For a few days residents have watched a crew working with heavy equipment on 11th Avenue South near 6th Street. We heard the noise for blocks as trees were removed and chipped into mulch.
For decades environmentalists and neighborhood activists have talked about the restoration of Booker Creek. This year we see it happen.
Early in the city’s development the natural creek was deepened and sections were walled in with concrete bulkheads. In several places the creek was forced into underground box culverts. At that time few recognized the value of the creek’s shallow margins. Our small city was surrounded with natural wetlands and wild areas so we took these resources for granted. We didn’t realize that the birds and fish depend on the native vegetation in these wetlands.
Raising the grade with fill dirt was a way to create "productive" land and bury the undesirable wetlands. This drainage plan worked for several decades but as the city built up more and more of the drainage basin was paved over. More rainwater was drained into the creek than it was designed to handle, and there was less land to soak it up.
So now we have a serious flood problem. The culvert that runs between 11th and 10th Avenue South fills up and causes a bottleneck. During extremely heavy rains the creek overflows over Roser Park Drive and motorists can’t see where the street ends and the creek begins. One neighbor died when their car went into the creek.
City engineers told us that the most cost-effective way to move more water was to open up the creek and the beautiful open space they restore will be a bonus.
Two years ago a few of our residents met with the Devil Rays and environmentalists to hear their vision for a restored Booker Creek. They could do more with the creek that flows by their stadium. As it flows south through Campbell Park there is space for a walkway and bike path to connect the Southside to the downtown waterfront. The Rays see a connection to historic Negro League pro baseball played by the St. Petersburg Pelicans at Oliver Field in the park; as well as to the youth sports programs offered there today. A connection both to their past and to their future.
As we look south the medical building planned for MLK Jr. Street at 6th Avenue was planned with this potential trail in mind. From there Booker Creek flows through the uniquely beautiful Roser Park Historic District, and on towards Bayboro Harbor.
Further upstream near Ed White Hospital the creek is being restored with a tree planting on it’s banks. Years ago highway construction turned this section into a lake.
New open space, neighborhoods connected, improved water quality and a healthier bay, everybody wins.
It’s another great day in Saint Petersburg.