When the air smells like orange blossoms, childhood memories easily come to mind. The scent of wild citrus spurs thoughts of running barefoot up to the back porch in hopes of taking a swig from Grandma's pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice. At Eagle Lake Park, scheduled to open later this year, you'll be able to bring back such memories in full color amid the countless orange, grapefruit and tangerine trees.
The 163-acre park, located at the old Taylor property at Belleair and Keene roads, is on track to open in December.
Eagle Lake, named in memory of the bald eagles that nested in the area for several years, will include standard park offerings: a playground, boardwalks, pavilions, a dog park and nature trails. However, Pinellas County is aiming to preserve a bit of the region's history in the citrus industry by keeping portions of the old citrus groves intact.
"When it comes to the parks in Pinellas County, we don't have anything else like what we have at Eagle Lake anywhere,'' said Paul Cozzie, the county's culture, education and leisure director. "I'm speaking of the agriculture, the orange groves, the citrus history with the area, and the ability we have to preserve it.''
Along with the vegetation, Pinellas County's Heritage Village is working on stabilizing the 80-year-old Taylor family home as well as outbuildings on the property with help from a preservation architect.
In 1998, the Taylor family sold 157 acres to Pinellas County for $13-million. In 2006, the county bought an adjacent 6-acre plot for $2.25-million with the proviso that John Taylor III, the last family member to live on the property, could stay for two years.
Taylor moved to Dunedin from the two-story home last spring before the groundbreaking of Eagle Lake Park. The 67-year-old died in November during a trip to the Florida Keys.
The difficult economic climate of 2009 makes the creation of Eagle Lake all the more valuable, according to Cozzie.
"Folks don't have disposable income to go out and do the things that cost lots of money right now," he said. "This park will bring lots of hours of recreation, education and relaxation to people at a very affordable rate - basically for free.''
By the numbers
1868: Estimated year the Taylors began homesteading in Pinellas County.
163: Number of acres that constitute Eagle Lake Park.
18: Number of remaining acres of citrus groves.
$15.2M: Purchase price of land by Pinellas County.
293: Number of parking spaces planned for Eagle Lake Park.
1,774: Square footage of boardwalks planned over wetlands.