When Peterson Park originally opened, it was a place where motorists traveling down U.S. 98 could pull over to a wayside rest area to take a break.
But, it was more than that.
The small park, south of the Lacoochee River, became a popular place with locals — and was the setting where people made memories that have lasted for decades.
When Scott Black, a Dade City commissioner, shared the news on his Trilby Homecoming Facebook page that Pasco County is seeking to reopen the park, his page lit up with comments.
One post, by Tim Gibson, recalls: “I spent many summer days there as a kid (and enjoyed) fried fish, hushpuppies, cheese grits and baked beans.”
Larry McElveen shared his recollections, too: “I remember picnics, family reunions and especially the summer swims with my Crawford (Sharon, Brenda and Janet) cousins at Peterson Park. Fond memories, indeed.”
Rodney McLeod experienced an especially big moment at the park: “This is where I proposed to Debbie Marsee on 13 March 1981,” he posted. “Happy to see it reopened.”
While many shared memories of socializing at the park, Barbara Basham recalled enjoying a different aspect of Peterson Park. It was, she posted, “my go-to place for reading and quiet time.”
Alan Spriggs recalled going to the low-lying park when it was under water: “We even had fun when it flooded, trying to find the (picnic) tables to sit on,” he posted.
And, Alvaro Fernandez shared a memory of a higher spiritual purpose for some visits to the park: “I remember the Baptist Church would baptize at the river at that location,” he posted.
Black, a local historian with a deep fascination for Trilby’s history, keeps people up to date on news involving the community.
When he posted about Pasco County’s intention to sign an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation for a 30-year lease for Peterson Park, he couldn’t believe the extent of the reaction.
“I’ve never had one (post) that generated this much interest,” Black said. “This had more views than anything: “11,647 people were reached, 274 people have reacted with Emojis, 113 comments. 147 shares,” he said.
Peterson Park, which sits on less than 2 acres, became a park in 1952, when the state road department decided to establish wayside parks along state highways.
The park is on the west side of U.S. 98, just south of the Lacoochee River, near the Pasco-Hernando county line.
“They would set up these nice little picnic areas for the travelers, for them to stop,” Black said.
Besides being a place for picnics, it was next to the river, so people could fish there, swim there and put in their boats there, Black said.
The park had concrete picnic tables and benches, which are still there.
“Everything is pretty much original,” Black said, noting county parks department may want to consider keeping it just the way it is.
The site does flood periodically, so it’s probably not a good idea to have wooden picnic tables, or a dock, because those would be damaged by floodwaters, Black said.
The park has been gated off for more than 20 years, according to the agenda item involving the lease agreement.
The county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department is interested in reopening it.
Doing so would provide access to recreational opportunities along the Withlacoochee River, which is a state-designated paddling trail, according to county staff.
Reopening the park would provide opportunities for picnicking, fishing, wildlife viewing, canoeing and kayaking, the agenda item says.
There is no current timetable for reopening the park.
The agenda item for the lease states that county staff “will continue to seek grant funding opportunities to redevelop the park. A county match may be required but would be presented to the BCC (County Commission) for approval at the appropriate time.”
Black hopes the county will be able to secure funding to reopen the park.
“This is where I grew up out here, so it’s a special place for me,” Black said. “People will drive by and bemoan the fact that the park is there, but can’t be used.”
To read more of people’s memories, or to add your own, go to the Trilby Homecoming page on Facebook.
Published June 20, 2018