Public awareness, grassroots involvement push waterways use forward

Public awareness, grassroots involvement push waterways use forward
Ortega Preserve

New initiatives to market Jacksonville’s “liquid assets” – including its offshore resources and a proposal to link the beaches and downtown with trails – were among the highlights of the Waterways/Waterfront Activation meeting hosted by District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer Aug. 3.

Also serving as Jacksonville Waterways Commission Chair, Boyer said she wanted to focus on some of the accomplishments in the activation’s first 10 months and look at things that are in the works to better use the city’s waterfront and make it part of the city’s identity.

“It’s clearly part of our daily life and I think we are successfully raising public awareness and grassroots involvement,” she said. “I keep hearing about things that are happening and that gets me excited.”

Among those discussed were seven initiatives or projects ranging from marketing to making improvements in parks, on trails and at the beaches.

City branding

The truJAX initiative by JaxUSA has trademarked “Water Life” as a brand for the city and is making it an essential focus of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce’s decisions about promoting Jacksonville’s economic growth, ecological and human health and recreation. The city’s water assets also will be part of the new tourist development and marketing plans.

Greenway loop

A loop of trails linking the beaches to downtown is under consideration by the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. The loop would be part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile network of trails from Maine to Key West that goes through the beaches.

The idea is to create trails from the beaches along Heckscher Drive to Main Street to downtown to Atlantic Boulevard to University Boulevard North to either Merrill Road or Lonestar Road and back to the beaches, according to Brian Burket, a national resource recreation specialist with the Parks Department. The trail would connect places like Tree Hill, the Arboretum, Norman Studios, Jacksonville University, the Riverwalk and Emerald Necklace.

The loop is still in its conceptual phase and faces several obstacles, such as wetlands and development, Burket said, but a $1 million grant has been secured and more money is being sought.

Underwater Jacksonville

Diving expert and TISIRI (Think It, Sink It, Reef It) Executive Director Joe Kistel spoke about marketing Jacksonville’s offshore resources, including the more than 30 reefs that attract diverse marine life. He showed a 3-minute video promoting Underwater Jacksonville.

“We want to provide a web presence with content about all the amazing things offshore,” said Kistel, who also noted it will be a good resource for tourists and locals who now go down to South Florida to dive.

Public access

Work is underway at the Sid Gefen Riverwalk Park on the Northbank for a new handicap-accessible kayak launch. An old wooden footbridge has been removed and the launch area is under construction, with estimated completion this fall.

Money is in the City’s Capital Improve-ment Plan for another ADA kayak launch, this one on the Southbank Riverwalk near the Duval County Public School administration building. The state is providing funds for the design.

An area of the Northbank Riverwalk known as “Corkscrew Park” for the corkscrew pedestrian ramp over the railroad tracks is undergoing rehabilitation. “The shoreline of that area has been stabilized for an irrigation system which will be installed to make way for new vegetation and outdoor fitness equipment,” said Tia Ford, City of Jacksonville spokesperson. “The total cost is to be determined as the project is still ongoing.”

The Hogan’s Creek Trail, part of the Emerald Necklace in Springfield, is finished but needs additional funding for upgrades and landscaping. A sculpture walk at Klutho Park, featuring 10 sculptures, is being planned with input from Springfield Preservation and Revitalization (SPAR) and the University of North Florida.

South of Amelia Island, construction on a 245-foot pedestrian bridge, paid for with a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, is moving forward. The bridge across Cedar Point Creek will link 28 miles of trail in four preserves – Cedar Point, Pumpkin Hill, Jim Wingate and Betz-Tiger Point Preserve.

Several other projects are in the pipeline, including the restoration of Friendship Fountain, improvements at Pelican Plaza, Huguenot Park campground and the Betz-Tiger Point Preserve. And a $1 million Federal Lands Access Program grant will pay for the design of the trail linking the Mayport ferry, Hanna Park, Neptune Beach and the Spanish Fort trail.

Plans to enhance the downtown riverwalks with landscaping also are progressing, Boyer said. Downtown Vision has agreed to inspect the riverwalks and alert the appropriate agency if work is needed. The Jacksonville Chamber is looking at how to maintain the landscaping and is consulting with the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Beaches parks

Mayors for the three beach communities also gave updates about parks projects in their cities.

Atlantic Beach Mayor Mitch Reeves said the city has 512 acres of parks and has bought more for River Branch Preserve, Dutton Island Preserve and Tide Views Preserve, and money is being sought for a pier and kayak launch at Johansen Park. The city also has recently established an Environmental Stewardship Committee to help maintain the parks and tree canopy.

Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown said the city is doing a master plan for Jarboe Park and a new trail that would link the park and the library. She showed a video taken by a drone of the proposed path.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham gave an overview of the parks in his city, including Latham Plaza, which was named for his father, and Cradle Creek Preserve. The city is negotiating to buy 100 acres at the Taylor Boat Ramp to add parking and a nature trail.

Pier repairs

District 13 Councilman Bill Gulliford, who represents the beaches in Duval County, said RS&H, an architecture, engineering and consulting firm, is assessing the damage to the Jacksonville Beach pier, which lost 300 feet to Hurricane Matthew last year. The city already has some money in the budget to make the repairs. Gulliford said that once the pier is repaired, he would like to contract with the city of Jacksonville Beach to manage it.

Land purchase

Elizabeth Guthrie of North Florida Land Trust said 80 acres on the Ortega River north of the Clay County line has been purchased.

The Land Trust had previously targeted the property for preservation but was not able to reach a deal with the landowner until Fletcher Davis Management Group brought the project back to the table and helped the two parties reach an agreement.

The property, off Collins Road near I-295 and Blanding Boulevard, is mostly wetlands and one upland location is used informally as a kayak and canoe launch.

By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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