Eagle Lake Park is a 163-acre Pinellas County park located at 1800 Keene Road in Largo.
LARGO – Walking through Eagle Lake Park in Largo, it’s easy to forget you’re in an oasis of green space located in the heart of bustling Pinellas County.
Wandering along the county’s 163-acre park’s crushed-shell trails and 2,000 feet worth of shaded boardwalks while observing dozens of species of flora and fauna, the speeding traffic on nearby Keene Road is reduced to a low hum, and the only congestion inside the park’s borders comes in the form of birdwatchers and nature lovers, joggers and dog walkers and kids playing at the playground.
For those who live, work and visit one of the busiest and most densely populated counties in the state, the park has been a blessing ever since it opened in 2010.
“I love this park,” said Brenda Geraldo, a nurse who lives in a nearby neighborhood. “I come here almost every morning to walk my dog and relax before I go to work. It’s so quiet and peaceful in the morning. Sometimes I’ll see a coyote out in the middle of the big field, or I’ll see an eagle or a hawk, and I think how incredible it is to have a park like this right in my backyard.”
That appreciation for Eagle Lake is music to the ears of Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel. She was serving as chair of the commission when the park finally opened more than a decade after the county purchased 159 acres of the property from the Taylor family, one of Largo’s earliest settlers, for $13 million in 1998. The county bought an additional 6-acre parcel for $2.25 million in 2006.
“When we bought 157 acres of the land from the Taylor family in 1998, it was destined to be developed,” Seel said. “But it sat and sat and sat until 2006, when we bought the additional 6 acres. Then the Heritage Village Society restored the historic Taylor to its original state. And then the recession hit. And we couldn’t move it.”
Seel said despite the uncertainty with the economy, and the fact that the property, which is bordered by Keene Road on the west, Lake Avenue to the east and Belleair Road to the north, is a residential homebuilder’s dream, the land was always going to be a passive park space.
“It was destined to definitely become a park,” she said. “In 2006, after we bought the house and the additional acres, I knew if we didn’t get it in the budget, it was going to be tough to move forward getting the park opened. So I managed to convince the commission to use Penny for Pinellas funds. I purposely did it because I knew if we don’t hit this right … let’s just say timing is everything.”
Construction was completed on the park in 2009, and it officially opened in 2010. And based on the numbers of visitors the facility attracted, it’s safe to say it was worth the wait.
“The first year, we did 1.3 million visitors. It was the third most visited park in the county,” Seel said. “And for years and years, our attendance exceeded that of the state park system. So it’s always been a point of pride for us.”
Today, Eagle Lake is home to alligators, osprey, turtles and fox squirrels, long pines and a few acres of the Taylor’s original citrus groves. The park hosts birthday parties and cross country events. There’s fly fishing allowed in certain spots and the playground is a huge draw for families, especially on weekends, making it one of the busiest parks in the county, according to Spencer Curtis, who oversees operations for Eagle Lake as part of his role as North District park supervisor.
“Eagle Lake is a heavily used park, especially on the weekend,” Curtis said. “It draws a lot of visitors, especially from the surrounding neighborhoods where people can walk or bike in from Lake Avenue or bring their dog to the dog park. It’s a great little park. The design is nice, it’s well-thought out where you have trails and shelters and open fields next to playgrounds. The county commissioners have put a lot of time, effort and sweat into getting the park open. It took a little bit, but I think it was well worth it.”
While the current state of Eagle Lake is great, officials are always looking for ways to make it even better. According to Curtis, the park recently has been re-staffed with rangers on a more full-time basis, which he said “allows us to create a better, safer park experience for everybody,” and Seel said Heritage Village is working on opening the old Taylor house and grounds, which are currently sectioned off from the rest of the park, as a type of living museum.
“I think it will be quite a draw,” she said.
The park also has six picnic shelters, three restrooms, a playground, dog park and educational signage.
But even with the continual improvements and upgrades to the park and its amenities, Seel said the essence of the park – its serene, natural beauty – will never be lost.
“I think what’s so endearing about Eagle Lake is it’s not just a regular park, it’s a neighborhood park. It’s part of the neighbors’ conversations and their daily routines. And I think we need to keep it as welcoming and open to the public as we can. It’s never going to be developed, I can assure you of that.”