Anyone taking a drive round their neighborhood these days will be confronted with the unkempt front lawns of homes abandoned and in foreclosure. While it has not been abandoned, Philippe Park in Safety Harbor has the same air of the foreclosed around it.
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It would be easy to blame the Landscaping Services section of the Pinellas County Parks department, after all, they are responsible for keeping the county parks looking at their best, however Vernon Bryant and his now depleted team of landscapers are constrained by the budget allocated for the upkeep of the parks. The parks are maintained by roving teams of park workers, and their resources are so stretched, that they only have the resources to mow the areas that need mown, and will have to leave other areas till the winter and we are out of the mowing season. That being said, there are areas in Philippe Park, which were long overdue for mowing when I visited the park recently.
Pinellas County has instigated no mow zones in an effort to get the parks back to a more natural look, instead of the manicured appearance we had become used to. The cynic in me immediately sees this as a cost cutting exercise, to avoid paying someone to mow the grass. Vernon assures me that this is not the case. He insists that they are genuinely trying return parts of these parks back to a more natural looking habitat for flora and fauna.
I can see where this could be beneficial and how it would enhance some of the parks, but at Philippe, it has given the park a very untidy, unkempt look, that discourages users from coming back. For instance, in the last couple of years, the walkway along the sea wall has been upgraded, with a new railing and other improvements; it was a lovely path to walk along. Now, however the side of the path has been left to grow wild with weeds, it looks terrible, like the yard of an abandoned home, unkempt and unloved. The steps leading up to the Indian Mound, which is a National Historic Landmark, are equally overgrown.
Again, Vernon Bryant and his staff have to stick within budget, and they lost a number of positions due to budget cuts. In the last couple of years, Pinellas County added a new park to their roster, Eagle Lake Park, without any additional funds to maintain it. Comparing the newest park in the county, Eagle Lake, with the oldest, Philippe Park, is unfair; they are totally different styles of park, and as a result, Eagle Lake looks much better. However compare Philippe to John Chestnut Park, a very similar style of park, and again Philippe comes out looking like the “red headed step child”.
The focus at the moment for the Pinellas County Parks landscaping teams will be on grass cutting, until they have time to smarten up the other areas. Where park users see untidy, overgrown, weed infested areas; Vernon Bryant sees areas of transition. There are plans to standardize the entrances to the parks with low maintenance native plants: perhaps the areas that are “no mow zones” could be planted with similar foliage, instead of being left to get overgrown with weeds.
Someone once told me that a weed is just the wrong kind of flower in the wrong place. Unfortunately for the people who use Philippe Park, there are a lot of wrong flowers in the wrong places.