ST. PETERSBURG — Four city parks containing American Indian mounds are being primed for a digital upgrade and heightened protection status.
City officials, archaeologists and digital mappers from the University of South Florida publicly unveiled the results of a master plan Tuesday.
One highlight: By using 3-D mapping technology, visitors could point smartphones at interpretive signs, triggering videos depicting how Native American societies looked centuries ago.
"It's like the old viewfinders that you had in parks to see the landscape," said Dr. Lori Collins, director of the Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies at USF.
The city plans on spending $750,000 next year to preserve mounds at Abercrombie, Jungle Prada/DeNarvaez, Indian Mound and Maximo parks.
Not all of that money will pay for the augmented reality to reach a new generation of parkgoers. Some will be spent to stabilize and preserve the mounds.
"It's a pretty exciting opportunity for the city. I don't know if anyone else is doing this, at least in Tampa Bay," said city architect Raul Quintana.
Some of the mounds will need Brazilian pepper and other invasive plants removed, but no building structures are planned.
Robert J. Austin, an archaeologist with SEARCH, the cultural resources firm that completed the study, said erosion, vandalism, artifact collectors and normal park use all present dangers to the mounds.
Erecting "soft barriers" to erosion such as vegetation, and redirecting foot and bike traffic, are potential solutions, Austin said.
Police and other city workers need to be trained on how to protect the parks. And the city should develop a plan in case of an unexpected discovery — like human remains.
"So everyone knows what is expected of them," Austin said.
There are reports that human remains were removed from Indian Mound Park, also known as Princess Mounds, in Pinellas Point in the 1880s, he said.
It's unclear if more human remains are in that park or any of the others, Austin said.
The plan calls for the city to seek various levels of local, state and federal protection of the mounds, and alter the city's code to include a designation for archaeological parks.
Another goal is to introduce the mounds to a new generation of tech-savvy students and heritage tourism enthusiasts.
"A lot of people don't know we have these things in St. Pete," said Bryan Eichler, capital projects coordinator for the city's Engineering and Capital Improvements Department.
They should. It's unusual for a city the size of St. Petersburg to have so many well-preserved mounds, Austin said.
"The city is really fortunate," he said.
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