Management plan offered for Brooker Creek

08/07/08 Concetta DeLuco
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Today the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners met in Clearwater to approve plans for the Brooker Creek Preserve. Deciding what to do with the publicly owned land located in the northeast corner of Pinellas County has been an issue of controversy over the past few years.

Currently, the 7,960 acres of Brooker Creek exists as a wilderness area that provides refuge to several endangered plants such as the Catesby lily as well as a unique collection of wildlife that ranges from bobcats to swallowtail butterflies. The property contains an educational center with an exhibit hall, two hiking trails that stretch 7 miles, two equestrian trails and the Four Lakes Hammock campsite.

However, since its growth as a nature preserve over the past 15 years, the land has also been used for undesignated purposes. Along with general visitor wear and tear, these factors have begun to take a toll on the preserve, according to Dr. Bruce Rinker, director of the Pinellas County Environmental Lands Division.

Several of the ecosystems and species that exist in Brooker Creek cannot be found anywhere else in Pinellas County. Consequently, Rinker said the modifications that are planned to take place over the next decade under the management of the Environmental Lands Division or ELD will focus foremost on conservation. Rinker said attention to recreation will come second and only in accordance to protecting the natural life that thrives there.

Future plans for the recreational aspect of Brooker Creek will entail improving some of the existing facilities, as well as providing new amenities. So far, parts of the current hiking trails have been brought up to grade to prevent future flooding. And there are plans for the Scenic Horse Trail, to be restored to its original length of 9 miles.

Rinker said there are four new resource-based recreational facilities that are being proposed which includes plans for two portions of land that had been purchased with Florida Community Trust grants.

Proposals for the additional new recreational services will include a forest canopy walkway that will be constructed near the Education Center in place of the observation tower that was proposed back in 2004, and a new hiking trail that has been requested by the city of Oldsmar to be located in the southern most portion of the preserve. Further plans for the preserve involve allocating land for use by the Pinellas County Uitlities (PCU), which has been a consistent issue of disparity among the community and plan managers, alike.

However, according to Will Davis, the Pinellas County director of Environmental Management, the crucial role PCU has played in the establishment of the preserve is often overlooked.

Of the 8,000 acres, approximately 3,400 acres are apportioned solely for preservation and the remaining 4,600 acres, will be divided between recreational and utility purposes.

Fred Marquis, interim county administrator for the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners, said using some of the land for utility purposes has caused disagreements, but many do not realize that water supply was the reason the land was initially purchased for back in the 1970s.

The community continues to remain divided over subjecting the preserve to utility use Matthew Poland is still not satisfied.

The ELD will meet with the Pinellas County Commissioners on Aug. 19 to finalize plans and receive approval for the proposal. In the future, they will work with Hillsborough and Pasco counties to encourage land acquisitions that expand wildlife corridors beyond Pinellas County’s borders.

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