Prepare to Come About

By Everyone that I know has a fascination with bodies of water, be they lakes, rivers, streams or the ocean. This is so much the fact that huge amounts of money and time are expended by people in getting to and getting on these waterways. To be sure, whole industries have grown up around this desire to be on or near the water.

In the area of parks and recreation we have responded to the desire of the public by acquiring and preserving public spaces on or near the water. We have facilitated public access to water bodies and we have designed multiple programs to grow our piece of the business in water related recreation. That has generally taken the form of providing access, and programs through marinas, swimming areas, and boat ramps. Public boat ramps are always in high demand.

Right to the Water

Talk to an avid fisherman or other type of boater and you will know that they feel they have a right of access to water bodies. Further, the strongly held feeling of many of these boaters is that they have this right without the requirement of much oversight or control. Boating, it seems, is one of the last frontiers of individualism for many. This concept could generate endless discussion, but I happen to believe that the public does deserve access to these wonderful natural resources. It has generally fallen to us, in the public park movement to provide access to water bodies via public boat ramps. In this we have done a good job if the clamoring for more and more public ramps is a gauge of our success.

In providing boat ramps, there are things that we are frequently not successful in. Those things are being good and responsible neighbors to those living near public ramps and our frequent overloading of the natural environment in certain water bodies. As all of us know, these two subjects are laden with political land mines just waiting to go off and kill careers and programs. So read on and “prepare to come about”.

To the Water

Here in Central Florida we are blessed with hundreds of lakes, much like many other parts of the country. We are also experiencing tremendous population growth. Waterfront property is the most desirable for home construction. It commands top dollar in acquisition and development and thus generates top return in tax revenue to government. Many who own such property claim that they deserve special consideration because they “pay” so much more in taxes. While I do not support this somewhat elitist view, I do believe that we have a duty to operate our public facilities in such a way as to minimize the impact on these owners right to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes and property.

On the Water

For the longest time we took the attitude that what happened on the water after we helped boaters get to the water was no concern of ours. We in effect, “threw the work over the fence” into someone else’s area of concern. I believe we refused to acknowledge that we were one of the causes of the safety and environmental problems occurring on the waterways. The reasons were simple. The solution to safe and courteous operation of water craft was complex and not cheap. It has to incorporate the cooperation of multiple agencies with over lapping jurisdictions and other multiple stake holders who have no real interest in the hard work needed to change the status quo.

What to Do?

For us, acknowledging that we were a part of the problem and not a participant in the solution was the start of coming about. This was the paradigm shift that was critical to change our current operations and maintenance philosophy. Then the hard work could begin.

Design

We looked at our current design standards for the layout and operation of our public boat ramps. We began to employ Crime Prevention through Environmental Design Standards.

Since waterfront property was a premium commodity, we tried to squeeze something into every square foot of property. This included maximizing the number of parking spaces that we could get permitted. The result was a nightmare of traffic and congestion during peak times both on land and on the water. We now look at smaller concentrations of boats at each new or redesigned site.

In our urban settings we try whenever possible to build in a minimum 50 foot landscape buffer between our parks and our adjacent residential neighbors. We engage the neighbors during the design process especially in the detail of these buffers.

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