Parks Supervisor Greg Brown holds up a sign that will be installed to explain the purpose of the rain-harvesting park of Bayhead Ponds. The water from the drainage ponds will be pumped out and irrigated over the land, giving several layers of natural cleaning agents – including the roots of plants and trees, sand and a limestone layer – a chance to clean the water before it reaches the aquifer.
LARGO – Bayhead Ponds, essentially two drainage ponds for downtown Largo, is slowly turning into a rain-harvesting park.
Along with receiving amenities and upgrades, the ponds have been adopted by Largo Middle School students, who took to kayaks to clean the ponds on Nov. 9.
“It was loaded with floating debris and trash. It was a huge eye sore,” explained Parks Superintendent Greg Brown. “We undid like 10 years of trash in one day.”
About 40 adults and children, led by the middle school’s 4-H adviser and biology teacher Kathy Madzimbamuto, helped out in the cleanup. Student Dylan Boniface, a participant in recreation programs and summer camp at Highland Recreation Complex, spearheaded the effort.
“(Dylan) kept bugging his biology teacher to do something out there,” Brown explained.
Madzimbamuto contacted the Parks Division a couple of months ago, unaware that the city was already working to transform the area.
“We finally worked it out,” Brown said, pleased with the results of the cleanup. “Dylan is wonderful.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission loaned the group 28 kayaks for the effort, and Pinch-a-Penny donated a dozen pool nets to scoop up the trash.
Bayhead Ponds sit on either side of Largo’s longstanding Bayhead Complex, which features two basketball courts, a multipurpose field and four sand volleyball courts at 375 Seminole Blvd. A newly constructed asphalt path circles around both bodies of water and the complex. The path, 8 feet wide and about a half-mile long, will be lined with 14 benches and eight trashcans. Interpretive signs will explain the purpose and function of the “rain-harvesting park.”
The park is 50-50 partnership between Largo and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which provided the city with a grant for the project with the goal of cleaning up the water before it drains into Tampa Bay. The ponds were built 10 years ago to allow for the heavier development of downtown Largo.
“These two ponds drain the majority of downtown,” Brown said. “So if you drop a bottle downtown, it ends up down here.”
Pumping stations will pull the water from the lakes and irrigate the sod of the park.
“By pumping it out, and by letting it fall through the earth and the plants, it’s going to clean the water up by default,” Brown said.
The whole reason for the park is to “take some of the pollution off the map,” he added.
Before cleaning up the park, the Largo Middle School students saw a simulation of how pollution travels in a presentation called “Fluid Earth,” given by Friends of Largo Nature Parks president Pat Edmond. The students have committed to clean up the park at least twice a year.
A new skate park
The new Bayhead park also is the future site for a skate park, to be built at the north side of the basketball courts in the coming months. The Largo Commission approved the allocation of $119,000 to the designer of the project, Misiano Skate Parks, on Nov. 20.
The skate park will include new equipment and four to six pieces of equipment that was at Highland Recreation Complex before its reconstruction, pieces that are in “wonderful shape,” Brown said.
The 12,000-square-foot plaza will feature a concrete bowl or empty swimming pool, a spine, steps and quarter pipes. Both skaters and bikers will be welcome to use the park.
The city budgeted $150,000 for the park. Funds left over from the reward to Misiano will be used for lighting, fencing and additional amenities, city staff explained to the commission.
Residents are already using the park since the city decided against spending $30,000 to fence it off during construction, Brown said. Still left to be completed are the irrigation, sodding and the planting of trees and additional plants. The project must be done by Dec. 19, the date the grant ends.
A grand opening for the park, yet to be scheduled, will feature the release of about 60 fish into the ponds, a hands-on activity for children that were a hit at the Highland ponds opening.
The skate park is a project separate from the rain-harvesting park and will take at least eight to 10 weeks to install. When that process begins depends on how much input the city wants to solicit from the community. The city already surveyed those who used the park before it closed at Highland and may stick with their input on what skate features were most popular.
“We don’t want to lengthen the getting it open for the kids,” Brown said.