Archaeologists concerned about disc golf course and beach erosion at St. Pete's Maximo Park listen11/14/11 Andrea Lypka
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Maximo Park is regarded by many as an important environmental and archeological site in South Pinellas. It’s on Boca Ciega Bay alongside Eckerd College. But ten years ago a disc golf course was established. But can the disc golf players coexist with environmentalists and the local community?
Maximo Park is situated on a Tocobaga Indian mound that dates back 6,000 years. Ray Wunderlich, a member of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s Citizens Advisory Council, a board member of the Pinellas County Environmental Science Forum, says the park has unique Florida plants.
“We have five different plant communities here at Maximo which make this the only place in St. Petersburg where you have this 5 plant communities. You have the mangrove swamp that we saw there, the maritime oak hammock, you have the scrubby pine flatwoods and shell mitten community. No place has it. Boyd Hill has 3 or 4 plant communities but nothing so unique as this,” Wunderlich said.
In the scrubby pine flatwoods, the sand holly and hog plum are nearby the home of an important species.
“As you can see the gopher tortoise hole burrow remnants are here but they are so disturbed by the activity of the disc golf players and the lawn mowers that go by they are moving around all the time. They are not happy campers here. I think there is one mowing around from what the park employers tell me and from what I have seen in their burrows,” he said.
Wunderlich suggests that the disc golfers might not be aware of the environmental and archeological values of this waterfront park. “They stamp these bushes and shrubs to get their discs and this is the smallest plant community in the park. And these plants are just being crushed, and broken, and fragmented. And it’s causing great disturbance and soil compaction also so they can’t reestablish themselves because all the disturbance going on,” he said.
The construction of this 18-hole disc golf course ten years ago was approved by the neighborhood association. However, the play destroyed habitat and wiped out the fox squirrel, marsh rabbit and all but one gopher tortoise.
“This is the first hole, it is the most popular, most used hole and it is going to have the most disturbance around as you can see. That’s a cat bird, it sounds like a cat is meowing. I see very little bird life here in the park,” he said.
Tom Pinturich plays every Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Tocobaga disc golf course.
“It’s like real golf but you use a small Frisbee. Instead of using a club and a ball you use a different disk, you have a driver, a mid range and a putter and you play it under the same rules of golf and there is 18 holes around this park,” he said.
Pinturich says that the archeological relevance of this place is contested. “The archeologists I talked to said that this is all garbage … some people think that these are burial grounds. They’ve been out here several times and no one can prove that there are any burial grounds there,” he said. Pinturich says that disc golfers also clean up the park.
“I don’t feel the conflict. They are saying some things that might not be true and they think that their way is the only way. They don’t want everybody to have some fun. We are not destroying anything,” he said.
Steve Morris who has been visiting the park since 1997 says crime has decreased due to the presence of disc golf.
“I noticed the park has been cleaned up quite a bit, it used to be a lot of crime and gay population here at one time. I think it is very good that they have disc golfers running around and keep the park clean and also cleaning up the park. They have rallies to clean up the park, they do a lot of good out here,” he said.
Volunteers noticed looting of artifacts from the archaeological site, feeding of wildlife, and improper beach cleaning and renourishment activities. According to Wunderlich, the park has had an almost continuous slide of mismanagement and bad decisions along the years.
“We would like to propose they find a more appropriate perhaps smaller areas for the disc course to fit in by obeying the laws, ordinances and by obeying the parks’ philosophy,” he said.
City employees have also scraped the beach with a very large front-end loader, and later with a less invasive surf rake machine, contributing to beach erosion. Today the playground, observation tower and the beach are close to being washed out. At a Community Preservation Meeting, Wunderlich plans to propose heritage tourism and restoration of native plants through grants and volunteers.
“And also have a complete archeological dig out here to find out where these features might be. Eight thousand years of continued inhabitance until 500 years? That’s a lot of stuff may be disseminated throughout the area,” he said.
The Community Preservation Meeting will be at St. Petersburg City Hall on November 18 to discuss whether the disc golf course is appropriate for Maximo Park.