LORIDA — The ecological park at Spring Lake Improvement District already has picnic pavilions and a multi-use path around a man-made lake.
The only thing it lacks is restrooms, landscape plantings and striped parking. District Manager Joe DeCerbo said Wednesday that work will happen soon, with hopes of a grand opening in the early fall, possibly October.
Meanwhile, people have already begun using the park.
“I’ve got people coming in with walkers,” DeCerbo told Benjamin Dunn, Highlands County Development Services director, during a tour of the site. “There’s a group coming here wanting to do a 5K (run) from my office.”
The EcoPark was an add-on to the district’s $4.9 million “Stormwater Treatment Area” project, begun two years ago as a way of providing stormwater filtration and flood control. Essentially a huge retention pond with an overflow spillway, the treatment area originally had a 25-foot-wide shell road around the perimeter to facilitate maintenance crews. DeCerbo suggested making it half as wide and asphalt. With that, it seemed attractive as a park with a multi-use path.
The Highlands County Board of County Commissioner agreed to put $75,000 toward the park with plans for pavilions, cookout grills, trash receptacles, the 1.3-mile multi-use pathway and restrooms. Of that funding, $50,000 would go to restrooms with the Spring Lake district providing labor.
The project got held up several months with questions from one member of the Spring Lake Board of Supervisors over whether or not the matter should have been discussed and approved by the board first. Ultimately, the board held information hearings on the matter in February, and the project moved forward.
It’s still waiting for restrooms, landscaping that mimics an oasis and final striping for parking spaces.
Recent heavy rains have eroded the bank above and below the pathway. District crews have had to modify the bank above the multi-use path by adding a small berm on it to retain runoff. Otherwise, DeCerbo said, mowing the banks takes four hours. Also, crews have been killing off primrose, an invasive exotic plant, that has grown up in the northeast quadrant of the pond.
Heavy rains aren’t a problem for the pond itself. When levels get high enough, water flows into a canal and heads south towards the district’s pumping station. That directs stormwater to Arbuckle Creek, which flows to Lake Istokpoga, which then feeds the Lake Okeechobee and Everglades basins.
Most of the water that flows into the treatment area will filter into the ground, but for now, it makes a lake over which visitors watch shore birds and evening sunsets.
DeCerbo sees potential for boardwalks in areas along the canal, which are not wetlands, and a kayak dock onto the canal that feeds into Arbuckle Creek.
For now, he’s looking forward to a grand opening, once the restrooms are done.