Swim hole advances in considerationBy Steve Estes
County commissioners Wednesday approved a grant from the state Department of Transportation for $1.2 million that is destined to develop scenic overlooks along the course of US 1 as part of the Scenic Highway program.
And two of those potential locations could be on Big Pine Key.
When the corridor enhancement plan was approved several years ago, a gateway park was included in the master plan at the west end of the island. The proposed location for that park was the old swimming hole across from Strike Zone Charters.
The land, once used as a community gathering place, has for the most part lain fallow for the last eight or nine years.
The land is owned by the state park system, under a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection. To use the area, the county would have to get the land as surplus or lease it from the park system.
“State parks has indicated some willingness to allow that to happen,” said County Transportation Planner Trish Smith.
If the county gets control of the parcel, the grant money could be used to develop a scenic overlook.
There have been rough plans on the shelf for that parcel for about five years. Those plans include information kiosks to tell visitors about the area’s marine life and wildlife, as well as flora found nowhere in the world. They also included an observation platform and a nature trail.
The only sticking point for the Board of County Commissioners thus far has been the need to allocate maintenance dollars to the site, a need that might possibly be eliminated through a pot of money from the Tourist Development Council coffers.
The BOCC gave County Administrator Roman Gastesi the go-ahead Wednesday to begin the research into developing that site.
It also gave Gastesi the green light to investigate the possibility of developing an observation pier or boardwalk at the Big Pine Community Park at the north end of Sands Rd. as part of the enhancement grant.
That could be a longer process since permission would be needed from the US Army Corps of Engineers due to the incursion into surface waters, but the pier is part of an approved second phase of the park’s development.
County staff will be working on those issues in the next few months. It shouldn’t be a long process to potential approval because the grant money has to be obligated within the next couple of years. The grant required no county matching funds.