Though construction is well advanced, Palm Coast officials and others today ceremonially broke ground on a two-phase, $1.8 million expansion of Waterfront Park, starting with a $1.3 million boat and kayak launch that will provide direct water access from the park for the first time when it opens next summer.
The city has been angling for a boat launch at the park for 15 years, dating back to before it opened 12 years ago. The city’s leisure advisory committee, which no longer exists, had initially conceived the park in 2007 as including a boat launch and a marina. The marina plan was dropped after Grand Haven residents objected.
Construction is also under way for two somewhat less park-like features, as they entail the leveling of a vast swath of the park’s trees, one to make room for a 65-by-100 foot concrete pad on the approach to the boat launch, the other to make room for an 85-space parking lot, not including 10 oversize spaces for trailers. Much of that space has been leveled already. The parking lot will connect to Waterfront Park Road. That phase also includes building a storage facility and stormwater treatment.
The park until now owed its immense popularity as a trailhead, playground and fishing pier to its rusticity and serenity: unlike large parks such as Ralph Carter in the R Section and Holland Park in the F Section, Waterfront is out of urban centers, the noise pollution limited to traffic up and down the Intracoastal. “Waterfront Park holds the distinction of being a favorite spot for hiking along the shoreline, snacking on picnic benches, fishing off the pier, contemplating life or joining friends and family on the playground,” City Council member Nick Klufas said. “Now it’ll be a place to anchor your boat.”
That serenity, however, may diminish some with the addition of the boat launch and its attendant traffic, though the launch pad will be restricted to non-motorized boats.
Nevertheless, the city council, in its resolution approving the project earlier this year, saw it as a way to minimize impacts along the river, finding that “the remaining undeveloped properties in the City of Palm Coast, and in particular those adjacent to rivers, lakes, and wetlands, are irreplaceable resources that offer exceptional waterfront recreational opportunities for residents and visitors and whose protection provides the City with aesthetic and economic benefits.” Long Creek Nature Preserve has been the only other city park that affords direct water access.
“Very soon you’ll be able to not only drive here by car but you can also paddle by kayak, canoe or row right up to the floating ramp at this pier,” Klufas said.
Both phases are paid for in part by grants from the tax-supported Florida Inland Navigation District ($533,000), which provides grants for improving water access to the Intracoastal Waterway, and in part by city dollars, drawn from park impact fees ($462,000) and capital dollars ($205,000).
“At least once a weekend I walk Waterfront park with friends, and actually made some friends along the way,” City Manager Denise Bevan, a naturalist by nature, said. “Fifteen years ago, I was serving a senior environmental planner for Palm Coast and one of the first things that I got to do was come to this park and help basically evaluate all the conservation areas and do the environmental studies, it’s a beautiful park that really takes nature into consideration.” She mentioned the bald eagles that nest in the park, and the Arctic snowbird that spent a month in the park‘s greenery 11 years ago, and drew visitors from out of state.
“This project is going to bring a whole nother wealth of visitors and enjoyment for our community,” Bevan said.
Parts of the park are closed during construction, which will include dredging the area of the boat launch (already under way), the addition of coquina shore revetments, more sidewalks, a floating boat dock and two kayak slip docks.
The late Jon Netts had been the long-time Flagler County and Palm Coast representative on the 12-member, 12-county Florida Inland Navigation District board. He was replaced by Randy Stapleford. “We sponsor the 406 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway, of which 20 miles of that is here in Flagler County,” he said. The agency’s main job is to ensure that the Intracoastal remains navigable. “But probably one of the most likeable projects that we do are the waterway assistance projects known as the WAP,” the Local Government Waterway Assistance Program.” That’s what funded the Waterfront project–and dozens like it in Flagler going back to 1986, totaling $7.5 million, with FIND shouldering $3.2 million of that. (See the full list here.)
“This morning I talked to the poor Mayor, sick in bed,” Stapleford said of Mayor David Alfin, who delegated today’s duties to Klufas, “and he asked me if any by chance could we dredge the waterway” to make it more passable for some boats apparently taking part in Saturday’s holiday boat parade, or for the city’s new sister ship, the USS Gerald Ford. Stapleford said sure: for $2 billion. (He was, of course, joking.)
The contractor is Ormond Beach-based Saboungi Construction, a father-and-son company marking its 40th year that considers Palm Coast its second home, according to co-owner Hassan Saboungi: it built the Palm Coast Post Office, the Indian Trails Sports Complex, Seminole Woods Park, Heroes Park, Linear Park, Ralph Carter Park, Bay Drive Park and a few others. “We’re going to make everybody proud. We promise you that,” he said. The project, Bevan noted, is also the work of the city’s parks and recreation, communication and engineering staff.
Just as Bevan was closing out the modest event, a howl rose from the north and the skies opened.