Lake Park still closed because of sinkhole

Posted at 6:37 PM, Mar 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-07 18:37:23-05
Brittany Tibbett loves horses. When she moved to Tampa Bay 10 years ago, she chose Happy Talk Farm, because it was next door to Lake Park, with beautiful trails to ride on. So a lot of riders, and the horses, aren't too happy those trails have been closed off for over three months.
"It's been a real downer. It's so disappointing and frustrating to not be able to go in there anymore. I used to go in there to ride four or five times a week," Tibbett said.
A sinkhole first opened up at Lake Park in October, and a section of road around it was closed off. Then in December, because of concerns the 90 foot deep hole might be growing, the county closed the entire park.
"When we invite the public into the park, we need to make sure that it is as safe as it can be," said Forest Turbiville, Hillsborough County director of conservation and environmental lands management.
But the fact the park is still closed nearly five months after the hole first opened has a lot of people scratching their heads.
"When it closed we just thought, oh well it's probably a temporary thing. But no, it hasn't been. And it's sad because they have so many groups that use that place," Tibbett said.
One of those groups is Tampa BMX, which has been forced to cancel races. And the Gasparilla Bowmen archery group just scrapped a national tournament that brings in 400 people and raises $5,000 for the nonprofit organization.
"We receive all kinds of telephone calls asking us why and what's going on and obviously we don't have the answers," said Thomas Alfonso, president of Gasparilla Bowmen.
The county says after engineers studied the original hole, they learned the park and surrounding area was a hotbed for potential sinkhole activity, and a full survey of Lake Park hadn't been done in 40 years.
So since the park was already closed, the county spent $26,000 to study the whole thing to get new data and see how much money is needed to fix the existing hole and any other issues.
"We just need to make sure the entire park is safe before we go in and spend a significant amount of money to fill the existing sinkhole," said Turbiville.
The good news is that the engineer's final report is due this week. The bad news is that there's no time frame of when repairs will be done and the park reopened. That's leaving groups who've already suffered losses because of the closure to look at other places to hold their events.
"We need to make sure it's going to be a permanent site like we have now. Being a nonprofit, we can't afford to just jump around and move," Alfonso said.
Further complicating matters, the City of St. Petersburg actually owns the land in Lake Park. So Hillsborough County says it will have to sign off on any work done in the park.