Board extends hours at park
Promises plan for band shell at next meet

By Steve Estes

Suggestions by the Monroe County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Monday night met with a mixed bag of resistance and some support from neighbors of the Big Pine Community Park.

The parks board discussed extending the operating hours of the park to 9 p.m. from its current 8:30 p.m.

That suggestion met with concerns from the local residents who preferred that the lights for the park continue to go dark at 8:30.

“We’ve had requests form parents who want the hours extended because by the time the sun goes down and it’s cool enough for the kids to use the facility, it gets dark and the park closes, particularly in the summer when kids are out of school,” said Board Chairman Steve Miller.

Local neighbors said that the park gets very little use in the heat of the day, but as dusk approaches it gets busier. They say the park is also well used in the earlier morning hours by tennis players and folks using the fitness trails.

They weren’t adamantly opposed to extending the hours in the summer months so the board agreed to recommend to the Board of County Commissioners that the park open at 7 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. during the summer.

Miller said that the heat issue might be alleviated in the next couple of months as a long-awaited shade structure project finally comes to a conclusion.

The county voted three years ago to install a shade structure over the playground area but the project has languished on a dusty shelf since then, getting resurrected along with a shade structure for Higgs Beach and Bayview Park.

According to Rosa Washington, the county staff liaison for the parks board, the shade structure is being ordered and should be ready for installation in eight to 10 weeks.

That, said Miller might prompt parents to bring the kids earlier so the utilization of the park increases.

In keeping with the utilization theme, the board asked for public input on the future of the skate park at the facility.

Most were in agreement that the skate park, which is run under a contract with the Boys and Girls Club, is rarely used.

The crowd agreed with Miller when he said that one of the reasons the skate park is so bare most of the time is that the rules requiring full protective gear turn off the kids most likely to use the facility.

A full range of protective gear for users of the skate park, as well as a notarized waiver of liability from parents or guardians, are required before skateboarders or inline skaters can use the park.

“If we have guests, they can’t get a notarized waiver, so nobody comes to use the park,” said Miller. “The rules are too restrictive.”

The board said that the decision must be to either get the county to relax the equipment rules or maybe do away with the skate park altogether and replace it with a different amenity.

Many in the crowd opined that requiring full protective gear in the skate park was sort of hypocritical because the sakteboarders simply used other paved areas of the park to ply their craft where no rules for protective gear, other than helmets, exists.

The most popular area is the basketball courts, they said, although the paved walkways also serve as an impromptu raceway for kids on skateboards.

The board decided that it needed more information from the county staff on what prompted the Draconian gear rules before it could make any decision on the future of the skate park.

The final item concerning the park drew the most disapproval from the local residents.

Miller said that both the local Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce have suggested that a band shell be built in the open space at the park waterside of the community center.

“When the July 4 celebration was held at the park last year, it made people realize what a potential for community events we have here,” said Miller.

In its inaugural appearance at the Big Pine Park, the Rotary Club’s July 4 celebration drew more than 3,000 spectators.

“And even with that crowd, there wasn’t anyone within 100 feet of the temporary stage and the field wasn’t crowded. We wouldn’t put on events here that would draw that type of crowd other than probably the July 4 celebration, but having a band shell would make some things possible,” said Miller.

He said that local performance groups, such as Island Harmony, a woman’s a Capella singing group, could use the band shell to put on community concerts. The school’s steel drum band could perform there. Acting troupes could perform.

“We could do things like movies in the park like they do in Marathon, getting the community together for social events,” said Miller.

Local residents didn’t immediately warm up to the idea citing noise and parking concerns. There are only 148 parking spaces inside the park’s gates and a community event could well overflow parking into the neighboring residential streets.

The July 4 event saw that happen, ,but most of the neighbors agreed that the event was welcomed in the community, and that parking issues on a once-in-a-while could be tolerated.

They said it would boil down to how often such events were planned and how big they might be.

“A band shell would help control the sound from such events,” said Miller. “If we build it with the opening toward the water, it would direct the sound that direction and away from the homes in the area.”

The current proposal is for the county to build and maintain the band shell, opening it up to use by community groups for performances and events.

Because the park closes at 8:30 p.m., now 9 p.m. in the summer, Miller said the county’s noise ordinance wouldn’t come into play because without a waiver all the events would have to end by the time the park closes. The July 4 celebration received such a waiver because it gets dark after park closing time.

Miller said that the staff would develop a conceptual plan for a possible band shell at the facility that could possibly be expanded to include additional shaded areas for the skate park and for the open grounds, providing shelter from the heat for other groups that routinely use the park, such as Tai Chi and yoga classes.

He didn’t specify when those plans would be ready, but expects it to be this summer. Another community meeting of the park board will be held then to unveil the concept.

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