One-by-one children carefully carried fishing nets down an embankment and into the blue waters of the newly expanded lake at Highland Lake Park on Feb. 22. Fifty fish and one turtle have a new home at the lake. The fish release was part of the grand opening ceremony of the city's newest park.
The new park has a walking trail, newly planted trees, benches and picnic tables. More upcoming improvements will include pond plants, educational signage, an underwater aeration system, and more fish.
The park is more than just a recreation area. City Engineer Leland Dicus said, the park's lake is an opportunity to help protect Florida waterways.
"The project is important for Florida and Largo. It's an opportunity to restore (Florida waterways). We diverted stormwater from a 250-acre area," Dicus said.
As a part of city improvements on Highland Avenue, the lake was expanded from two acres to about four acres. The city excavated 3,000 dump trucks of dirt from the site. The park will also have an acre of aquatic plants, Dicus said.
City Parks Superintendent Greg Brown said, through building in the area, nature's water treatment "train" had gradually disappeared. Fertilizer, oil, and other pollutants have gone directly into the bay instead of through a natural drainage network.
With the newly, expanded pond and the natural filter of the plants the Highland Lake area will serve as a natural water treatment area. The lake works like a sand filter for a pool, Brown said.
To help direct the run-off into the lake the city built a system of concrete pipes. Ditches and swales in a 100-acre area are already connected to the lake. The rest of the run-off will be directed to the lake once improvements planned for 2014 are complete, Dicus said.
Funding for the project came from the city of Largo and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The project came in under its budget of $1.3 million, the project cost about $1.1 million, Brown said.