One of the fringe benefits of being a journalist is that you get a front-row seat in the making of history.
Such has been case for me in the past several months as I watched and reported on the collaborative efforts by city and county government officials, nonprofit organizations, private donors and others to preserve the 44-acre Gladys Douglas-Hackworth property forever.
As a reporter/editor for about 43 years, I don't recall ever writing about anything that showed as much gritty determination and passion in a grassroots move as the efforts to acquire and preserve the environmentally sensitive land.
As County Commissioner Karen Seel said at a ceremony for the property acquisition May 13, it was nothing short of miraculous.
Particularly during a pandemic, I might add.
With city and county governments facing challenges just keeping their employees safe while providing essential services, it would be easy for them to say, "Sorry, it would be nice to buy that property, but we have enough on our plates right now."
Particularly since the project was under contract for development.
But I've learned that in Pinellas County there's an environmental ethic — or whatever you want to call it — exceeding that of what I've seen in any of the other three counties where I've worked and lived as a journalist.
Over the past several days, I've been taxing my brain trying to recall any stories that I've written over the years about how a grassroots effort had such an impact as it did for the Douglas property.
In the 1980s a fishing guide named Jim Swan, the former president of Save Our Lakes, led efforts to stop Orlando and Orange County from discharging effluent into Shingle Creek, a Lake Tohopekaliga tributary. That was big news He later was elected to the Osceola County Commission.
But I can't remember ever writing about such widespread support, from governments to the citizenry, to move so quickly to buy land at a cost of $10 million slated for development — with $4.5 million coming from donations.
Would have been interesting to have heard some of the telephone conversations among officials and other others involved putting together the plan for acquiring the property.
So many entities involved — such as the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the lake that will be part of plans for a nearly 100-acre park. And yet, I didn't hear of any gnashing of teeth.
Took courage, too. Naysayers, and I'm sure there may have been a few, may have muttered, why is the city of Dunedin buying property that's not in the city limits?
And aren't there other priorities for that money? Infrastructure? Roads? A parking garage? A swimming pool?
Well, to put it bluntly, the property acquisition is what city commissioners' constituents want. Time and again Dunedin residents have been outspoken and passionate about their parks and the environment.
"This has been going on for several generations and our residents expect that out of us," Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said at the ceremony May 13 in honor of the city getting the deed to the property.
Besides commending officials and others involved in the process, the mayor also praised city commissioners, saying they were probably the greatest team she ever worked with.
"None of these people never asked the ‘what if’ question: What if we can't afford it," Bujalski said.
And she, too, also had a leading role on the issue.
As did former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth. Gladys Douglas had a vision for her property, and Hackworth, her stepson, strived to make sure that it was carried out.
County Commission Chairman Dave Eggers, Commissioner Seel, County Administrator Barry Burton, Dunedin City Manager Jennifer Bramley — the names of officials and citizens who had the foresight and the drive to make the acquisition happen are too lengthy to list here.
Sure, there is much work to be done, such as developing a management plan and determining exactly what amenities will be allowed.
Forgive me if I'm off base here, but that sounds like the fun part. Time shall tell.
Look forward to walking in another park and adding it my regular rotation.
Lugging my camera bag with me, as always.
I'm sure I won't be alone.