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Varn Park Will Close Until April 15 For $476,000 Renovations Thanks to Scenic A1A Grant

| December 5, 2014

varn park flagler county

Makeover ahead. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s getting under way a but later than first anticipated, but Varn Park, one of Flagler County’s five beach access parks on S.R. A1A north of Beverly Beach, will close on December 15 for a complete makeover and is scheduled to reopen April 30, 2015.

Construction will begin December 15 on 60 additional parking spaces, a new bathroom with distinctive winged design, a third dune walkover and a redesigned entrance drive. The successful bidder for the park construction is Sarboungi Construction of Ormond Beach. The cost of the project is $476,000 with 80 percent paid for out of a federal grant channeled through the Florida Department of Transportation. The grant was secured by the county’s Scenic A1A committee three years ago.

The remainder of the funds will come from park impact fees collected from new residential construction projects–ironically, the same impact fee that the Flagler County Commission suspended in 2012, and suspended again for two more years earlier this fall in a bow to builders, who claim that since growth has slowed to a crawl, impact fee revenue is not necessary.

The previous story on the Varn Park renovation grant and the history behind Scenic A1A’s attempts to land it is below.

Scenic A1A Lands $460,000 Grant to Remake Varn Park and River-to-Sea Gateways

May 2, 2011–When you drive up State Road A1A about a year from now, you’ll notice some changes at Varn Park, near Beverly Beach, and at an entrance to the River-to-Sea Preserve in Marineland. Both those spots currently are not too visible to passers-by. Varn Park is barely more than a dusty, unpaved parking area. A small sign points to the River-to-Sea entrance, one of the county’s most lustrous, if hidden, natural gems.

Come next year, Varn Park will undergo a revamp: better and paved parking, and a remade walkover to the beach, among other improvements. In Marineland, the entrance to the River-to-Sea Preserve will become a true gateway. The public will have better access to the Intracoastal, the beach and the ocean through the county park there. “Right now,” says Sallie O’Hara, program administrator for the Friends of A1A Scenic and Historical Coastal Byway, “few people know that that’s a wonderful county park full of natural intrigue and natural phenomena. We’re bringing a lot of people to that area this year and we can announce that next year they’ll see improvements as far as the entrance, the gateway entrance, the parking area, from A1A.”

The reason: the Friends of A1A just landed a $560,000 federal grant, one of 94 in the nation, but just three in Florida, provided by the Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byway Program. Flagler County’s grant is by far the largest of the three in Florida. Indian River Lagoon got a $150,000 grant, and Big Bend Scenic Byway, in the Panhandle, got $74,000 for an interpretive center.

The federal byway program emphasizes the history, folklore and natural surroundings of America’s more rustic small highways. Flagler County’s portion of A1A won the byway designation in 2002, thus vastly increasing its abilities to land federal grants. In a very difficult budgetary environment, when grants have become a lot more competitive, Friends of A1A’s success stands out as something of a coup.

“We’re always glad when our work is recognized and we are rewarded with a grant from the national byways,” Ann Wilson, president of the A1A group, said Friday afternoon. The Friends of A1A have tallied around $5 million in grants over the years. The group incorporated in 2004, but it was a grass-roots organization since 1997, when it started the byway movement.

Several factors helped Flagler County land the grant, O’Hara said: the aim of the grant is in line with By-way goals—access to coastal and recreational opportunities. The dollar value was requested was not disproportionate. “And the fact that strategically, Friends of A1A has been working with all the municipalities, trying to make sure we implement our plan as we envisioned it with our partners,” O’Hara said, also played a role.

Finally, and just as convincingly to the federal highway administration: Flagler County had ready money to match the federal grant. The county match of $140,000 will swell the award to $700,000.


The matching dollars aren’t coming out of property tax dollars or recurring, current revenue. They’re part of an arrangement over the Development of Regional Impact in the Hammock, dating back several years, with Bobby Ginn, the original developer of the project. The county used to own a 30-acre park at 16th Road in the Hammock. Ginn wanted to develop it. The county gave him that acreage in return for 50 acres on the ocean, 250 acres along A1A, plus $1.7 million cash for park enhancement, development and maintenance, leading to the creation of the Malacompra Greenway (it starts at the end of Malacompra Road, comes down Malacompra on the South side, and proceeds along the east side of A1A to Fox’s Cut.) The matching dollars for the federal grant are coming out of that pot.

The many people coming to that area this year that O’Hara referred to are doing so the third week of May as part of the A1A group’s second annual Environmental Education Fair, a two-day event May 20-21,  featuring some 45 exhibitors, vendors, workshops and other activities. The River-to-Sea Preserve overlays historic grounds—“ the long, low line where the wilderness of waves met the wilderness of woods,” as Francis Parkman, the great historian, described it—where Spaniards and Timucuans met, parlayed and slaughtered each other. “This is the land promised by the Eternal Father to the faithful,” Pedro de Santander, a 16th century explorer and exploiter had written the King of Spain, referring to this stretch of Florida, “since we are commanded by God in the Holy Scriptures to take it from them, being idolaters, and, by reason of their idolatry and sin, to put them all to the knife, leaving no living thing save maidens and children, their cities robbed and sacked, their walls and houses leveled to the earth.” It was a different kind of river-to-sea preserve then.

Those are some of the intrigue and phenomena underfoot in the preserve today, which the federal grant will help make more visible.

For the A1A group, the federal grant is a big victory, particularly as a contrast to a run of three straight defeats at the hands of the Flagler County Tourist Development Council, over the same grant: what had started as a $32,000 request from the council last year had been halved to $15,000 by February, for a beach clean-up project, but O’Hara never won the council’s full confidence that the money—which included a $75-an-hour fee for O’Hara’s work—would achieve the desired ends. The defeats tarnished the A1A group’s luster. The byways grant burnishes that luster again.

The county administration, in cooperation with the Florida Department of Transportation, will be in charge of bidding out the projects and monitoring the grant’s execution in line with federal regulations.

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15 Responses for “Varn Park Will Close Until April 15 For $476,000 Renovations Thanks to Scenic A1A Grant”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    This is great. Let’s get the beach goers, their traffic and ill mannered juveniles to move on up to Vann Park !!!! It’s well worth 700 grand to get them the heck out of Flagler Beach.

  2. Happening now says:

    GOOD!!!!! Gonna need life guards now. Who pays for that?

  3. palmcoaster says:

    Did Flagler Live properly research the alleged information and records, copied below and given by Mrs Ohara? Sounds like too good of a deal coming from Ginn’s interest to benefit Flagler County residents…..and A1A Scenic Highway;
    “The matching dollars aren’t coming out of property tax dollars or recurring, current revenue. They’re part of an arrangement over the Development of Regional Impact in the Hammock, dating back several years, with Bobby Ginn, the original developer of the project. The county used to own a 30-acre park at 16th Road in the Hammock. Ginn wanted to develop it. The county gave him that acreage in return for 50 acres on the ocean, 250 acres along A1A, plus $1.7 million cash for park enhancement, development and maintenance, leading to the creation of the Malacompra Greenway (it starts at the end of Malacompra Road, comes down Malacompra on the South side, and proceeds along the east side of A1A to Fox’s Cut.) The matching dollars for the federal grant are coming out of that pot.”
    If true, my hat off to them. “Where are the 50 acres on the ocean?” How come we never heard of the 1.7 million park enhancement, public records of it? Location of the 250 acres along A1A?

    • FlaglerLive says:

      palmcoaster, that information did not come from Ms. O’Hara who, in fact, provided erroneous information about the source of the match, saying that it would come from the environmentally sensitive lands pot (the pot whose revenue is accrued through a small property tax). Fact-checking the source of the match with the county administration led to the information you see here.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    FlaglerLive, I trust your verification of facts and thank you so much. Looks like not wide publicity was given to the Ginn’s 1,7 million cash, going into that deal or maybe I was just out of town then and missed the news.
    Now, I hope that the County while bidding; promotes, engages and assigns the contract for these improvements to a local contractor, as we have many, other than outsourcing it as most the time the county buyer does with with total baseless impunity. Outsourcing does not improve the local unemployment figures.

  5. Bigfoot says:

    Hope everyone remembers the last $465,000 grant [Ann Wilson ]may have been in charge and all the money was given up front to Carter Burgess [[[[[[[[even with Al Hadeed as scenic hwy attorney ; and the net result was Carter Burgess took the money and ran, county stated they could not get work or money back. Mr Darby assigned some of the work to co. empoyees , but lets hope we get a little for this $ 700,000.

  6. birdcheese says:

    somebody tell somebody the walk ways have been replaced not a year ago, really

  7. Edman says:

    Improvements to a wonderful beach access area and all people can do is whine? We should be glad we have such great natural resources and are taking care to improve them. Try and be positive for a change. If we never spent any money to enhance our facilities we would not want to live here.

  8. Teddy says:

    The fact remains that the vast majority of Flagler residents have NO public access to most of OUR beaches. They are reserved for the well to do in private communities where the public is not allowed beach access. But we do get to pay for them.

    • Anonymous says:

      The FACT is just the opposite of what you state. The vast majority of Flagler Beaches are open to the public. You need to get out more!

    • Bill says:

      There is plenty of “access’ the problem is in parking and this will help that out. And just how are we paying for privet community’s?

  9. Seminole Pride says:

    That’s great ! Bathrooms needs a makeover. I usually stop their on my Bike Rides up AiA. I put a bike service station there. Always need air in my tires.

  10. Teddy says:

    Please tell me where the public can access the beach between Varn Park and 16th Rd. besides the small parking lot at Jungle Hut. There is a lot of beach that Flagler taxpayers pay to maintain but can not use.

    • Edman says:

      I use that section all the time on my beach walks. Access does not mean walk 100 feet and sit on your chair. Also, we don’t pay anything to maintain that beach. It’s in its natural state and mother nature takes care of it.

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