Krewe of Princess Ulele members sweated as they planted native plants in the morning heat and humidity.
But the work had special meaning to the women as they joined volunteers from other nonprofit organizations, including the Sierra Club of Tampa Bay, along with community members for the restoration of Ulele Springs, just north of downtown on Highland Avenue.
“We came out to do community service and — with the name — we feel a special connection,” said Stewart Hood, a member of the St. Petersburg-based krewe.
Ulele Spring has been piped off for years with the fresh spring water pouring into Tampa Bay. The project, under the direction of Tom Ries, of the nonprofit Ecosphere Restoration Institute, involves restoring the spring and connecting it naturally to the Hillsborough River, as it once was.
The plan includes a “basin” large enough for manatees to swim into the spring, which has a flow rate of 2,000 gallons per minute. A restored shoreline for that portion of the river also is part of the plan.
The restoration is part of city-owned Water Works Park and coincides with the soon-to-open Ulele Restaurant at 1810 N. Highland Ave., adjacent to the north.
Ries said the May 10 planting of 400 wetland plants and 300 landscape plants was just a prelude to a much larger planting planned for either later this month or early June.
“We couldn’t do it without all of this help and we get that buy-in from the community,” Ries said, as he worked alongside about 40 others removing invasive plant species and adding native plants.
Cana plants, pickerel weed, duck potatoes and coontie were among the plants added. The work also included planting a cypress tree and a pop ash tree.
Ries, who also is vice president and principal scientist at Scheda Ecological Services, has been recognized nationally for more than 80 habitat restoration and storm water retrofit projects.
He said this is the hardest project he has overseen due to the numerous unmarked utility lines throughout the property.
Heavy rains totaling about 5 inches in two days in early May also slowed the work of the project, which is funded with five grants totaling $670,000. The rainwater washed black dirt into the dug-out basin area and ruined white sand that had been placed to help create the bottom. It all had to be redone.
That area will be landscaped in the next planting.
Karla Price, of the city of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department, was among those at the May 10 event. She is helping coordinate its restoration with the Water Works Park improvement project.
She praised the volunteers for their efforts.
“I am always amazed at the willingness of people to take their personal time for a project that will benefit so many,” Price said.