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PCR #142  (Vol. 3, No. 50)  This edition is for the week of December 9--15, 2002.
La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
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A Modern History of Picnic Island Park -- Part Two

More Changes to the Land
Most of the reforesting efforts that were started in 1984 began to culminate by the end of 1990. The next, and perhaps most, significant change to the park would start in 1991 when backhoes and front-end loaders began digging the earth of Picnic Island Park in order to create tidal canals and a tidal lake as part of a Southwest Florida Water Management District ("SWIFTMUD") Surface Water Improvement Management ("SWIM") project.

picnic area
Additional picnic shelters were provided during the early-to-mid 1980's
Acres of exotic nuisance Brazilian Peppertrees that were recruited after 1983 Christmas Day freeze were cleared in order to make way for this massive excavation project. The primary tidal canal was adjoined to the estuary that borders the Park's eastern side and was slated to basically follow the entry road from its east-west alignment to the fishing pier, and then run three-fourths of way along the remainder of the entry road from its north-south alignment down to the primary southern beach. Near the southern end of the primary north-south canal, an additional east-west canal intersects, goes beneath the entry road, and empties into a lake that was also excavated. Removed earth from this massive undertaking was used to add onto the Park's highest elevation that runs along the west central shoreline.

tidal lake
The most major facelift for Picnic Island Park came in the form of a S.W.I.M. project between 1991 and 1993. In it, the tidal lake shown in this photo, and a tidal canal were created through the excavation and redistribution of the Park's land.
By 1992, marsh grasses and mangrove seedlings were planted, primarily by volunteers (including one of my best friends, Greg Van Stavern, who planted marsh grasses on the littoral shelves of the lake which earned him a photo in the Tampa Tribune coverage of the event). Once the primary opening to the existing estuary was made, and bay water began coursing through the canal and its tributary to the lake, the system has worked perfectly, creating a vast array of fish, bird and crustacean life. It is, along the Florida Department of Transportation's shoreline restoration and planting project, probably the most successful undertaking in the Park of all the restorations attempted after the Christmas Day freeze. It was without doubt, the largest, forever altering the appearance of the park.

One Man's Reef is Another Man's Rip-Rap
By the early to mid 1990's, the Florida Department of Transportation was constructing a new span to the Gandy Bridge to replace one built in 1956. The 1956 span was slated for demolition, with its wreckage to be hauled off onto the open water to be used as an artificial reef. As d-day for the span loomed closer, a civic activist named Neal Cosentino was convinced that the old span should be saved, to be used as a recreational pedestrian trail connecting the residents of Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. Although he initially faced strong opposition from the Florida Department of Transportation, who voiced concern that the structure would be too costly to maintain by private parties, Cosentino persisted, got the blessings of local politicians, and in December 1999, the Friendship Trail became a reality and the old span was spared.

buffer zone
One of the latest improvements to the Park came between 1998 and 2000 when the Florida Department of Transportation created a shoreline restoration and buffer project on the Park's southern tip (a distant pier containing the runway approach lights for MacDill Air Force Base can be seen in the mid-left hand side).
As the Florida Department of Transportation still needed to satisfy environmental requirements in lieu of the old span's destruction, it was determined that erosion control was desperately needed at the southern shoreline of Picnic Island Park, which has been eroding at an alarming rate for several decades, and this would be the perfect vehicle by which to mitigate. Heavy machinery recontoured the shoreline, followed by the disposition of rip-rap rubble (busted concrete) to minimize wave action which if unabated leads to a condition known as "scour". Lastly mangrove seedlings and marsh grasses were planted. Two to three years later, the shoreline restoration works perfectly, and is one of the most dramatic and successful changes to the Park.

My association with this Park has been long and profound. Countless T.R.E.E. Inc, projects were planned here. I have witnessed incredible sunsets and star fields there, spent innumerable hours jogging and contemplating life there while admiring the fish life and shipping activities in its waters and marveled at the bird life and man made aircraft in its skies. I have been chilled to the bone when winter winds have howled off of Old Tampa Bay and felt so hot jogging after summer thunderstorms produced steam on the entry road that I thought that I would either melt or catch fire. For that matter, this is where NCPCR alumni Steve Beasley was filmed for the prologue to Nolan's 30-minute movie "The Horror Writer". (An entry-level video made in 2000 that I'm loathe to recall now, but may yet see the light of day in 2003, albeit in a re-edited, modified form.---Nolan)

public beach
The Park is vastly different from its east and west sides. The public beach is a wide-open expanse on the Park's west side overlooking Old Tampa Bay (the ever-present Florida Power Weedon Island Station is seen in the left hand side of the photo), while the east side is primarily comprised of a mangrove forest fringed by an estuary bordering a gas farm and Mac Dill Air Force Base.
My close association with this land mass draws from a history that I have personally been involved, interacted with in lonely solitude and have drawn strength from. Picnic Island Parkis a living testimony that healing and recovery is possible even after the most devastating and traumatic events occur.

Next week: Uncharacteristically non-Floridian, "La Floridiana" heads to the mountains in "Will and Karen and John and Beth's Tennessee Vacation", here in Nolan Canova's Pop Culture Review!

"La Floridiana" is ©2002 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.