As proposed new amenities raise a stir at neighboring Fort De Soto Park, the nonprofit Tampa Bay Watch has hired a new general manager to help it cope with increasing population in the 2,300 square miles of the Tampa Bay watershed.
"Expansion and development in the Tampa Bay area have made it critical for Tampa Bay Watch to be here, protecting the delicate balance between the community and the environment," said Dennis Kellenberger, from his new offices just outside the entrance of Fort De Soto. "I am here to help excite, energize and engage people to be part of what we do."
Kellenberger, 55, was one of the founders of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium before leaving its top spot in 2003. After helping turn a sewage treatment plant into an aquarium and then running the educational facility for 25 years, he moved on to create a health and fitness nonprofit for children, before feeling the call of the bay once again.
"I don't think anything in Tampa Bay Watch needs fixing," Kellenberger said of the environmental nonprofit. "I'm just here to help enhance in any way I can what Peter (Clark) has done over the last 13 years."
Clark, the executive director, countered Kellenberger's modesty in praising the new manager's educational and organizational skills at a time when Tampa Bay Watch is expanding. The organization just completed its third new building in a $1.8-million development to create new offices, classrooms and research facilities.
"He has a tremendous amount of experience developing educational programs that are the same things we'd like to expand here," Clark said. He said Kellenberger's history is also an ideal fit because Tampa Bay Watch is a hands-on organization incorporating more than 4,000 students and volunteers in habitat restoration projects, including in Fort De Soto.
Pinellas County officials have proposed expanding services in the park to better utilize existing facilities and meet the demands of visitors. Environmental groups have flared into action to oppose changes they say are contrary to the park's mission. Having the issue at Tampa Bay Watch's doorstep brings focus to the organization, which was to be part of Kellenberger's new job.
Kellenberger has a marine biology degree from the University of West Florida and is a native of the bay area. He said he developed his interest in environmental issues and preservation when he found himself without his familiar confines.
"You take Florida for granted until you get stuck in North Dakota," he said of a stint in the Air Force after graduating from Largo High School in 1968. He said home leave showed him how the "Andy of Mayberry" Florida of his youth had development "tearing the place up. I grew up in the mangroves, so I have a strong desire to protect the environment."
Kellenberger and Clark said their group has a good working relationship with Fort De Soto staffers and wants to continue it. At the same time, Kellenberger said he wants to make Tampa Bay Watch a "resource to the community" interested in bay preservation and hopes to conduct ecotours in the park.
"We're on the same page as far as protecting and enhancing the Tampa Bay estuary," he said.
Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or email@example.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.