PALM HARBOR — One of the first projects that came across Nancy McKibben’s county office desk about 13 years ago was the expansion of Wall Springs Park.
The Coastal Additions plans called for adding about 125 acres to the existing 84-acre park off Alt. U.S. 19.
McKibben, a county transportation and engineering program coordinator, remembers the highs and lows during the evolution of the park’s expansion.
In 2005, county officials were about 30 percent done with the design process for first and second phases, said McKibben, who was project manager at the time.
“And then in about 2008, the recession hit and this project got put on the shelf for quite a long time. Once we started in the recovery, we dusted it off, evaluated it and made sure we were all up to standards and we’re under construction,” McKibben said.
The contractor, Keystone Excavators of Oldsmar, got its notice to proceed in late August, she said. The company’s bid was $3.48 million.
The Wall Springs Park expansion will showcase the area’s wide variety of coastal native habitats. Work includes a paved trail that will connect the existing Wall Springs Park to the new expansion, which is generally north of Wai Lani Road.
“So altogether, from the existing park out to the tip of the peninsula, where we are going to have this elevated observation platform, we’re going to have almost 2½ miles of paved trail,” McKibben said.
In addition to that, she said, a network of nature trails will be built. The unpaved natural material will allow bird watchers, walkers and others to meander around the upland area that’s north of Wai Lani Road and west of Alt. 19. Those essentially have been built.
Also included will be a three-bay picnic shelter, restrooms and 64 parking spaces. A concrete-rubble seawall at the northwestern boundary of the project area will be removed, replacing the removed portion with clean natural stone.
The observation deck will be 8 feet high and meet ADA requirements.
“We wanted to build an elevated deck which would allow people to see over the mangroves, which naturally vegetate the coastline,” she said. “It’s very much near the actual Intracoastal. It’s going to have a very long boardwalk that will increase in elevation gradually.”
The elevated deck should be ideal for park users to see nesting birds, she said.
“We hope to be able to maintain the vegetation so there is a nice vista over the horizon in the west,” McKibben said.
McKibben said the county pursued acquiring the land for the Wall Springs coastal addition probably in the early 1990s and obtained funding from a Florida Communities Trust grant associated with the Forever Florida program.
That program seeks to assist communities in protecting important natural resources, providing recreational opportunities and preserving Florida’s waterfronts.
The county received Florida Communities Trust grants of $3.4 million and $6.6 million for the Coastal Additions I and II phases respectively. Most of the property was purchased from the McMullen family.
“The contractor is making great progress, and we anticipate that notwithstanding things that are beyond our control, weather, we would hope we would be able to wrap that up by the end of 2020,” McKibben said.
Yet to be determined is whether a third phase, Coastal Addition III, which is for an area south of Wai Lani Road, will be developed.
McKibben said the planning process started in 2003, with officials getting input from community groups.
“Naturally, the Audubon Society was very involved,” she said. “We depended on them for the bird species. We have representatives from a botanical society that helped us with a flora and fauna. We have had quite a bid of community involvement.”
Eighteen species of fish, 148 species of plants, 22 species of marine invertebrates and 127 species of birds have been documented on the property.
John Hood, past president of the Clearwater Audubon Society, said Audubon supports the project for passive recreation.
“It would be a great asset,” he said. “It’s got a lot of appeal as far as wildlife and habitat for wildlife. It would be great to have it open to the public.”
Asked what she thinks about the park expansion, Palm Harbor resident Denise Miller called it “fabulous.”
The Palm Harbor resident visits the park every day, bringing her Yorkie.
“What I like about it for me is family oriented. It’s a really good kids park that brings the families here. When I’m walking around it feels safe. Just the way it’s developed and it’s not overgrown and dark,” Miller said.
McKibben said it’s great to see her efforts and those of others to expand the park come to fruition.
“Not only as a project manager, but as a citizen,” she said.
Wall Springs Park at a glance
•Walk Springs Park, 3725 De Soto Blvd., is a natural spring that was once used as a spa and bathing area.
Amenities include bike racks, boardwalks, nature trail, educational and informational display, a multi-purpose trail, playground equipment, picnic shelter, restrooms and grills.
•The property in and around Wall Springs was bought by Charles F. Wall Feb. 28, 1884, and remained in his family until May 17, 1927, when the property was sold to Harry W. Davis.
• County officials began acquiring the Wall Springs property in 1988 with the initial purchase of approximately 63 acres, which included the spring and surrounding area.
•A 45-foot tall observation tower, originally built in 2004 at the park, suspiciously burned to the ground in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2011. The tower was rebuilt and reopened July 2018.
• Attendance for the fiscal year from October 2017 through September 2018 was 287,193.