Tunnel Vision

Urban Explorer Handbook 2006

click to enlarge THE DEEP: What lies beneath the streets of St. Pete. - Joe Bardi
Joe Bardi
THE DEEP: What lies beneath the streets of St. Pete.

Where: Stormwater Tunnel, Allendale Terrace Park (Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 36th Avenue), St. Petersburg

Public access: In theory, anyone can get into the stormwater tunnels. It just depends on how willing you are to scale a fence, walk through the mud, fight through some foliage and climb into a dark, damp hole.

Element of danger: Not much, unless maybe you're claustrophobic or if there's a flash flood while you're down there.

Why we went: Going underground is pretty common in other parts of the country — the NYC subway, for instance — but getting below street level in Tampa Bay is a bit harder. Nobody has basements, we certainly don't have a subway system (we barely know what public transportation is), and you'd be hard-pressed to find a storm cellar. The stormwater tunnels — where runoff from the street goes when it rains — are about as close as we can get to hanging with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

What we discovered: After seeing Stephen King's It a few years back, I developed a paralyzing fear of demented clowns carrying yellow balloons and living in the stormwater system. However, in the name of Urban Exploring, I took this opportunity to face my phobia and venture into the tunnels once again.

Yes, I had been there before.

I grew up down the street from Allendale Park, and the neighborhood kids and I decided one day to see where the tunnel that fed the creek led. We grabbed skateboards and set off into the hole, making it all the way underneath MLK Street and over to the next block. The fun part was poking our heads out of the stormwater drains at street level, watching the cars whiz past and scaring the shit out of unsuspecting pedestrians. This became a pretty standard activity for us until one kid got pneumonia and our parents found out what we'd been up to.

This time around, I was older, wiser, grossed out and terrified. Crouching down, I made my way in just far enough to get a feel for the place. The tunnel was a lot smaller than I remembered — only about three feet tall by four feet wide. A stream of water trickled through, but mostly there was just an accumulation of wet leaves and detritus. I tried not to touch anything and got out of there as soon as possible.

On the bright side, I didn't see any clowns, so I feel fairly certain that Pennywise isn't living in this particular stretch of the tunnels.

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