Upscale waterfront eatery or Native American mound? Pasco must decide

Since Pasco County commissioners approved a contract to add a themed restaurant and other new features to the Anclote River Park last year, they have gotten a lot of reaction.

They’ve heard from residents excited about a new scenic dining option. But they also heard from those opposed to seeing development spring up on one of the county’s last public waterfronts.

What they didn’t count on is having to work around a historic mound built thousands of years ago by indigenous people.

After hearing about the plans for the restaurant, visitors raised questions about signs at the park marking the spot of an Indian mound and an old spring known as the Spanish Well. The county hired a consultant to determine next steps.

That consultant, Stantec, delivered its report several weeks ago, and county officials are still deciding on a new course. The county has not yet finished its plan for park enhancements, and the restaurant developer chosen by the commission can’t move forward until that happens, said Pasco spokesperson Ryan Hughes.

New features planned at the park included volleyball courts and a seawall. The county also chose Keith Overton to develop a restaurant and other amenities. He is known for several ventures in the Tampa Bay area, including 25 years running the TradeWinds Island Resorts and developing RumFish Grill and OCC Roadhouse & Museum.

Over the years, there were several archaeological examinations done in the area of the park. One done in 1970 by the Suncoast Archaeology Society describes “a six-foot-high temple mound, a midden and a burial mound 75 feet in diameter and 7 feet tall.”

That report states the mound was significant because it had not been touched and notes that, while the exact use of the mound had not been determined, researchers said “the possibility exists that it is a burial mound of sizeable proportions.”

In addition to reviewing the previous archaeological studies, Stantec did a methodical testing of samples throughout the area but found no evidence that the land was ever used for a burial mound. There were no human remains discovered, but the company did find hundreds of artifacts where they were able to dig.

Stantec did systematic soil sampling but was unable to test some areas because county infrastructure, including utility lines and concrete, were in the way. They also had to steer clear of a bald eagle’s nest on-site.

The sampling found 528 artifacts. More than three-quarters of those were “lithic material,” items like arrowheads and stone tools. Glass and prehistoric ceramics also were found. The finds indicate that the site may have been occupied several thousand years ago.

A previous study had determined that the mound and surrounding area qualified for a designation by the National Register of Historic Places. A smaller example of such a site, the Oelsner Mound, received a formal designation two years ago in New Port Richey.

The consultant concluded that the county’s original plans to add features to the Anclote River Park would impact the cultural resources found there. And it made suggestions about how to mitigate damage when renovating the park.

Those included avoiding the area of the mound and in a 30-foot area around it, reducing ground disturbance south and west of the mound “where the archaeological site is most dense and where the ramp associated with the mound once existed.”

The consultant also suggested adding signage to provide interpretive information about the Spanish Well and the mound. If avoiding the area isn’t possible, Stantec suggests a detailed, large-scale dig to document everything found at the site for future study.

At the last County Commission meeting, Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said that residents’ concerns about the park had caused her to cancel a recent community leadership meeting.

She said part of the building plan there was “on pause” and she thought that what had been proposed was “too much for that park.” She promised that once the county discusses the archaeological report, there will be a meeting with concerned residents.

Overton was selected in August to build a restaurant and other related amenities. Artist renderings of the development by the park boat ramp included the restaurant adjacent to the water and plans for boat rentals. Overton could not be reached for comment.