A Land Worth More Than Remembering:
A two-part special on a unique tract of land in Pinellas
By James A. Schnur
Part 2: What We Have Lost, What We Can Save
Last week, we learned about Gladys Douglas and the 43.44 acre tract along Keene Road where she lived. This week, we’ll hear about efforts to acquire and preserve one of the few remaining undeveloped lands in PInellas so future generations can enjoy Florida’s natural environment.
No pristine lands remain in Pinellas County. Aside from government-managed preserves and a handful of private conservation easements, there are few flatwoods and wetlands left to offer a refuge for native flora and fauna from the cars and crowds surrounding them. The largest, Brooker Creek Preserve along Keystone Road east of Lake Tarpon, occupies 8,700 acres and protects a vast watershed.
Although Brooker Creek Preserve offers significant protection for many species, it covers a mere fraction of the lands Boot Ranch occupied when established by Al Boyd in 1952. Boyd created a place for livestock to roam after the state enacted fence laws to close the open range. Twenty years later, in 1972, he sold most of the property to developers on a handshake.
Earthmovers and construction workers replaced cattle, horses and grasslands. Now the large ornamental boot that once stood out on the frontier sits in a parking lot of the Shoppes at Boot Ranch near where Tampa Road meets East Lake Road.
Proposed developments sometimes spark ire. For example, plans to redevelop two golf courses in the Seminole area have mobilized residents who prefer to live close to tees, fairways and sandpits, rather than new neighbors. A homebuilding company recently abandoned plans to redevelop the Bardmoor Golf Course. The fate of the former Tides Golf Course remains uncertain as preservationists hope to persuade public officials to acquire this acreage east of Boca Ciega Millennium Park.
In Tarpon Springs, residents, developers and members of the Friends of Anclote River have taken sides on a proposal to build 400 apartment units on 74 acres along the river and east of U.S. Highway 19. Walmart originally acquired the property more than 15 years ago to build a big box store on the site, but later abandoned those plans. City leaders in Tarpon Springs are presently discussing this parcel’s fate.
A Land Worth Saving
Fortunately, plans to bulldoze, pave over and build upon the Douglas property recently fell through. A window of opportunity now exists for Pinellas County and the public to preserve this endangered acreage, one comparable in size to Boca Ciega High School’s campus, including the former Little League lands along its northern boundary with Lincoln Cemetery.
While the fate of the aforementioned former golf courses and the Tarpon Springs tract remain unclear, officials continue their negotiations on the Douglas property. They hope to tender an offer to prevent the door from reopening for developers.
We have an opportunity to save the Douglas tract, one of the largest undeveloped scrub habitats in northern Pinellas still in private hands. When combined with the neighboring lands under conservation, this greenspace will create an important buffer of nearly 100 acres. The slight ridge on the Douglas property reaches more than 60 feet above sea level in some places, creating a unique ecosystem perfect for passive recreation rather than another high-use county park with playgrounds, picnic shelters and expanses of mowed grass.
This rare and threatened habitat cannot be reconstituted if destroyed. Its abundant native plant life takes in the carbons we and our machines generate. The sandy soils drain water back into the ground, recharging Jerry Lake and surrounding lands in ways that our built environment of asphalt and concrete cannot.
Endemic Florida species flourish. Maples, sand pines, red cedars and scrub oak trees soar above the coastal hammock and willow swamp below. Lichens and deer moss abound. Hog plum bushes bear sweet fruits. Rare native plants such as Curtiss’s milkweed and rosemary scrub grow here in ways they never would in a manicured garden.
Abundant rookeries on this property sustain a variety of birds. Gopher tortoises burrow into the grounds below, creating microhabitats that have the ability to sustain more than 300 commensal species, including many native reptiles and amphibians. A bobcat recently prowled on the land.
City leaders of nearby Dunedin have taken an important step in the broader community effort to save this land. On October 20, 2020, city commissioners unanimously agreed to divert $2 million in Penny for Pinellas funds originally allocated for a parking garage to help purchase this property and ensure its preservation. Dunedin’s leaders sent a strong message that they were willing to sacrifice pavement to save a natural sanctuary. More assistance is needed, though.
What can you do to help save the Douglas tract? Let county commissioners know you support plans to acquire this land as a preserve. Reach out to your state representative or senator to see if funds from the Florida Communities Trust or other sources may be available. Let them know that preserving this land enhances our quality of life.
(Editor’s Note: The Pinellas Community Foundation has taken a leadership role in preserving the Douglas property. For more information about this organization’s initiative, visit pinellascf.org/save-the-gladys-douglas-preserve)
A graduate of Boca Ciega High School, James A. Schnur served as president of the Pinellas County Historical Society and as a member of the Pinellas County Historical Commission. He has authored four photographic history books on the cities of Largo, Madeira Beach, St. Petersburg and Seminole, as well as a history of Pinellas County.