Guest opinion: Resident offers alternate plan for Hernando Beach park

Published April 5 2018

What does it take to kill this tax-wasting, fatally flawed idea? Despite widespread public opposition since 2014, itís been like Dracula and keeps rising from the dead.

Hernando County has proposed once again to build a 546-parking-space event venue and artificial "beach" with a swimming area in an alligator habitat and rock mining pit in the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) Weekiwachee Preserve.

The traffic would enter two-lane Shoal Line Boulevard, the only access road to Hernando Beach, a community that is only 60 percent built out. It is a recipe for gridlock.

I propose a better solution that is fiscally wise, removes the gridlock concerns and provides amenities for visitors to this underutilized, 11,206-acre preserve.

Solve the gridlock by enlarging the preserve main entrance on Osowaw Boulevard off U.S. 19. No parking on Shoal Line.

Outside the gate, construct a 100- to 150-space parking lot and restroom facility.

Protect the bears and birds that nest in this area by making it pedestrian access only from the parking lot outside the preserve fence.

Make it handicap accessible by opening the main gate twice a month (as is done now), but restrict that to cars with handicap tags. When Swiftmud purchased the preserve, Hernando County agreed to provide funds for nature-based amenities.

Honor that obligation without spending tax dollars with an in-kind trade of the degraded 56-acre surplus county parcel behind the Hernando Beach water tower. Swiftmud could reclaim it.

Those in-kind county funds could be used to construct nature-based amenities for preserve visitors. They could include benches on trails, picnic tables, bear-proof garbage cans, trail map signs, bike paths, restroom facilities, and signs to identify wildlife and native and invasive plants.

There also could be rustic stairways to wildlife-viewing platforms on top of the tall mining overburden mounds. The Withlacoochee River Electric Company could sponsor 30-foot poles with nesting platforms for bald eagles and ospreys.

If the county decides a water park is necessary, there are county-owned locations where a swimming pool can be built with infrastructure in place, including Anderson Snow Park and the Lake House property.

This is a much better way for the county to meet its obligation to Swiftmud, increase responsible usage, promote fiscal responsibility and provide a swimming area that would be safe.

I hope the county realizes the fatal flaws in their plan and adopts a more sensible and fiscally responsible approach using some of the concepts outlined above.

Forrest Bennett, Hernando Beach

Bennett was a member of the Hernando County Environmentally Sensitive Lands Program and is a Certified Florida Master Naturalist in Coastal Systems through the University of Florida.