by Patrick Higgins
After years of planning, keeping the vision alive, stop-and-go fund-raising and cajoling, Fakahatchee’s Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk upgrade is finally starting. The State has stepped up to the plate and has just advised your Boardwalk Vision Committee that they are now funding the new parking area. In the not too distant future, haphazard parking will be a thing of the past and the porta-potties will be gone too.
The new parking area will be created out of an old curve of the Tamiami Trail left over from when the highway was straightened. This is located 400 yards further southeast along Highway 41. The new entrance will be where there is currently an obsolete stop sign and metal gate. As this area is already hard-surfaced, the development will have a minimal environmental impact.
The design of this new parking area is 95% complete. The plans include, for the first time, gated access to the Park with a fee collection point, parking for 65 cars, an open-sided picnic pavilion, proper restrooms, and a campsite for resident volunteers, as well as a bridge across the canal. The bridge could be a major feature itself and will lead to an interpretive center nestled on the wet prairie and a new low level boardwalk (shown in green on the attached diagram) connecting to the start of the current Boardwalk.
According to the State’s Bureau of Design and Construction, the design and permitting will be completed before year’s end. Groundbreaking is slated for January 2016. When it’s complete, access from the current ad-hoc parking by the Indian Store will be severed, and that area re-landscaped with native plantings.
Part of the overall plan is a deceleration and turn-lane off Highway 41. Funds for this have been now been transferred from the Florida Department of Revenue to the Department of Transportation, facilitated by the Boardwalk Vision Committee who have been keeping all the disparate elements of the State and local government machinery in the loop. This aspect will be completed as part of the US 41 resurfacing project.
Your Boardwalk Vision Committee can add two other feathers to its cap. The first feather is the likely elimination of a concrete sidewalk that was going to parallel US 41. The second is State funding for the first new boardwalk section (green on the diagram) on the other side of the canal. It will lead to the south side of the Lake and come out near where the picnic table used to be by the Indian Village.
Originally, in the bargain struck last year, FOF was going to be responsible for everything on the other side of the canal. FOF will now only be expected to fund the new interpretive center, the stroller/wheel chair accessible crushed shell path (in blue), a covered observation deck at the top of what we’re calling Green Heron Lake, and the link from there (shown in yellow) to the middle of the existing Boardwalk.
Earlier plans also called for an isolated observation tower out on the wet prairie. Latest thoughts are to replace this with a gradually elevated (maximum 1:20 pitch ) fully ADA compliant section of the boardwalk leading to an observation platform some 20 feet up right on the boundary of the Strand and prairie. This elevated section would be parallel to the edge of the Strand but set back just inside it. A thin line of naturally occurring trees and shrubs will mask it from view as it is approached from the lake and salt marsh/wet prairie. It would gradually reveal a view across the salt marsh/wet prairie and the interior of the Strand. No section of it would be visible from the existing Boardwalk.
FOF is still also responsible, in partnership with the Park, for the overall interpretive planning for the whole expanded site including the contents of the visitor center, interpretive signage and displays. Planning for this is well underway via our Consultants, the Acorn Group, who are producing an interpretive prospective for us. It should be complete in July 2015, and will be an important tool in our fund raising activities. Watch this space for news of our new capital campaign and further details of the plan.