Via Bay News 9

An unincorporated part of Pinellas County is applying for a federal grant worth millions of dollars to revitalize some of its natural beauty.

The Lealman neighborhood near Pinellas Park is hoping to be awarded nearly $40 million to improve a nearby creek and add a bike path to connect the community to other trails in the county.

“There’s not too many places where you can feel like you can get your walking or hiking in around here,” said Jeremy Heath, a member of Lealman’s Community Redevelopment Area Committee.

Heath said he and his wife have come to Neri Park in Lealman for years to walk around and enjoy some of Florida’s natural beauty right in their own backyard.

“You really see a lot of the natural beauty that, you know, maybe what Pinellas County looked like, you know, even 50 years ago, let alone a hundred,” Heath said.

He’s a fourth-generation Floridian with family that has deep roots in Lealman — which is why he’s part of the neighborhood’s Community Redevelopment Area Committee.

While Heath said he loves the park, there are pieces of it he’d like to see improved.

“We’re kind of an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle,” he said.

That’s why he’s excited Pinellas County commissioners approved the application for a federal grant worth nearly $40 million, with the promise that some of the funds will go to clearing excess brush, creating a bike path in the park and connecting walking trails to other parts of Pinellas County.

Part of the plans for Lealman also have to do with the water in Joe’s Creek, where, according to Heath, they want to dredge up the waterway and restore it to something beautiful.

“If we get this grant, clean this area out, have a little bit more flow to wash this stuff through, I think you might see a lot of wildlife return and, quite frankly, people that want to come hang out here a lot more,” he said.

Even though the idea of a “hidden gem” is appealing, Heath said he wants more people to be able to enjoy the area the same way he does.

Community members are already seeing some of that by bringing in events like the recent Honey and Arts Festival.

Heath said in five to eight years, he hopes to see people swimming or kayaking in the creek, or walking or biking to the Pinellas Trail.

“There is an appetite and a hunger for real natural preservation of Pinellas County assets,” Heath said. “And this was a great opportunity to preserve one of those natural assets.”

According to Heath, the county anticipates finding out about the results of the grant application in August.

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