BELLEAIR – At a recent Commission meeting Mayor Gary Katica told a resident that the town had 28 parks scattered throughout the community. He was quickly corrected by Parks and Recreation Director Eric Wahlbeck, who said that number had changed to 14 parks.
Later Wahlbeck explained that many years ago the town put the park label on just about everything town employees were responsible for mowing or cutting and that meant many medians, hardly suitable for a park.
Now the town only lists land that is substantial enough in size to be seen as and called a park. Some are still on the small side but others are quite significant.
Magnolia Park and the neighboring Pat Wall Park are two plots of land that clearly are identified as parks and are next on the list for a major makeover.
The parks are located across the street from one another where Magnolia and Rosary roads intersect. For years they have existed in their natural state with plenty of trees and occasional mowing by the city. Soon that is about to change.
“The current state of both parks is a lot of trees with no pathways,” said Wahlbeck. “There is no real reason to go there except to walk through them naturally. There is no real purpose; the neighbors never go in there except to look at it once in a while.”
Wahlbeck said the plans for the parks are to change that. First, they will be connected with an overhead walkway then a complete makeover.
“There will be sidewalk access,” he said. “Inside the park will be pathways and of course the basic things, an irrigation system, new sod, benches and dog stations.”
He noted that there will be a quarter mile of pathways in the new parks. Walk four times around and you’ve gone a mile.
In addition, there will be displays of public art.
“We’ve been able to commission one-of-a-kind pieces to give people a reason to visit there,” he said. “Once it is done it will be like a brand-new park,”
Getting to that stage will require a lot of work including removing several trees that are either dead or diseased.
Wahlbeck said the neighbors have all been in on the planning for the new park. Several meetings have been held going back almost a year.
“We had our Park and Tree Board review the plans and we’ve had community meetings,” he said. “The residents were really excited about it.”
Recently at a commission meeting, discussion centered on whether to install a playground and community garden in the new park. While several people spoke in favor of having those amenities, most did not and in the end the Commission voted to begin construction without adding the playground or garden.
The total cost of the make-over will be $211,000, with $150,000 of that coming from the Belleair Community Foundation. The BCF has partnered with the town on other projects, most notably the makeover of Hunter Park, which is now called Hunter Memorial Park and contains a huge fountain and tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces.
“I think our parks have not been well maintained over the years because of the budget,” said BCF Founder and Town Commissioner Karla Rettstatt.
She said upgrading the community’s parks is essential.
“People use parks; it is a lifestyle,” she said. “People have to have a place to go, to relax. It is a meditation place for comfort so it is important to take care of them. It is something that is beneficial to the overall health of our residents.”
Rettstatt said raising the $150,000 is coming along well and she expects to be able to hand over the check by the spring.
“This park is dedicated to our pets,” she said. “People will be able to buy a brick or a paver or a bench and they can dedicate it to their pets or anyone for that matter. There will be a special pet section. The Bluffs Animal Hospital is donating a fountain for getting water for the pets; it will be a pet friendly area.”
If the fundraising is finished by the spring then work on remaking the park can begin then and Rettstatt feels the job should be finished around September 2018 when there will be a town-wide ceremony to officially open the new park.
Wahlbeck says the history of the two parks goes back a long way.
Pat Wall Park is named after a man who was confined to a wheelchair but that didn’t stop him from caring for the park.
“He volunteered his time and worked at the park often,” he said. “He pruned and worked and donated money.”
All that happened back in the 1950’s.
Magnolia Park was so-called because of a big magnolia tree that is on the property, and it is adjacent to Magnolia Road.
This will be the fourth major park project to be undertaken by the town in the last two years. It began with Hunter Park, then Winston Park and then Fountain Square.
Next up, according to Wahlbeck, is the Bluffs Park. He expects planning work on that to begin in the spring.