The purchase of Big Cockroach Mound last week by Hillsborough County comes a little later than it should have, but it still is a great deal for generations to come.
The deal was made using the Jan. K Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, a bargain at $100,000 for the three-acre island that includes an Timucuan Indian mound and is a subtropical treasure of plant and animal life.
Fortunately the island sits within the protected Cockroach Bay Preserve State Park, although poachers through the years have ravaged and trashed much of the Indian midden.
Much of the shoreline in what has come to be known as South Shore — that stretch of Tampa Bay’s coast generally paralleling U.S. 41 south to Ruskin and the Little Manatee River — already has been developed with little concern about the environment or the history of the land.
In recent years, though, there have been positive changes — and this is a big win.
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The purchase also gives me an excuse for a fishing tale.
This was a few years ago, back when you could drive down Shell Point Road and there was little to see until you got to the bait store and boat launch.
It was a steamy day but the three of us — columnist Charlie Robins, artist Lee Cable and me, all from the old afternoon Tampa Times and on that day doing some research, I think we had said — only planned to take our small boat into the mangrove islands of Cockroach Bay and get some sun and maybe some fish .
We were stripped down to swimsuits and baseball caps as the late afternoon sun worked us over and we were alone until another small boat with a single person puttered up maybe 20 yards away.
It was Archie Blount, the newspaper’s outdoor writer, and he was wearing a wet-suit that even covered his head. We figured he must be really hot in that outfit. Archie just waved and rolled out of his boat into the water, which only was about five feet deep.
We pretty much thought he was nuts after all those years fishing in the sun, although Archie was a highly respected angler.
Meanwhile we drifted a little closer to one of the mangrove islands.
I actually think we heard it before we saw it, and by then it was too late. It must have been about 5 o’clock in the afternoon — which, apparently if you are a mosquito, is feeding time.
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Rising up from the mangroves, the mosquitos came at us in waves and there was no end to them. It was as if a signal had gone out from the mangrove island next to us to the nearby islands and mosquito nation was coming over to feast on us.
We grabbed T-shirts but that didn’t help and all three of us bailed into the bay. That only narrowed it to three smaller targets for the mosquitos.
Fortunately the boat was less than 100 yards from the shore and we managed to push and pull it to land, under attack all the way.
Leaving the boat just out of the water we bolted for our pickup and I swear the mosquitos followed us all the way and continued to circle the truck as we licked our wounds inside it with the windows rolled up — the pickup didn’t have air-conditioning — and waited for them to go away.
All that time Archie kept fishing out in the bay, mosquito-free, and probably doing something else at which we had failed miserably — catching fish.