ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Nestled in the heart of St. Petersburg, just a few miles from downtown, are 400 acres of wildlife.
Gopher turtle nests rest untouched, birds sun carefree, and countless species of plants welcome 50,000 visitors every year to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, seemingly with no enemies.
"The neighbors across the street are wonderful," said St. Petersburg Parks & Recreation Manager Linda Seufert. "People like us."
Given the park's importance to its community, employees call it even more surprising that someone would break their equipment shed lock, not once, but twice.
October 16, someone stole two of the 4-wheel vehicles used to maintain the park. On December 7, another one disappeared.
The suspect tried to take a fourth but failed, leaving it vandalized.
"It's completely out of alignment here and as it was pulled out, this portion went in and cracked this light here," explained Boyd Hill Operations Foreman Howard Saytor.
The park's maintenance depends on the vehicles, given the narrow trails that span three and a half miles.
"This is specialized equipment that we use everday," explained Boyd Hill Operations Foreman Howard Saytor. "Now we can't really do our jobs effectively without this equipment."
Police eventually found one of the vehicles about a mile away, but it sustained $4,000 worth of damage. Altogether, the park faces a $30,000 defecit.
"Our budget's tight right now. We're trying to do mroe with less. We're trying to be efficient," Seufert said. "This makes it a little harder to do that."
Now, much of the work has to be done by walking, like stocking water stations, clearing trails, and preparing the park for fire season with burn preparations to clear brush.
"Without it, basically the guys have to do a lot of footwork," Saytor said. "It takes ten times the amount of time to get to places."
St. Petersburg Police believe whoever took the vehicles simply wanted a joy-ride around town. By doing so, however, Boyd Hill advocates say they're now scrambling for other options to keep the park safe and clean.
"For someone who thinks that all he did, go out and have some fun, it really was an impact," Seufert said.
Anyone with information about the thefts should call St. Petersburg Police at (727) 892-5000.
The Boyd Hill Nature Preserve welcomes donations to help get operations back to normal.
Call (727) 893-7326 to donate.
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