it's going to be a slow process."

The park had about 30 large pine and oak trees felled by Frances. One oak actually landed on a set of bleachers that face the BMX track. But the biggest problem is flooding, which is 4 feet deep in some areas. With five linked lakes _ they don't call it Lake Park for nothing _ and its close proximity to a well field, this recreation destination tends toward saturation.

Flooding issues are nothing new to Louis "Hap" Hutto, track director for Tampa BMX, which operates the bicycle motocross facility. Even without hurricanes last year, the track shut down for all of August due to rainy season flooding. But Frances did a number on the track, damaging portions of the course in addition to the bleacher bashing.

"They let us in just to check everything out and clean all the food out" of the concession stand, Hutto said. "From what I saw, it's still real wet out there. We have to do some rebuilding. But there's nothing we can do until it dries out a bit."

Hutto even sees some good in the interruption: "It's a bit of a break."

Not everyone has taken the closing in stride, however: Several people have called to complain, Brill said.

"I don't know the nature of the complaints, but we're just trying to keep the park safe," Brill said. "It's just not safe at this point."

Other county parks had to close due to Frances, Brill said, including eight of 10 regional parks. As of Friday, Lithia Springs remained closed, as did portions of the Alderman's Ford and Wilderness parks.

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