JACKSONVILLE, Florida (MCT) — Larry Porterfield walked along the edge of a Baker County park pond pointing out all the work he and others had done — and wondering how long it will last.
The 70-year-old former Army combat engineer, along with his comrades at the Baker County Veterans Council and a few local volunteers, have totally rebuilt the docks and bridges at the Little St. Marys River Pond after they were destroyed by vandals.
“We started on June 9 and finished it up on Aug. 9,” Porterfield said. “We worked every week Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, except for July 4 weekend.”
Still unidentified vandals last spring tore all of the handrails off the docks, pulled down the bridge over a small tributary of the Little St. Marys that feeds the pond, smashed picnic tables and threw them in the water.
“They even came in and tore the handicap ramps out,” he said.
“Now, why would they do something like that?”
Wednesday, the park was the picture of tranquility. The sun shone across a blue sky. The water was placid, only broken by bass striking at insects on its surface.
But Porterfield knows it can happen again.
“If they want to tear it up badly enough, they’ll tear it up again,” Porterfield said. “But they’ll have to really work at it this time.
“A lock only keeps honest people out.”
The park has supposedly been closed to the public while the renovations were underway.
However, the locked gate is obviously not foolproof.
As he walked along the pond’s edge with his border collie, Tucker, he spotted a man and a woman walking out of the woods around the far side of the pond.
“See like right here, you wonder how they’re coming in here,” he said. “We had that gate locked and this side over here is fenced off and so is that side.”
During the clearing of land for a never-realized subdivision near the park, the state took down part of the fence, Porterfield said. Now it leaves a gap in the park’s security.
Fixing the fence and adding some new security measures are the final steps before the park will be reopened.
The project has been a real public-private partnership with the veterans supplying the labor and the county providing the materials.
Porterfield first approached the council in May with an offer to pitch in and fix the park.
“I told them I’d use my occupational license to come down and do it,” he said.
“I was in highway construction for 42 years. But I’m retired, so I thought I’d go ahead and do it.”
The group and a few community volunteers have logged over 700 hours on the project, he said.
The pond has been only one of the group’s community projects.
They’ve rebuilt porches for elderly widows and given cars to veterans in need of transportation, among a host of other projects.
And the community has taken notice.
“They’ve done a great job with community service and helping our veterans,” Baker County Commission Chairman Jimmy Anderson said.
“What I like about them is they are trying to teach people a sense of responsibility for their community, and for that, I give them high praise.”
Anderson said the county is going to work with the veterans council to fix the fencing and is also looking at installing security cameras.
“I wish we didn’t have to set up cameras out there,” Anderson said. “But we have to protect what these veterans have done.”
Clifford Davis: (904) 359-4103
©2014 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.