Saturday, Sep 20, 2014
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Moccasin Lake Nature Park in dire need of improvements


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This column typically highlights fun things to do or pays tribute to organizations helping others in our community. But maybe putting the spotlight on something in dire need of improvement ultimately can prove constructive, too.

I speak here of Moccasin Lake Nature Park, a 51-acre property operated by the Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department at 2750 Park Trail Lane. You’ve probably never heard of this park and almost certainly never discovered it accidentally because it’s not easy to find.

After dropping by the park last week, I can see why it’s presently open only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. In fact, it’s a wonder the place is open at all — only an estimated 13,000 people visited last year. When entering the Interpretive Center, no one was at the desk and a sign said to ring the bell to summon somebody. That’s about as welcoming as an empty hotel lobby.

A stroll inside the doorway found no one around save for two people chatting in an employees-only back room. Some of the exhibits of live and mounted animals were dingy, with tanks strewn about in an unappealing manner. Posters covering walls largely were uninformative. Suffice it to say that I interpreted the Interpretive Center to be disappointing.

Unfortunately, the outside exhibits were worse. The turtle pool was disgustingly filthy; and weeds dominated the so-called butterfly garden (I saw none) and pathways near the organizational clubhouse. One of the few directional signs was totally obscured by foliage.

A highly promoted feature of Moccasin Lake park is “energy education,” with an inside exhibit of such and on the grounds a large enclosure with solar panels. Environmental-related or not, that’s a lame distraction for the lack of animals at this “nature park,” plus the whole topic of solar energy hasn’t been cutting edge for 50 years.

An entrance to the trail looked so uninviting that I chose not to walk it. Am I going to get bitten by a moccasin?

I’m not finished. Some of the outside cages and pens holding birds of prey were blighted with spider webs. And forget picture-taking of the bald eagles, hawks and such because the cage mesh is too small. A friendly peacock roamed free, but otherwise I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the rest of the animals stuck here.

Park manager Cliff Norris was on vacation, so I spoke with Barbara Walker, a board member of the Clearwater Audubon Society who serves as program manager of the park’s Birds of Prey Program.

“These birds have injuries or other issues that prevent them from being released into the wild,” Walker said. “The birds are fed Monday through Saturday. Sunday is a fasting day.”

I also received an email from Felicia Leonard, administrative support manager for the parks and recreation department. “The city is planning to renovate Moccasin Lake Nature Park starting in 2015,” she wrote. “Renovations will include upgrades to the Interpretive Center, trail system, restroom and picnic facilities.”

That all sounds great, and I certainly hope sufficient funding will be secured next year. I’d be pleased to return and hopefully write a more glowing account. However, if the park is going to stay open to the public in the meantime, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone to pull weeds, clean away spider webs and make directional signs readable.

For information, call (727) 793-2976 or visit http://tinyurl.com/p2zurlf or www.clearwater-fl.com.

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