ST. PETERSBURG — People strolling through Boyd Hill Nature Preserve would hardly give a second glance at the weed-like yellow flowers that cling to shallow pockets of soil on small rocks.
But for botanists, the presence of Nutall’s Rayless Goldenrods in Florida’s most densely populated county is something of a small miracle.
The preserve in South St. Petersburg is one of only two known sites where the goldenrods – an endangered species – grow in Florida. Their presence is a result of Boyd Hill’s unique variety of habitats, including rare sand pine scrub.
Yet, only about half of the 245-acre park is designated as a preserve, which has allowed the city over the years to build a fire station and soccer fields on the edge of the complex.
Now, some City Council members are saying it’s time to ensure the city-owned park is conserved permanently and are proposing to designate the whole park as a preserve. The measure was proposed by Council Member Amy Foster, who on a recent tour was struck by how some of the most beautiful parts of the park are outside preservation areas.
“You really see some of the inconsistencies when you take the time to walk the property,” she said. “It really is a gem.”
Bordering Lake Maggiore, the park includes swamp and marsh land, woodlands, uplands and pine flatwoods.
In addition to rare plants, that rich variety provides habitat for several endangered species, including gopher tortoises, eastern indigo snakes and fox squirrels.
As a city park, Boyd Hill does already enjoy some protection. Also, residents would have to approve any sale of parkland in referendum as required by the city’s charter.
But environmentalists say designating the whole park as a preserve would restrict the city from using more of the park for projects like sports fields. It could also make developers more wary of trying to develop land alongside the preserve, such as a 2013 project to build 100 homes next to the park that was opposed by Friends of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, a group of volunteers. The developer eventually backed away from the project.
“With the potential for development along the edge of the park, several of us felt it might be helpful in the long run for the preserve if all the land was designated for preserve status,” said Gabriel Vargo, a retired marine science professor at the University of South Florida.
A founding member of the volunteer group, Vargo has taken care of birds of prey at an aviary at the park since 1987 which is now home to 15 birds. The birds, usually too injured to survive in the wild, are used in educational programs.
He said the park’s pine flatwoods habitat is reminiscent of how much of the county looked before it was developed, hence the name Pinellas.
“This is a place where people can see what the place they live in used to be like,” he said.
Local environmentalist Lorraine Margeson plans to attend the City Council meeting Thursday to support making all of the park a preserve. She said it is probably the richest environmental property in the city.
“It’s as precious a piece of real estate as Sunken Gardens or any other place in the city and it deserves as much attention,” she said.