Our Lake – Lake Tarpon

My family and I are fortunate to live on one of Florida’s best recreation lakes; Lake Tarpon.  We have really come to enjoy living on the lake and use our boat and wave-runners often.  I’d have to say that tubing has become one of our favorite family activities.  Some of our fondest family memories have been experienced after grilling a dinner on the lake, cuddling around our outside fireplace, and sharing a loving yet competitive board game.

About Lake Tarpon

Lake Tarpon

Lake Tarpon circa 1975

Lake Tarpon, also known as the “Jewel of Pinellas County”, is located about 10 miles west of Tampa in Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs, Florida. Lake Tarpon is the largest lake in Pinellas County with a surface area of over 2,500 acres. Its watershed encompasses 52 square miles including the two largest tributaries, South Creek and Brooker Creek. You can visit Lake Tarpon at Anderson State Park (just off of US 19), Chestnut Park (Just off of East Lake Road), or several other public access points. The lake is a regional recreational destination and is renowned for its favorable water skiing, sun bathing, and largemouth bass fishing.

The magnificent estates surrounding the lake attract many leisurely weekend boaters as they tour the lake while enjoying the warm sun and appreciating the exquisite waterfront estates. Many celebrities like Chick Corea (famous jazz pianist), James Blake (tennis star), and a wide variety of doctors, lawyers, and business executives live there year round with their families. Most families have children.

History of Lake Tarpon

Tarpon Springs was incorporated as a city in 1887. The community first settled there in 1882. The city is named for the tarpon, a fish that is found in abundance off the coast. Many Greek immigrants came here after 1905 to continue their traditional trade of sponge diving. The Epiphany ceremony, an old Greek Orthodox rite, is a colorful event that is held on January 6th. Tarpon Springs is a part of Pinellas County, which is located in west-central Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico.

Lake Tarpon is the largest lake in the County, covering 2,534 acres. It is fed by groundwater and at the surface by Brooker Creek. Until 1967, the lake was connected hydrologically to Spring Bayou (eventually flowing into the Anclote River) but was subsequently damned off by the US Army Corps Of Engineers in order to control saltwater intrusion into Lake Tarpon. A controlled height canal is an outfall for the lake into Tampa Bay near the City of Safety Harbor and is used to maintain the water level at approximately 3.1 feet above mean sea level.

Restaurants on Lake Tarpon

Tarpon Turtle Bar and Restaurant on Lake Tarpon, FL

There are a couple of restaurants accessible from the water that provide fee docking for pontoons, boats, waverunners, Ultra Lights, wave runners, and even canoes.  My family and I often take our boat out a couple of hours before sunrise, have a great dinner outdoors while listening to live music, and cruise back while watching the sunset on the lake and enjoying good music, time with our family, and and an after dinner drink.  Good times!

If you’re interested in great waterside dining, here’s the information to the restaurants:

Tarpon Turtle on Lake Tarpon

Jack Willie’s Tarpon Turtle
1513 Lake Tarpon Ave
Tarpon Springs FL 34689
(727) 934-3696
Located on the northWest side of the lake

Sundown Sports Bar and Grill
37611 US Hwy 19 N
Palm Harbor, FL 34684
(727) 934-3700
Located down the canal just North of Dolly Bay

State Parks on Lake Tapron

Anderson State Park
39699 U.S. HWY. 19 N.
Tarpon Springs, FL 34689
(727) 943-4085

The first land was acquired in 1964 with the park opening and dedication held on May 21, 1966. Subsequent acquisitions to the north and south along Lake Tarpon have enlarged the park to 129 acres. The most recently improved area is a 30-acre parcel acquired in 1973 on the south side of the park. Access to this area is gained by means of a road leading from the main park road to an overpass which bridges Tookes Road. It was formally opened to the public on June 3, 1982.

Amenities:

  • fishing access to Bay
  • boat ramp (fee charged)
  • dog park
  • boardwalks, nature trails
  • playground
  • restrooms
  • nine picnic shelters

Anderson State Park on Lake Tarpon, FL

The park is characterized by hilly terrain, wooded areas, and beautiful vistas overlooking Salmon Bay and Lake Tarpon.

A distinctive arrangement of picnic pads, elevated boardwalk, and a nature trail which is 478 linear feet long has been developed among the cypress trees along the Salmon Bay shoreline.

Who was A.L. Anderson?

The park was named in honor of Alphonse L. “Andy” Anderson, former Mayor of Gulfport and Pinellas County Commissioner from 1959 – 1971. A successful commercial fisherman and recipient of two prestigious conservation awards, Mr. Anderson was sensitive to the preservation of local waterways and the marine environment. During his tenure on the Commission, he helped to establish several county parks, including A.L. Anderson Park on the shores of Lake Tarpon. After serving on the County Commission, Mr. Anderson continued his tireless preservation efforts as a member of the Pinellas County Park Board.

Chestnut State Park
2200 East Lake Road
Palm Harbor, FL 34685
Phone (727) 669-1951

John Chestnut State Park on Lake Tarpon, FL

This park is home to various wildlife. Raccoons, alligators, various waterfowl, hawks, vultures, tortoises/turtles, snakes, etc. reside in this park, and provide many pleasant hours for nature enthusiasts and families.

Lake Tarpon, immediately adjacent, is five miles long and one mile wide, generally 8-12 feet deep. This park is a popular launching site for several fishing tournaments each year. Lake Tarpon can accommodate boats with combustion engines, and provides great fun for water skiers and jet skiers. Additionally, a canoe trail is a landlocked waterway connected to an interior lake, but can only accommodate non-combustion engines.

For those who prefer sports, a softball field and a beach volleyball court are available first come, first served—bring your own equipment. There are three nature trails, each approximately 3,000 feet in length. The North Trail begins at Shelter #10, running through a cypress swamp to the canoe trail—it does not loop back. The Peggy Park Trail features a self-guided walk with brochure. The elevated boardwalk runs along the boat ramp, leading to an elevated lookout tower for a scenic overview of Lake Tarpon. Swimming is prohibited inside the park.

Amenities:

  • 13 picnic shelters with grills
  • boat ramp
  • fishing pier is available-a freshwater license may be required (inquire with the tax collector’s office.)
  • two playgrounds
  • horseshoe pits
  • beach volleyball court
  • softball field
  • water fountains
  • restrooms
  • dog park

History/Orientation:

John Chestnut State Park

John Chesnut Sr. Park was picture built in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It covers approximately 255 acres and is conveniently located near communities of Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs, serving north Pinellas County. Additionally, residents of Pasco and Hillsborough counties utilize this park. It is situated immediately adjacent Lake Tarpon.

Who was John Chesnut?

This park was named in honor of John Chesnut, Sr., Pinellas County Commissioner from 1937 until 1953. Organizer of the Pinellas County Park Board, Mr. Chesnut worked tirelessly to make access to county parks easy for residents. In addition to parks, Mr. Chesnut worked to build the Belleair Beach Causeway and the first Sunshine Skyway Bridge. He also worked to make possible the Gulf Beaches water system. His son, John Chesnut Jr., also served on the Board of County Commissioners from 1976 until 1992.

Safety & protection for all:

Pets and service dogs are welcome-must be on 6′ leash. An abundance of wildlife roam throughout the park; however, they are protected and may not be hunted, harassed, or fed. Additionally, it is illegal to remove, damage, or destroy plants. Intoxicants and firearms are prohibited.

The Illusive Legend of Tarpie – The Monster of Lake Tarpon!

The following information comes from an amusing little website I came across complete with eyewitness sightings and a gift shop!

An eyewitness sighting of "Tarpie" the monster of lake Tarpon!

Upon the placid water of Florida’s Lake Tarpon, lies a mystery! Tarpon Springs’ famous Lake Tarpon appears now, to have confirmed a mysterious inhabitant. An unknown monster believed to have snatched more than one unwary person from the banks to a watery world below! What is this mystery? What is this monster? Where is its origin? Is it a threat, or a hoax? You be the judge.

Eyewitness accounts vary with respect to length (10-30 feet), skin texture (smooth or scaly) and shape of the head (described as resembling a dinosaur, an alligator, a dog, or pig – we think the last description may be more a case of alcohol than aquatic pigs). Most say it resembles some form of a large reptile, capable of walking on its two hind legs. However, one indisputable fact remains, that the mystery surrounding this Florida Lake defies description and identification! Also, some allege that Tarpie* – as the Monster is now known – has taken his share of local wildlife and tourists! Which has the locals quite upset (about the wildlife!).

Some say the “monster” has been spoken of in the area for centuries – Indian legends may have it that anyone foolish enough to intrude on its territory would not return. Many have not! And not because of poor fishing either!

While some have theorized that the Lake’s unknown inhabitant is a giant catfish, others feel that this is unlikely due to the fact that catfish are bottom-dwellers who are not likely to be spotted at the water’s surface. Also, rarely would a catfish come ashore and carry away a full grown human. Though many a fisherman’s wife might wish it were true!

Others believe it to be a large very old alligator, who has avoided being sighted for decades, yet those that claim to have seen “Tarpie”* as it is now known, claim that the creature has a long snake-like neck and walks on two legs! Could this be real? Or the imaginings of a sunstroked mind? Who can say?

Is this the creature rising to the surface of the lake just at sunset?

Recently, reports of manatees in the lake have been spread about. However, since there are several flood control dams separating Lake Tarpon from Old Tampa Bay, and since manatees are poor at climbing, it seems unlikely that these reports are accurate. More likely, they are eyewitness accounts of Tarpie sightings.

One theory contends that the mysterious creature is a descendent of one of the plesiosaurs or other dinosaurs which lived in the region millions of years ago, when Florida was mostly covered by the Atlantic Ocean. That such a creature had been residing in an underground cave system, and allowed access to the lake through one of several sink holes on the lake shore.

Which theory is correct? Perhaps time – and any lucky hunter or fisherman who successfully captures the beast – will tell. In the meantime, the next time you are jet skiing, or canoeing on Lake Tarpon, keep your hands and arms inside the boat, or you could be Tarpie’s* next snack! And if you hear the tell-tale bump of Tarpie* under your boat, gun-it and head for shore as though your life depends on it – it might very well – observing safe speed limits, of course!

For more information on Tarpie, check out the official Tarpie website.

Lake Tarpon and Knight’s Sink

Knight Sink and Lake Tarpon Sink of Lake Tarpon

Access to this site is restricted but the sink and the earthen dam around Lake Tarpon Sink can be viewed from inside the park. Boat access and a set of balls are the ticket here, there’s always gators in Lake Tarpon Sink and they often cross the spit of land to Knight Sink looking for a snack. Since the park was built they’ve seen so many scraps off the picnic table that the slightest ripple of surface water brings them chugging over for a meal. Lake Tarpon Sink is extra dark, surrounded by cattails and is definitely not a preferred entrance point. Knight has a steep slope to the water so a rope will make for safer entry/exit. Just follow the gator trail to the water on the Southeast side of the sink (visible in the aerial photo). The vis in the basin fluctuates throughout the year but often gets clear enough to see the sandy mound from the surface. There are also plenty of large logs to hang deco bottles off of. Despite the hassle of access and long deco penalty, this is a spectacular dive site with lots of potential for exploration using modern technologies to deal with the depths and high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide.

Divelog from Mike Emanuel’s Cave Diving Page

Knight Sink and Lake Tarpon Sink of Lake Tarpon

Upon entering the sink we made our way to the debris mound at a depth of 50′, visibility was excellent and there was an abundance of marine life. The mound sloped down in a northerly direction where a sparse layer of hydrogen sulfide began along with the permanent guideline at 60′. With visibility reduced to 5 or 10 ft we made our way down to a depth of 205′ and broke into warmer, gin clear water. The floor leveled off and line split in three directions, we followed one into what seemed to be the main passage. At a depth of 217′ the vis took a turn for the worse again until one of us was smart enough to rise up off the line a little. The floor looked like a witch’s cauldron with swirling clouds of gas that obscured sight of the line as we hovered just above it in gin clear water again. The percolation caused by our exhaust gases hitting the the 6″ long mud straws on the ceiling gave some clue as to how long it was since someone had been through here and I started to pay real close attention to the condition of the guideline. The passage doglegged to the right, then left, and opened up into a huge conduit that was wide enough to swing a tractor trailer around in. The passage started to angle upward, and we made it back up to a depth of 60′ before calling the dive. These sinks are chronicled by cave diving legend Sheck Exley in his biography “Caverns Measureless to Man”. After checking out his maps I can see that we almost completed the traverse to the lakeside basin, but who knows if that entrance is still accessible.

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2 Comments

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  1. C. COLE 16. Jul, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    I’m doing a historical research project.Can anyone here tell me if there use to be a big dutch style windmill in John Chesnut Park or the surrounding area…and if so where it was located and does anyone have any pictures of it please!

    • Scott Mitchell 29. Aug, 2012 at 4:41 am #

      Yes, there was one on the middle part of Lake Tarpon in the are that is now at the end of Lake Tarpon Drive. The Windmill stood on what is now a small neighborhood called Blackstone Estates. I hope this helps.

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