Sunny Side Up

From Jupiter to Boca Raton and over to the Everglades, Palm Beach County is larger than Delaware.

The county’s geographic and ecological diversity is unique, going from white-sand beaches and coastal inlets to the famous swamps and marsh lands of the Everglades, with everything (excepting mountains) in between.

Multiply in a healthy population growth factor and the formula is ever-changing, keeping the county’s parks and recreation department on its proverbial toes. Keeping those toes free from the everyday missteps of the daily dance has been an ongoing goal over the years.

Diverse Development

“There is a significant amount of publicly-owned land in the county, but in the past a lot of it has been locked up, and the same has been true with the schools,” explains Dennis Eshleman, the county’s director of parks and recreation.

“We’ve been breaking down those barriers, and getting actively involved in the design and development of these public lands. You have to get all the players together and coordinate that to the best of your ability. It’s a challenge to maintain those relationships and cooperative efforts. Oftentimes you’re not familiar with the other agency’s goals and objectives, but once you understand those you can find areas of common interest and effort.”

Eshleman sees an increased interest in a healthy balance between passive and active use areas that preserve and protect the county’s resources while maximizing the public’s enjoyment of those resources.

“I think there will be more emphasis on recreation using various types of environmental lands. We have some environmental sections within our parks department, but our Environmental Resources Management Department has purchased over 30,000 acres of environmental lands, and we work well together creating public uses on these lands from the standpoint of both eco-tourism and local use,” says Eshleman.

“We’re looking at building various types of trails, because we see an increased demand for this type of use. The key is to put together a number of partnerships using other agencies’ lands for various recreation purposes. It depends on the agencies, who’s in charge at each and where the interest lies. In the past, there have been concerns about liability, but we’ve been able to resolve those concerns in working with agencies who control these lands to develop specific use policies that really open up a good portion of their lands for public use.”

The department, for instance, has just completed the first phase of an island park development, a land owned by three different governmental agencies.

The 90-acre island, which now has campgrounds and picnicking, will also include basins with floating docks, a marina with slicks, fishing piers, observation towers, snorkeling basins, a shallow lagoon with white beaches and other beach and boating amenities. An interactive waterfall is being constructed that is envisioned as a place for patrons to play and rinse off at, as opposed to a typical beach shower.

A historical Coast Guard facility originally built in the 1920s is being restored, as well as an old bomb shelter that was built for John F. Kennedy when he was President. Add all this to white beaches and palm trees and you’re looking at a parks and recreation paradise.

With responsibility for 13 beach parks and five aquatic complexes, the parks and recreation department is especially diligent with its lifeguard training program.

This diligence was highlighted this past year when the department won the 2004 United States Lifesaving Association National Championship and placed first in the 2003 ClinCon International Championship, Basic Life Support Division.

The winning regimen includes daily training with an hour of training and preparation before the guards hit the stands, rigorous physical conditioning standards regardless of age or gender and very clear and specific standards.

Overall, the county’s parks and recreation department employs around 1,100, with about 350 contract employees and a network of more than 4,000 volunteers.

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