Robert Heath, Jr. oral history

Material Information

Robert Heath, Jr. oral history
Series Title:
Environmental lands acquisition and protection program oral history project
Heath, Robert, Jr
Guidry, Joe J
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
Physical Description:
1 sound file (44 minutes) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;


Subjects / Keywords:
Environmental law ( lcsh )
Environmental sciences ( lcsh )
Tampa (Fla.) ( lcsh )
Oral history. ( local )
Online audio. ( local )
interview ( marcgt )
Oral history ( local )
Online audio ( local )


Joe Guidry speaks with Robert Heath Jr. of the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program [ELAPP]. In the interview, Heath recalls his early life traveling the country, and his time working for state parks. Heath recants his entrance into the bond program of the Florida parks department, and his involvement the various projects that would soon shape the Conservation of Recreational Lands Program. Heath describes his position and responsibilities in the ELAPP project, and names many of the projects he deems most noteworthy or important.
Interview conducted on February 27, 2017.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Joe J. Guidry.

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University of South Florida Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
035293758 ( ALEPH )
999820005 ( OCLC )
E21-00003 ( USFLDC DOI )
e21.3 ( USFLDC Handle )

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text Joe Guidry (JG): This is Joe Guidry on February twenty-seventh. Im interviewing Rob Heath at his beautiful house on the Alafia River. Rob, Id like to ask you, first, when and where were you born and raised?
Robert Heath (RH): I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana in the (inaudible).
JG: What brought you to Florida?
RH: Well(inaudible) out to the Southwest, New Mexico, Colorado, loved it out there. And I had also spent some time in Florida and knew that the Florida environment was extremely diverse and very wildlife-friendly. And my wife said she wanted to be in a place cold, so that kind of narrowed it down. We moved over to Gainesville, looked for work, ended up finding work in Tampa and lived here since 78.
JG: Seventy-eight. And when you originally came here, were you working for the state, rather than Hillsborough County?
RH: Thats correct. The first job that I found was an outdoor job that involved (inaudible) was with the state park system (inaudible). And I was with the state parks for a while, and then I was also doing part-time work at the Ybor City Museum. While I was at that museum, this fella came in one day and met me and started talking to me, and he was working for the Florida parks department under the bond program that was developing new parks, like Lettuce Lake and (inaudible) and Upper Tampa Bay. And he said, Im from California, and Ive been here a couple of years, and Im ready to go back. But Im going to tell my boss, Joel Jackson, that he should hire you to replace me, and that was that.
JG: So you were hired by Joel to help with the bond (inaudible).
RH: (inaudible) brochures and show guides, and developing educational displays, especially at Upper Tampa Bay, which has a big nature center. Lettuce Lake has a smaller one. And Aldermans Ford Park has an even smaller one. We put displays in all of those facilities, and that was my role in the park development, was the environmental education.
JG: So you really spearheaded those interpretive centers. You were really the one behind
RH: As far as developing them, yes
JG: Which, theyre still there, still? That must be pretty good.
RH: Yes, they arethe buildings are still there. The displays have all changed. Of course, its been over 20 years, so youd expect them to evolve over time.
JG: Yeah. Well, thats good. So how did that evolve? Where did you go from there, after?
RH: The bond program was a temporary program, and we were all considered extended temporary employees. We had full benefits, but as far as civil service was concerned, when the bond program ended, our jobs ended. And, of the six or so employees that were administrative parks bond employees, Im the only one who stayed on with the parks department. They decided they wanted a park naturalist to run these environmental education programs and oversee the nature centers, and I got that job. Another person went with the solid waste department, and Joel Jackson went with the City of Tampa. We had an architect who went off into the private sector.
JG: Had there ever been a naturalist before, at Hillsborough County?
RH: No.
JG: So you created that position, essentially?
RH: There was no need for one. Prior to that, the parks had no real educational aspects to them, no natural history interpretation, until these new parks were built. And the nature center is one of the main reasons, and Upper Tampa Bay is where I had an office. I was responsible for continuing to develop educational programs, in terms of slide shows that rangers could give and developing interpretive literature for the parks to have available to visitors when they came. We even had a summer program called Fun With Nature, and I was in charge of coordinating that and hiring summer temporaries. We had kids that would attend the recreation centers, and, for one week at a time, the rec centers would (inaudible) park and do a four-day nature program with the temporary employees that I trained, using the parks as the facilities. And that was a lot of fun.
JG: Well, yeah. That was really, kind ofyou created a whole program.
RH: Yeah, I did that until the ELAPP program started. Then I was perfectly positioned to be involved with that.
JG: Your responsibilities must have grown. (laughs)
RH: Yeah, initially, I was hoping to develop the guidelines that therecreational program (inaudible). And then, once we started actually trying to acquire sites, somebody had to go out and evaluate the nominations and see how they would rank on the priority list. We called them environmental site sessions. From our preliminary assessments, (inaudible) passed on to the next step of the process (inaudible). Wed get a full site situated. We did that by (inaudible). The staff of USF was (inaudible) at every stage of the process. So I was the environmental site assessment team leader, and I also helped to present the important findings to the selection committee so that they could rank the sites and then recommend that to the board of county commissioners for approval.
JG: Well, you, then, must have seen virtually every piece of land that was proposed for ELAPP?
JG: And so, youve seen every ELAPP site, and beyond that, every site
JG: That must have been amusing(??). Of those, can you say which one you think was (inaudible)?
RH: (inaudible) was riverine and lacustrine lake, and it had sand pine scrub. So it had everything in between as far as, you know, from dry to wet. And the habitat quality was about the best because it hadnt been impacted by agriculture. There were some small areas that had been farmed, but the majority of it was in its pristine, natural state. It actually included some mine-reclaimed phosphate land at the east end, which we thought wasnt any good for anything but was included in the ownership, so we bought that, designated it as an acquisition of convenience that we could then sell off if we wanted to. And then, after we had it for a while, we realized that the outdoor recreational potential for that was extremely high, especially for mountain biking and that. We could see the value. So its like, weve got to hang on to that too.
JG: Thats great(??). Any parcel you were really disappointed the county was unable to acquire?
RH: Yeah. Those I try to forget about, but yeah. Yeah, we did lose a few, and it was because the notary was in the development business, and that was the purpose for owning the property, and they were hell-bent on doing that. And there were some that were along the Alafia River, in the tributary of English Creek, that wouldve been really nice additions to some corridors that we were trying to put together. Going east toward Polk County, there was a branch of the creek that was owned by one of the phosphate companies, and they were like, No, we need that land because mining phosphate is what we do. And it had some sandhill habitat, which is very rare in Hillsborough County. And so, that got mined. And some stuff along the south part, same thing. The phosphate companies, they move aggressively along the (inaudible) path of the ocean that they have, until they run out of land thats got phosphate ore. And if they dont, then they shut down, and that would be devastating to them. You can offer them the value of the land, and theyll say, No because even if we get the value of the land, we dont have anything to mine, we shut down. So that was inevitable, theres nothing that we (inaudible).
JG: Tell me about how you first got involved the (inaudible). You were there right on the front, (inaudible). As it initiated, you were key.
RH: Right, as a parks department employee, you needed an environmental education because, at the time, I was the only person in the department who had a degree in environmental sciences. And they actually used a sub-search(??) classification evolved from the environmental protection commission to hire me as an environmental science (inaudible) because, with a masters degree, I met the minimum qualifying criteria. And they were looking at the pay grade. And most of the qualifying civil service positions that were in recreation had to do with athletics or maintenance or that sort of thing. I was a bad fit for those. And (inaudible) offered me a management position, offering me a nice position as a specialized staff person focusing on environmental education.
So I got the environmental science position, and then when ELAPP started, they were looking for somebody with an environmental background to help set up a land acquisition program for the preservation program. So I was an existing employee that was a perfect fit for that. Initially, we hired one more person (inaudible) when we acquired the first site. And we had to worry about, not just going through the evaluation process and then the acquisition, but now we had to worry about land management. And, fortunately, that site, that would be the dairy farm right next to the Hillsborough River State Park.
So, after the initial acquisition, we were able to negotiate a lease agreement with the park because they loved having that as an addition because, if we hadnt bought it, it wouldve eventually been a housing development. And they saw that as a valuable effort (inaudible). And they came in and restored that because they were looking for land to qualify for the restoration department of parks and services (inaudible). Public land (inaudible). And the stuff along the Hillsborough River that was partly swamp land (inaudible). You know, here we are, getting land, figuring out what to do with it afterwards (inaudible). The best way to go with the least amount of effort.
JG: Did you develop a lot of those partnerships, in ELAPP, that really benefited the environment?
RH: We did. We absolutely did. We were always looking for a ways to leverage what management capacity we had, which was very little at first, but it grew over time, and now its significant. But we had agreements like that with the City of Tampa. When a project was one that they were interested in, we would say, Well buy it, if you guys agree to manage it. And there was one with HCC, Hillsborough Community College, on English Creek, where they had an environmental center on land that they owned, about 100 acres. We tripled the size of that site by buying more land adjacent to it, and allowed them to incorporate it into the nature center and manage the whole thing as a Hillsborough Community College environmental study area.
And we did the same thing with Temple Terrace on a couple of sites along the Hillsborough River. We would buy them; they were adjacent to existing Temple Terrace parks, and they would just expand the boundaries of their parkland and manage it, of course, under a lease agreement. You know, we held the title; they managed it. And there were probably a couple of others, too, that dont come to mind right now (inaudible). Water management district on sites that they also targeted under Save Our Rivers. We would share the costs of the site and (inaudible). If they build on land, they own it (inaudible).
JG: (inaudible) in charge of all this land; other than see that its managed properly, what was the biggest challenge you faced in that?
RH: It was, probably, conflicts with the adjacent property owners. They came from, in one caseactually, two cases that were really prominent that I can think of, large agricultural operations that had a very negative opinion of anything the county was trying to do because they were upset with wetland regulations, and we didnt have anything to do with that. But were Hillsborough County, so they were a thorn in our side. They opposed everything we did.
They would say things like, Youre killing all the animals when you burn. One of the most important things you can do to maintain the habitat is prescribed burning, and they didnt like habitat restoration (inaudible). Afterwards, you get more wildlife (inaudible). You may not be seeing the animals becauseyou can see a lot of animals in an open pasture, but theres not as many animals there as there is in a natural habitat providing cover. Naturally, you (inaudible)might be able to develop the wetlands sections of their property because, as you can see, were saying, This is something you cant touch. Youve got to have a buffer, not just protect that wetland area but the buffer around it where you cant plant.
So we had some opposition. And occasionally, on two separate parcels that were in areas that were suburban, that had residential developments next to them, we had neighbors that didnt want to see a fence because it disturbed their view. And yet, they were encroaching with their landscaping and the recreational equipment (inaudible). We were saying, Weve got to have a fence so that we can stop the encroachments. And then, you know, the county commissioners phones would light up because they didnt want a fence in their backyard.
JG: How did that work out?
RH: You know, it favorssurprisingly enough, one of the strongest advocates (inaudible). Makes perfect sense to me, so, you know, (inaudible).
JG: (inaudible) thats surprising. Although, she was a supporter of EPC and carried it in the state legislature and everything. Any othersome of the complaints you would hearits a very popular program, but some of the points you hear is, Well, the lands not being managed adequately. We have exotic plants that are going wild. Was that overblown, or was there any truth to that?
RH: Its a double-edged sword. (inaudible) Its like they had to staff ELAPP(??). And the people that manage the regular parks dont have that training in the maintenance of it. So youre asking for funding for site management, and the question is, why do you need it? Because these lands have all these needs, in terms of controlling invasives [sic], prescribed burning, site security, even in resource-based recreational development, youve got to have trails.
And, at a certain point, volunteers can do so much, and its not enough. So they turn around, and they say, Well, we shouldnt be buying these lands if you dont have the capacity to properly manage them. And so, that would work against the acquisition side. And so, if you pushed too hard for more management, they would use that as an argument, if they were so inclined to say that we need to cut back on the acquisition. And my argument against that philosophy would be that, even if you were to have no management, youre buying tracts of lands to keep them from being turned into housing developments.
And youre only buying the part of the land that has high environmental value, thats made it past our rigorous qualifying process and gone through the selection process and been vetted and ranked and Class A, or whatever, really important to buy. You buy that and do nothing to manage it, youre better off than if you lost it for development because it provides all these values, what we call ecosystem services. Like air quality, flood protection, water quality, groundwater recharge, and recreation.
If you can still go on these sites, and they have existing roads, and youre not putting in a Florida trail system, theyre still reasonable for recreational value. Some of them provide outlets for fishing in the bay, and theyre just fantastic (inaudible). And theres not that much in Hillsborough County. You know, we had to be really picky. And thats why some of the larger sites are only in the couple of thousand acres, not tens and twenties of thousands like you might find in some place like Volusia County, where they have a much smaller population, so.
pause in recording
JG: So we were talking about the management, running the (inaudible)commissioners and so forth, that its been such a popular program and that it was supported overwhelmingly by the public?
RH: We werent sure, at first, how successful we were going to be. And that built a lot of caution when the citizens got together to try to formulate the first (inaudible) referendum. How much to ask for, how long they can go for. And so, thats why they came up with a four-year referendum for up to 20,000 dollars, a quarter mil [sic] inside the ten-mil [sic] cap. That said, they would expire after three years of successful land acquisition. We had built up a track record, but weve got to extend this.
What do we do now? And then some people would say, Well, lets just stick with what works for another four years. Youre going to get(inaudible) were outvoted. But the track record was the important thing (inaudible). Promised that we were going to not use condemnation. We never did, never have. Its a voluntary program. Landowners were not forced to participate. And some other aspects of the program that were promoted from the beginning were demonstrated, and it was not justwe kept out promise, but weve showed how successful it was.
And the one, single factor that, I think, demonstrated how broad the appeal was, was that, during those first four years, we had a seven-member board that included two opposites. At one end, on the far right, was Jim Sulvey(??), and at the other endwhat you might call the far leftwas Jan Platt. And the only thing they were voted together on were ELAPP issues. And we had these unanimous seven-member board decisions, in most cases, with ELAPP. Especially after (inaudible) got elected, and we didnt have Hayden Port [sic] on the board; she was a naysayer. But Jim Sulvey(??) and Jan Platt hardly ever agreed on anything, but they agreed on ELAPP issues.
JG: Thats great. Were there any critics, early on? Any opposition that had a strong voice?
RH: You know, the only people who voiced opposition early on, I think, would be people in the agriculture community, who just had philosophical difficulties with the idea of the government buying land. And one of the things that people in that group would say was that we need these vacant parcels of land because we are losing our agricultural lands to development, and these natural areas are potential, future agricultural lands that we can expand into when we lose our existing agricultural lands to these housing developments. And, you know, in a sense, thats true.
JG: But were losing out natural lands.
RH: Yes. The natural lands would disappear all that much faster. And, looking at the enormous, overwhelming public support for protecting these natural areas from developmentwhether its residential or agricultural development, people dont want to see these lands disappear.
RH: There was an early nomination.  This was before I was very familiar with the outlying parts of the county. And it was a tract of land on, uhI dont want to give(??) it away(??)a tract of land on Balm Boyette Road that was a big chunk of sand pine scrub. Then I went out there, and I looked at it, and I said, This is fantastic. I didnt know anything like this was out here. And it was way out in the middle of nowhere.
This one road that went through it was a paved road, but it was real rough. It was, like, obviously, not heavily traveled, didnt have a center line or anything like that. This is terrific that we can find something like this before development comes anywhere near it because, you know, its going to be relatively easy to acquire. And then it got on the list, and it went from the 500 acres that this guy had nominated, which was a patch of scrub, to a full tract, which was 5,000 acres, which included multiple patches of scrub, plus pine flat woods, plus wetlands, and then that piece that was mined for phosphate.
That was our flagship, virtually, the flagship tract of land, the Balm Boyette scrub. As soon as it got on the approved list, we found out that it was owned by a huge corporation that was a pipeline corporation called the Williams Company, and it was under a DRI application process. It was being submitted to the Department of Community Affairs as this huge DRI development. It wouldve had tens of thousands of homes, and we had no idea because it was early in the process. And so, it became a nightmare.
And it kind of caused a lot of grey areas that you had to be careful which hat you were wearing because there was the development approval process that was ongoing at the planning commission and the county planning department and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. They were all evaluating this DRI application. And the countys acquisition effort, which was through a real estate department, that was a voluntary process. They didnt have to even talk to us if they were dead set on getting the DRI approving developing it.
But their DRI application was horrible. It just completely glossed over all the environmental resources, and they didnt even submit plant surveys because they said they didnt have to, even though that was in the comprehensive plan guidelines for a DRI. And it had a large population of Florida golden asters, which was on the federally endangered species list. And so, we were feeding the information to the planners because we had done surveys, and we knew what was out there.
And they were using their consultants to say there wasnt anything out there. I was accused of (inaudible). Im just getting information, you know? (inaudible) They had a couple of contentious hearings with the Hillsborough County Planning Commission. And, after about two years of going back and forth, they withdrew their DRI and negotiated with the county and the state of Florida. By that time, (inaudible). Thirty-some million, they sold it for 16 million [dollars] (inaudible).
JG: Of course, now, you wouldnt have the state in on that planning oversight. The state has gotten rid of that
RH: Theres no department of community of affairs, no comprehensive planning, no nothing.
JG: You have no backup now.
RH: Yeah.
JG: You would never be able to, probably, stop it.
RH: All the county has is a checkbook.
JG: Yeah. So thats amazing. What do you see as the biggest challenge to ELAPP in the future, going forward?
RH: Uh, (inaudible) trying to figure out how to (inaudible) and consolidate what theyve got so that its able to really protect the resources long-term. And the main threat is impacts of adjacent land use and the ability to do the management that you need to do. And its not easy to prescribe burns when youre in a populated area, so some of these areas that were out in the middle of nowhere are now surrounded by development. And, no matter how much effort you put into educating your local community on the importance of prescribed burning, in Florida, not a day goes by that you dont have new residents moving in that dont have that information.
And so, youre constantly dealing with the negative perception and resistance to one of your most important management tools, which is prescribed burning. And theres a lot of pressure for inappropriate recreational uses. There was a tract of land on Morris Bridge Road, which was county-owned, but it wasnt owned by ELAPP; it was owned by, I think, another agencythe water department, who knows what? Anyway, its a nice piece of land, and the county was looking for replacing athletic facilities that were not good enough. They werent big enough.
JG: Yeah, I remember that.
RH: And it was in the New Tampa area. And they wanted places to have soccer and baseball and so forth, and they targeted that site. And there was a proposal to protect it but swap it with an existing SWFMD-owned site called Oakridge, out on the North end of Morris Bridge Road, near Pasco County. The idea was to swap. And it was like, well, that would set a dangerous precedent; that you can take an existing preserve that the county acquired with joint funds with SWFMD, thats undergone restoration, like replacing the trails, and its on the river; it connects to River State Park on the other side.
You want to swap that with this land because it would serve better for recreational facilities. You want to use preserved lands for soccer fields. Its resource-based recreation, like fishing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, not ball fields. We dont do that. And there was this big, contentious back-and-forth. And the county eventually decided they werent going to do that.
They found another site on state-owned land along the bypass canal, which was just much more conveniently located to more people, and developed the soccer facilities there. And they ended up adding that 60-acre tractthat was the contentious oneto ELAPP. I think they reimbursed whatever agency owned it. So, now, weve got additional conservation land, didnt give anything up, didnt do a land swap, didnt violate the promises that we made to the people when the program was founded, and have soccer fields too.
JG: Yeah, I remember when all that was happening. That could have easily gone the other way.
RH: Yeah that would have set a real bad precedent.
JG: Was there anything else I shouldve asked you that I didnt, about the development of ELAPP? Im sure youre veryyou should be very proud of everything.
RH: Yeah, I think I can elaborate on that really good question you asked about us going forward (inaudible). Dealing with the adverse impacts of these adjacent lands (inaudible). And there was also the need to make connections between existing tracts, and, in many cases, you dont have anything there that qualifies because of its habitat value; it only qualifies because it makes connections. And so, thats a new area to go into. And the idea that they were looking at there, which is a really good one, was lessen the fee. Because you dont need these lands to be owned outright as preservation lands if they dont have the values.
They can continue to be what they are, which could be relatively intensive agriculture, like citrus groves or croplands. Or they could be low-intensity agriculture, like rangeland or even improved pasture. But those form much better connections than housing developments, which are complete barriers. So broaden the qualifying criteria to include lands like that, but only at a lessened fee, so that youre just buying the development rights. And somebody else continues to own them and operate them as whatever theyre using them for now, just continue that use.
JG: Everybody wins on that.
RH: Exactly. The county doesnt have to manage it.
JG: Is there still quite a bit of land that could be acquired by ELAPP, any major parcels? Or do you think the program pretty has much gathered everything thats possible?
RH: Its harder and harder to find relatively large sites that qualify outright, and theyve either been lost to development or mining, whatever. Thats the point of development. Or theyve been broken up and partially developed, so theyre not as good as they used to be. Or theyre just completely gone. So youre not going to find any more Balm Boyette Scrubs (inaudible), Cockroach Bay Islands, or, you know, the Lower Hillsborough, which used to be called the Cone Ranch. Thats an interesting one, 12,000 acres. It was owned by the water department. Now, finally, its under conservation because they figured out that it wouldnt make a good well field anyway.
JG: Yeah, and they were trying to say they couldnt sell it for less than market value and that whole
RH: Yeah, yeah because they were an enterprise or whatever. Strange stuff. So theres no big prizes that Im aware of that are still out there. IMC, which became Mosaic, has a lot of stuff in the southeast part of the county that theyre supposedly going to mine, restore, and then either keep and own in perpetuity. Or they could, theoretically, turn it over to the state or county as restored land that is valuable because its a corridor along that river.
JG: I mean, they can do pretty decent stuff, in terms of wetlands restoration.
RH: Yeah, looking back at some of the stuff that was never reclaimed and you think, Oh yeah. Ill take the reclaimed stuff any day, even though its not like
JG: Its not as good as having it natural, but its still got aa lot of the ducks seem to love it, you know?
RH: It can support the wildlife populations and very well serve as a corridor, which, as you develop, you may not have as many listed species, like (inaudible). This is an interesting thing, you know. We used to have numerous, little, tiny populations of scrub jays in the county. Now there are two, and one may be only one bird.
JG: Really?
RH: At the Golden Astor Scrub we have a scrub jay that were aware of, and then theres another one down along Little Manatee [River] thats on private land. And all the other ones have blinked out.
JG: Didnt there used to be some at Flatwoods Park, up there at, uh?
RH: Im not sure about Flatwoods. Its possible that there were. But they used to turn up every now and then at any site that had large areas of scrub, but there are so many factors involved with maintaining the populations of scrub jays. I know, at Little Manatee River State Park, for instance, youd see them when you were hiking on the trail there. Perfect habitat.
JG: Yeah.
RH: But not sufficient, for some reason, to maintain a viable population (inaudible) golden asters. Unless they are relocating from other parts of the state where theres populations that are equally endangered that are not being managed. I think they were trying to do that a while ago (inaudible).
JG: Well, it must have been interesting to be a naturalist in a rapidly growing county like Hillsborough. It would be easy to become discouraged, if not embittered, but you seem to manage to not do that. How was it, working there? I mean, to some degree, youve got to feel a great deal of satisfaction at what your county was able to do.
RH: Yes, actually, yeah. It was a great. And one of the reasons that I left was (inaudible)aspects of the community, mostly in the agricultural (inaudible). And we were getting less support from our own administration for a variety of reasons. And it was things like, well, Why cant that site be used for more intensive agriculture use? Why cant you lease it to that guy who wants to grow strawberries? That kind of thing. And the first 15 years of the program, it was like, no way, thats ridiculous.
That would violate our first basic tenet. That particular site that you want to grow strawberries on, that is a restoration site (inaudible) weak spot in the Alafia River Corridor. We need to get habitat in there, which we were. If you want to undo that, then let some guy have it because hes got (inaudible). That sort of thing kept coming up more and more, and I finally said, I think Id rather do this from the private sector side. So I retired and started a nonprofit, and my intent was to be an advocate for the county, which I didnt think we were getting enough of from the private sector, especially in the environmental community because people didnt have enough knowledge of these issues.
And I thought I would come in from that direction and support the program. And I did that for a few years, but then the administration changed, and the parks department got an idiot in charge. He didnt last long because the board kicked him out. They realized he was an idiot. But that kind of shot my effort down. I said, Im just going to go off and do other nonprofit stuff. And so, I started partnering with Florida Audubon, and a friend of mine who has another nonprofit called Wildlands Conservation, which does a lot of interesting work with gopher tortoises and mitigation banks. Its working with that. And this kind of took me away from the ELAPP stuff, which was a shame
JG: Well, are those pressures still on the department?
RH: No.
JG: So that was a prior administration that wanted to lease out
RH: It took over 10 years, but now the ELAPP program is like a model for what I would want it to be, if I was still there. With a really strong management program, and theyve branched out into a really good public outreach program, doing a lot of ecotourism-type activities, encouraging people to go hiking with the annual ELAPP calendar photo contest, things like that.
Theyve got people who are not just trying to do the basic necessities like we always were, with site security and exotic control and prescribed burning and putting out brushfires, literally and figuratively. Well, actually were not trying to put out those kinds of brushfires, were trying to start them. But the program, now, is more independent. Theyve got (inaudible)department under conservation services that functions independently of recreation and athletics, which is the way it should be.
JG: Thats great. Well, Rob, is there anything else youd like to add to that? I dont want to
RH: Im thinking. Not really. Ive thought, a couple of times, I need to do a farewell tour and go out and hit these sites that I havent seen in a number of years and walk the trails. And I dont have much time left. Ive got about four weeks left.
JG: Well, let me know when you do it. Maybe I can go with you. Id love to go, at least, on some of those top, uh
RH: Its starting to get hot. I need to do it soon. You know, one site I havent done is, since I did the original session, is that Lake Gandy all the way up in the northwest part of the county. And theyve got a trails system there; its geared towards horses. But I think it connects to a part of the Brooker Creek side on the Pinellas County side. And I havent been back to Cypress Creek. I dont know if youve ever hiked in there, off of Van Dyke Road.
JG: Oh, you know, I havent.
RH: And, lets see some of the other ones. Thats not Cypress Creek; thats Cypress Creek Headwaters for some reason. The one that sails west toward Lake Tarpon. So thats part of the Pinellas County Watershed. But the Cypress Creek site, thats a new camp over at
JG: Ive been there.
RH: And supposedly, theres a trail system in there that people are using, but the countys website gives you a bad link, and you cant really see how wide of a trail that is(??). Ive got to talk to them about that.
JG: Well, give me a call when you go to do this.
RH: Yeah.


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