HERNANDO BEACH — Although he has lived in the community only a little more than a year, Ron Wolf has come to learn that Hernando Beach suffers somewhat when it comes to its identity.
Even the name is a misnomer. Whenever Wolf encounters curious newcomers, he knows that at some point he invariably must tell them that there's no sandy waterfront stretch on which to plunk down a beach towel and umbrella.
But the manager of the Blue Pelican Marina has learned something else about the people in the close-knit community: They are extremely proud of where they live.
And as the economy slowly improves, residents and businesses are anxious to explore ways to attract more visitors. To accomplish that, Wolf is tackling a long-dormant community beautification project at the triangle junction of Osowaw and Shoal Line boulevards on the southern edge of Hernando Beach.
Wolf, who spent more than two decades as a home builder and landscape designer, has been working with the area's two homeowners associations, local businesses and the county Public Works Department on a design that he feels encompasses the environmental amenities of the area.
"Hernando Beach has built its reputation around the idea that it's the heart of the Nature Coast, and I tried to incorporate all of that into something that will say that to people driving by," Wolf said. "I hope it makes them curious about what's down the road."
Hernando Beach Homeowners Association president Fran Baird said that creating a scenic gateway to the fishing community has been bandied about for years after the original decorative sign at the intersection was destroyed by a vehicle.
Currently, the only designation for the community is a solitary granite monument erected in the early 1990s to note the community's reputation for tarpon fishing.
Baird said the association had all but given up on the idea of restoring the original sign until the membership met with Wolf.
"Ron created a spark, and people have gotten excited about it," said Baird, who owns the Hernando Beach Motel and Condo. "What I've seen so far is unique and beautiful. People are going to be amazed when they see it."
Wolf, who moved from Hawaii two years ago when his brother bought the Blue Pelican Marina, describes himself as an "idea guy." As he began absorbing the laid-back atmosphere of his adopted home, fellow residents began telling him they felt the community had lost some of its self-esteem when the economy soured. When he learned of the abandoned gateway project, he decided to put his talents to work and give something back.
Currently maintained by the county, the triangular parcel measures just under an acre. Wolf plans to plant the natural wetland portion with a variety of native plants and shrubs and also include several garden areas. The drier areas will have wildlife sculptures, benches and walkways. Initial drawings submitted to the county show that the area will eventually be connected to a proposed county-built bike and pedestrian path along Shoal Line.
Lastly, the completed project will include a lighted sign and an information kiosk made from native hardwoods to direct visitors to points of interest in the area.
Wolf said he expects to break ground for the project in early fall; the cost is expected to be less than $8,000. The Hernando Beach Homeowners Association has offered some money, and he hopes to involve local contractors to get electrical and excavation services and some materials donated.
"I've never thought you had to spend a lot of money on projects that have big benefits," Wolf said. "I think it shows what you can achieve when the community gets involved."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.