Passersby on U.S. 41 likely didn’t notice the event taking place under a covered pavilion at the Land O’ Lakes Community Park on Aug. 14.
After all, there were no marching bands or fireworks.
But the ribbon cutting for the Land O’ Lakes Community Park project marked a big day in the community’s history.
The $2.3 million park improvement project includes the installation of a Bermuda grass practice field, a Bermuda grass football field and a 300-foot Bermuda grass softball field.
It also includes a concession building with restrooms and a meeting room, a maintenance building, open space, two shelters, new parking lots, a new playground and a remodeled patio area. And, there’s also a four-tenths-of-a-mile walking trail.
“This is an exciting time for Land O’ Lakes. I know the community is going to enjoy this park for years to come,” said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore, a speaker at the ribbon cutting.
“This celebrates progress. Not just the progress of Pasco County, but for Land O’ Lakes and the community that surrounds this park. It’s an effort, in my mind, for the revitalization of this great community,” Moore said.
“This isn’t the end of it,” Moore added. “You look around and you say, ‘Wow, what an amazing facility.’ But this isn’t the end. Thanks to the efforts of the Heritage Park Foundation, Sandy Graves and her team, there’s going to be a bandstand here that’s going to have concerts and other performances. That’s going to be another great thing for this park that the community has needed for so many years.”
The stage, to be constructed next year, is being funded through a $250,000 grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.
It’s taken a long time to get the funding for the stage, noted Sandy Graves, who has pushed relentlessly for the project.
It took three governors to finally get the state’s support, Graves said. Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Charlie Crist rejected the request, but Gov. Rick Scott said yes.
Kurt Conover, a longtime supporter of the project, said it didn’t hurt to have support from members of the local legislative delegation.
Conover thinks the stage will add a new dimension to happenings in Land O’ Lakes.
“I envision it to be a very busy place,” he said.
Graves sees the stage as a way to foster the kind of community life she enjoyed when she was young.
“So many of you see it as a new park today, but I see good memories,” Graves said, during the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“I remember the brand new park, back in the ’60s. I remember dance events. And coming to the community center for the Miss Land O’ Lakes pageant,” she said. “I remember my brother playing Little League games here.”
She said she’s grateful for the people of Land O’ Lakes who saw a need for a community center and park way back then, and for their support of “a place that added to the quality of life and to the wonder of their children’s memories.”
The quest for a stage at the park has been nearly 20 years in the making, Graves said, during an interview.
She noted that over the years, the Heritage Park Foundation has had all sorts of fundraisers and events to draw attention to their cause.
Foundation members sold turkey legs at the community’s Flapjack Festivals, sold coffee at the opening of the Suncoast Parkway, sold water at a balloon festival at Starkey Park, and sold doughnuts and coffee at the Central Pasco Chamber’s community expos.
They also had events, such as Traditions on the Green and Scarecrows ‘N Stuff, to draw attention to the cause.
Pasco County School Board member Joanne Hurley, a former member of the Heritage Park Foundation, recalled a time when the county was thinking about selling the parkland and relocating the park.
The community rallied against that.
Besides celebrating the park improvements, the ceremony also marked the beginning of a cooperative arrangement between Pasco County and Pasco County Schools, to share facilities.
Both parties have agreed to an arrangement that will allow students from Sanders to use the county’s practice fields, parkland, picnic shelter and walking trail, and visitors to the park to use the school’s basketball courts, parking and covered play area.
“Well, it took a long time,” said Rick Buckman, of the county’s parks and recreation department, but the efforts of many have paid off. “I’m just really excited.”
He thanked a long list of people who have been involved in making the project happen, expressing special gratitude for the patience of the Land O’ Lakes Police Athletic League.
“The LOL Pal Gators — they hung in there. We kept telling you, you were going to get a field. Well, you finally got it,” Buckman said.
The cooperative arrangement between the county and the school district is the first in Pasco County to become operational, Buckman added.
Lonnie Piper, of A-OK Trophies, was among those celebrating the updated park.
“This is just gorgeous, what they’ve done,” Piper said. “I can’t wait for the amphitheater to go in.”
Published August 19, 2015