Expanded waterfront access – A win-win-win solution

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By: Councilman Scott Singer Special to the Boca Newspaper
Boca Raton has greater news for boaters, kayakers, nature lovers, and all residents! Last week, the City Council directed staff to proceed with a plan to revitalize two underused waterfront parcels, Rutherford and Lake Wyman Parks by adding four launches for motorized boats, restoring impassable canoe trails, and adding 40 parking spaces for boat trailers, along with other upgrades.
These exciting plans will transform the underutilized Rutherford Park into a variety of great opportunities for residents. The city’s sole current boat launch at Silver Palm Park is heavily used on weekends, and overflow parking there spills on green space. This plan would triple the number of boat launches. Boca currently has only one double ramp to launch motorboats, while Fort Lauderdale has six ramps. We can and should go further to increase access for boaters who do not live on the water, and this plan does this, and significantly expands parking.
Restoring canoe trails that have long been silted over will also provide fun for families, nature lovers, and kayakers. The trails can provide a unique vista into mangroves, sea grasses, and wildlife, and will give canoes access to sightseeing on the Intracoastal. With ecotourism on the rise, the trails provide an amenity that has been missing. In addition, the plan will also clear some exotic vegetation to expand a walking path at the southern end of Lake Wyman Park.
These parks have been in need of improvement for quite a while. Attendance has been poor, and without many visitors, the area can be more susceptible to crime and vandalism. Improving the park adds to our waterfront and community safety. Last year, the city wisely delayed funding an expensive restoration of the dilapidated Rutherford Park boardwalk to better use those funds for a greater plan. This is a greater plan, and I look forward to revived trails that will tie into these planned upgrades.
The plans, which are in their early stages, will likely cost $2 to $3 million, and funding from state and county agencies may help defray the expense. The cost is a small price to pay to expand opportunities for active and passive recreation, improve the environmental conditions, and triple the available space in the city for residents to launch a motorboat. State permitting requirements are the biggest hurdle in terms of time, and work will likely be completed in 2019.
At the city council’s goal-setting session last year, I advocated a comprehensive strategy to improve our waterfront, and am glad that the city council unanimously gave direction to move forward. These plans also tie into improvements approved last year for to revive a long-dormant plan to expand Hillsboro El Rio Park at the southern end of the city on the Intracoastal, just west of Dixie Highway. Can you believe that until the 1950s, that waterfront property was used as a landfill! The city is working on remediating that site and will add canoe launches, among other attractions. The Rutherford Park plans will further expand opportunities for non-motorized boating.
Long-range planning is essential for the success of our community. I’m also pleased that after a similar plan for these sites stalled in 2011, we’ve worked hard in the last year to respond to residents’ concerns and have now devised something greater than originally proposed. Residents have asked for more opportunities for active recreation, more access to the water, and enhancement of park and green space. Here, Boca Raton can make gains in all these areas, and for decades to come! I’ll keep working to improve our infrastructure and amenities in other ways.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Please contact me at ssinger@myboca.us or 561-393-7708.