PINE ISLAND — When Hernando County officials held meetings last month to assess public opinion on the development of a new tourism center, some residents questioned why a new beach was being considered when the county's existing beaches were not getting the attention they need.
Improvements are on the way.
Late last week, county trucks began delivering four or five small loads of new sand to Alfred A. McKethan Park on Pine Island. This week, nine more semitrailers of sand will be dumped, leveled and distributed around the popular man-made beach at the park, according to Roy Link, Hernando County's parks maintenance supervisor.
More is available where the county stockpiles clean, Department of Transportation-approved sand at Anderson Snow Park in Spring Hill. The operation is expected to take several days in order to accommodate beachgoers and keep the park open, Link said. By the end of the week, he estimated, 350 tons of new sand will be incorporated into the Pine Island beach.
There have been some erosion complaints at the park in recent months, and high tides tend to breach the seawall and make the erosion worse over time, Link said. The county is trying to reclaim some of the sand that washed over the seawall. The erosion problem is worse in years when the county experiences tropical storms, so Link is hopeful that Hernando will be spared this year.
County Commissioner Diane Rowden said those who have questioned the condition of the beaches are right. With a new beach off the table as plans for the tourism center move forward, "what we have now we need to take care of," she said. "We have to make that property as attractive as possible. We need to make it beautiful."
Rowden also suggested that the county again consider having part-time attendants staff the gate at Pine Island to collect parking fees. That was stopped during recent lean budget years, and an honor system using parking meter machines was adopted.
Rowden expressed concern that the honor system hasn't worked very well. The county staff is discussing staffing possibilities.
"People don't mind paying the fees, but we have to make sure that the standards are kept up there," Rowden said.
Link said the other drawback to not having park staff at the gate is that on weekend days, when parking spots are often in short supply, there is no one to help direct people around the lot and into spaces.
Backed-up vehicles, which are problematic for the residential area adjacent to the park, can result in needing help from law enforcement when crowds are at their peak, he noted.
The county also plans to use the stockpiled sand to improve the beach at Rogers Park on Shoal Line Boulevard as soon as the Pine Island project is finished. In total, the county has spent about $12,500 on sand for the two beaches.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.