A place where everyone can reach great heights, see priceless views
You don’t have to be a millionaire to have water views worth millions.
Just spend a little time at Wall Springs Park in Palm Harbor.
There, you can see the sultry Gulf of Mexico and mullet-jumping Boggy Bayou from fishing piers, docks and a $1.7-million observation tower that’s accessible by wheelchair all the way to the top.
You might just see a giant snook – fat and at least 30 inches long – like we did from one of the fishing piers. Or, perhaps you’ll spy soaring great blue herons, fish-toting osprey, and butterflies fluttering in their very own flower garden.
We watched a man and a woman fishing in waist-deep water out in the bayou, saw a tricolored heron, snowy egrets and park benches shaped like Doctor Seuss fish. We took all the trails and looked out
over the bubbling spring, where we watched wading birds fishing from grassy islands.
From wooden boardwalks, visitors can watch water from the Upper Floridian Aquifer bubble up through rocks and out a spill flowing westward. Park officials say the spring’s flow can vary from next to nothing during droughts to 7,405 gallons a minute. During heavy rainfall, an astounding 10.7 million gallons of water can flow through the spring in a day.
The spring – always 74 degrees – is named for the Wall family, who owned the property from 1884 to 1927. The Davis family, who bought it from the Walls, renamed it Health Springs and turned it into a popular health spa and bathing area for locals and tourists. The Cullens, who bought it in 1948, renamed it Wall Springs and opened it to the public as a recreation and swimming area until the mid-1960s.
Pinellas County began buying the land in 1988 for a park. Today, to protect the spring, no swimming is allowed.
But, if you want to, you can stare at water all day from the top of the 35-foot observation tower that just opened last summer. An arsonist burned down its predecessor on Sept. 11, 2013, and it had to be rebuilt, fortunately, mostly with insurance money, according to a county official.
This tower, unlike the last, was designed with wide, ADA-approved ramps, so it’s easy for everyone to get to the gorgeous Gulf views at the top.
We even saw a man with a bike up there, although we wondered if that was against park rules.
The park is 84 acres, so it offers plenty of room for serene walks, either along the wide, paved paths, or among fragrant magnolias, soaring pines and old oaks.
Picnickers can reserve covered shelters, or eat lunch on picnic tables, blankets on the grass, or on whimsical benches. Kids can play on a new playground under a soaring white canopy next to the butterfly garden and a Little Free Library shaped like a birdhouse.
The park has lots of other things to brag about – more than ample parking and clean restrooms, for starters. Plus, it is connected to the Pinellas Trail, which makes biking or walking there from Tarpon Springs or Palm Harbor a nice outing.
And, it’s about to get bigger and better.
The county owns 125 acres north of the park – acquired with a grant from the Florida Communities Trust Forever Florida program that helps communities protect natural resources, provide recreation and preserve fast-disappearing waterfronts.
Plans call for another picnic shelter, restrooms, more trails and a parking area. A paved, mile-long path will lead from the existing park to a new observation platform overlooking the Gulf shoreline on the new property.
County officials hope the new segment of the park will be ready by the fall of 2020.
The park doesn’t have everything. There’s no kayak/canoe launch, and there is no plan for one in the future, at least for now.
Still, the park offers plenty to do, plenty to see and plenty of watery beauty.
Tips for the Trip
Wall Springs Park is a Pinellas County park at 3725 De Soto Blvd., in Palm Harbor. From Alternate 19 North (Palm Harbor Boulevard) take Brevard Street west to the park entrance.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily
Info: (727) 943-4653 or PinellasCounty.org/park/21_Wall_Springs.htm
Where to eat: The park has five picnic shelters and grills, and other picnic tables, so it’s an ideal place to eat outdoors.
If you prefer to explore nearby restaurants, here are a few recommendations:
- Iron Oak New American BBQ, at 917 11th St., in downtown old Palm Harbor, is an easy drive south from the park and has delicious barbecue, craft cocktails and lots of craft beers on tap. Sit outside or inside at the cozy bar; IronOakBBQ.com; (727) 754-7337. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
- Rusty Bellies on the water, at 937 Dodecanese Blvd., in Tarpon Springs. Go for fresh seafood and the views; RustyBellies.com; (727) 934-4047. Closed Mondays. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
- Mykonos, at 628 Dodecanese Blvd., in Tarpon Springs, across from the sponge docks. Go for wonderful, authentic Greek specialties; (727) 934-4306. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Rusty Bellies and Mykonos have free parking, a real plus in Tarpon Springs. The town has many other restaurants, not all Greek. Search for “Tarpon Springs restaurants” on the Web.
By Karen Haymon Long
Published July 31, 2019