Park enhancements limit fishing, grant boaters access to San Marco

Feedback from San Marco residents was largely favorable as City of Jacksonville officials rolled out a preliminary design of a fishing platform and floating boat dock with water-taxi stand planned for San Marco’s Riverfront Park. The design was shared during a public meeting hosted by District 5 City Councilwoman Lori Boyer Jan. 24 at Balis Community Center.

Approximately a dozen residents listened as John Pappas, director of Public Works, Daryl Joseph, director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, and City Natural Resources and Recreation Specialist Brian Burket joined Boyer in discussing the park enhancements they hope will solve the issues sparked by overfishing in the park while also drawing more people into San Marco Square.

With money obtained in 2017 from a Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) grant, the City designed a fishing structure and floating boat dock complete with water-taxi stand. Plans are still in the preliminary stages and the City has not allocated money to build the fishing pier or nautical platform, Joseph said, adding his team wanted community feedback before getting the cost estimates to seek funding. “If we had funding by October, the project would be at least a year out,” he said.

In 2016, Boyer held a public meeting to discuss the idea of building a long pier off the bulkhead in Riverfront Park to protect its crumbling seawall. Also discussed as ways to dampen the park’s “culture of fishing” were to have the City place fencing around neighboring homes and converting the portion of River Road fronting the park into a one-way street.

Since that meeting, the bulkhead has been restored and River Road, between Landon Avenue and Laverne Street, has been changed so that traffic travels only one way, north.

Rendering of the present design of the proposed fishing pier and floating boat dock the City of Jacksonville hopes to build in San Marco’s Riverfront Park.
Rendering of the present design of the proposed fishing pier and floating boat dock the City of Jacksonville hopes to build in San Marco’s Riverfront Park.

Fishing pier

In the City’s new plan, fishermen would be restricted to casting their lines off a 20-foot wide, 18-foot long rectangular platform which will sit at the end of a 20-foot pier extending from the bulkhead in the middle of the park. The concrete platform will accommodate approximately a dozen fisherman, Burket said, noting the platform will be positioned in the park’s center between two multi-family residential buildings so it will avoid being in direct view of the residents’ front doors.

Leading to the fishing platform, across the grass, would be a five-foot-long sidewalk with an ADA-compliant handrail (Americans with Disabilities Act). A “special emphasis” crosswalk would span River Road and be adjacent to a single-vehicle handicapped parking spot on the east side of the street.

“We are designing a fishing structure to confine fishing use to a designated location,” said Burket. “By concentrating the use and impact of fishing to one particular spot, hopefully in the fishermen’s eyes, we are enhancing their fishing opportunity further out into the water.”

Fishing in any other area of the park would be illegal, as will swimming off the platform or floating boat dock, said Joseph. Later in the meeting, he admitted enforcement of these rules might be a challenge but added that the Parks Department has “roving security guards” that go from park to park to assist the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

When the new bulkhead was installed, riprap rock was place at the bottom to help reinforce it, said Boyer, adding it may serve as a deterrent to fishermen attempting to fish off the bulkhead. 

“Our sense was that we weren’t going to prohibit fishing, but that the park was being overused. It can’t handle, for the size of its space, the number of people who were showing up. Part of the concept of the fishing platform is to provide a place a little further out that doesn’t have the issue of riprap near the bulkhead and is closer to the artificial reef [in the middle of the river],” she said. Also, it is contained, making it impossible to fit more fishermen than the park can handle. The square design is meant to minimize the visual impact of the pier for the adjacent property owners, Boyer said. 

 Joseph agreed. “This provides us with the opportunity to reel in the activity that is going on here while still providing a great amenity,” he said. “It will give us some leverage from that standpoint so that everyone is doing what they should be doing in a safe environment. This is an attractive location. If we wanted to stop people from fishing, we wouldn’t do this at all. We want to encourage people to fish in the most practical manner possible.”

After the meeting, Dr. Quinton White, executive director of the Marine Science Research Institute at Jacksonville University and a Miramar resident, said he loved the idea of the fishing platform. “The platform itself will help attract fish. It’s a substrate that will produce food that the fish will hang onto,” he said.

Floating dock

The new plans also include an L-shaped 105-foot concrete floating boat dock, which would be positioned at the south end of the park. The boat dock was the idea of FIND Commissioner Michael O’Steen, a San Marco resident, said Burket, and would accommodate up to five 30- to 35-foot privately-owned vessels for a few hours, as well as a water taxi. A 40-foot ADA-compliant aluminum or steel-access gangway would provide access to the dock, which would be attached to pilings high enough so that the anchorage could survive flood events.

“The fishing structure would be a fair distance away from the floating dock so there will be no conflict when people cast their lines,” he said. “It’s a law that fishermen can’t be on the floating dock,” Joseph said when asked if fishermen who couldn’t fit on the fishing platform might try to use the anchorage.

As with the fishing platform, the floating boat dock would also be ADA-compliant, with a path with ADA-complaint handrail leading to a “special emphasis” crosswalk across River Road and another new single-vehicle handicap parking space at the southernmost section of the street. 

“The location would line up with Landon Avenue and the sidewalk there because it is the shortest distance from the park to San Marco Square. We anticipate vast numbers of users will want to go into San Marco’s downtown area to a restaurant or to shop,” said Burket. “Boaters might be coming from Ortega or Riverside, or from anywhere really, to enjoy the community for a visit and then head on back.”

“From a boater’s perspective, from Goodby’s Creek to Downtown, this would be the only place where the public can access the Southside,” said San Marco Preservation Society President Bryan Mickler. “This dock is going to be great, and the boaters will be self-policing.”

Having a floating boat dock at Riverfront Park also falls in line with the City’s goal to increase access downtown to the St. Johns River. San Marco is a much-requested destination by both residents of other Jacksonville communities and city visitors, he said.

“We talk about people coming into the neighborhood, but this is also a great opportunity for citizens who live in San Marco to go downtown or to other areas of the city as well,” said Joseph. “It will not just bring people into San Marco but will provide an alternative form of transportation for them to get to other facilities in Jacksonville.”

After the meeting, St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman welcomed the plan. “I think it is a challenging situation to balance the access to the river and balance the protection of the park. It’s a good approach,” she said. 

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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