Bayboro-Harbor-Campbell-20116Salt Creek connects Bayboro Harbor to Lake Maggiore, cutting a diagonal path through south St. Petersburg. Past the lake, the creek fragments, though flood maps suggest historic overflows into Clam Bayou, on the west side of the Pinellas Peninsula.

Dredged in the 1910s and dammed a decade later, Salt Creek is ignored and underappreciated. It is a waterway that has ceased to matter because of how it has been treated, raising the question: when does a creek become a ditch?

For more on the creek’s water quality, check out the Pinellas County Water Atlas. For more history, pictures and mediations on the creek’s human and natural history, explore this website. But the best way to learn Salt Creek is to explore for yourself!

Bayboro Harbor to Bartlett Pond

The intrepid paddler can access Salt Creek at Bayboro Harbor. Follow the twenty-foot, dredged channel past the marinas, research stations, fishing docks, and coast guard post. Fish Tales, an adequate bar, has a dock.

The creek anchors a working waterfront, zoned industrial as recreational parks were being created on the north side of town. Barnacled pilings, Brazilian pepper, mangroves, and crumbling seawalls give the creek a look of urban and natural beauty. At Third Street, or “Thrill Hill,” the dredging stops and the setting gets quieter. Salt Creek Art Studio looks over the black, brackish waters. Pelicans, wading birds, mangrove crabs, and litter in various stages of decomposition can be found between the prop roots.

Only a handful of paddlers limbo under the sewage main at Fourth Street Bridge. Those who do (or who portage above) discover a thriving rookery tucked between an abandoned lot and laundromat. At Bartlett Park the creek widens into a picturesque, eutrophied pond. It is a tranquil place, despite traffic and the occasional thwock from the St. Petersburg Tennis Center. The channel to the creek can be difficult to negotiate at low tide. The bottom is a thick, black muck and the accumulated litter marks the struggles of a poor neighborhood — used condoms, off-brand liquor and soda bottles, plastic bags, and discarded crack vials.

Bartlett Pond to Lake Maggiore

salt-lake-picnic-SPMOH-P016461As it threads through the Harbordale neighborhood, Salt Creek disappears from most maps. Its concrete channel runs through a full mangrove canopy, though most locals regard the creek with fear. Pollution in the 1970s prompted health concerns; paddlers today are routinely warned about alligators. Just west of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., a dam blocks passage into Lake Maggiore. Residents and developers from the mid-twentieth century wanted a fresh-water lake, though crabs and other saltwater species linger in the brackish boundary waters. Fish kills historically have followed high tides, particularly in the Summer. The city of  St. Petersburg maintains a canoe-kayak launch at Dell Holmes Park, on22nd Street South. A city mulch plant borders the park; water and air quality here are predictably poor. Along the banks of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, inlets are rich with bird life, alligators, blooming lotus, spadderdock, and water lilies.

Lake Maggiore to Clam Bayou

Creek-at-Interstate-275-Hallock-Spring-20111One may debate where Salt Creek begins – or ends. A channel along the mulch plant leads to Lake Eli (Little Lake Maggiore). But the creek continues as a ditch to 26th Street. Further fragmented by Interstate 275, the waters recollect at 34th Avenue, and from Skyway Jacks Diner, one conceivably could paddle from the remnants of the creek into Clam Bayou, closing the gap between Bayboro Harbor and Boca Ciega Bay.

Friends of Salt Creek invites you to try.