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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Sep. 23, 2020 1 year ago

Town talks boardwalk proposal for Fernwood Park

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Town leaders received resident feedback during two charettes regarding the plans for Fernwood Park.
by: Danielle Hendrix Former Associate Editor

The town of Windermere is gauging residents’ interest in a conceptual boardwalk project the Parks and Recreation committee has proposed for Fernwood Park.

Town Manager Robert Smith hosted a virtual charette Wednesday, Sept. 16, regarding Fernwood Park, its history and the Parks and Recreation committee’s suggested improvements.

The committee has been working on brainstorming improvements for Fernwood Park for a few years, and it is proposing adding a boardwalk area as a new recreational amenity. 

Although the Town Council previously approved the conceptual design, Smith said it has not approved any amenity designs. That means the boardwalk has not been approved.

Town staff decided to host the first of two charettes regarding Fernwood Park because of the amount of comments and some apprehension surrounding the proposed boardwalk.

The committee’s purpose is to ensure the town is providing adequate recreational activities for residents and protect its natural resources, Smith said.

“The total budget for the town of Windermere is $6 million a year, and most of that goes to public works, it goes to law enforcement, it goes to the fire department,” Smith said. “We’re pretty much left with counting on the volunteers and grants to get money to fund all of these amenities that the residents have come to enjoy not only at Fernwood but at the other parks, as well.”

Fernwood is a public park with a private boat ramp for residents only. Smith said all the money that will be used to fund any amenities at the park will be coming either from Parks and Recreation or the town itself. 

“It’s going to attract more people, it’s going to attract teenagers and kids, but it’s also going to attract people walking their dog, people trying to rest and look at the lake, so on and so forth.” — Town Manager Robert Smith

“One of the goals of parks and recreation is to attract people to these parks, whether it’s through active or passive recreation,” Smith said. “When Parks and Recreation committee took a look at this park, it’s mostly a passive recreational site. (They) came up with, ‘OK, we want to make sure this is a passive park.’” 

The boardwalk project proposed by the committee would extend from the existing dock and surround much of the park’s perimeter. There would be a pavilion or gazebo at the end, along with another access point, for people to enjoy viewing the lakes.

But the size and scope of the boardwalk at the park has some residents worried, especially because some people use the park’s dock as a jump-off point to Bird Island — a longtime pain point for the town.

“They understandably said, ‘Whoa, this is going to attract a lot of people — both residents and non-residents — to the area,” Smith said. “So you can understand that they are apprehensive to the size of this and to the fact that it’s going to attract a lot of people to an area that’s somewhat hidden. … With every good positive, there’s a negative. It’s going to attract more people, it’s going to attract teenagers and kids, but it’s also going to attract people walking their dog, people trying to rest and look at the lake, so on and so forth.”

Those attending the charette were encouraged to voice their opinions on the proposed conceptual design. Additionally, Smith presented a scaled-down version of the boardwalk submitted by a Windermere resident.

“If we agree that the dock is the issue — the jumping-off point, the gathering point, the teen hangout point — if all that is true, then any increase in the size of the dock is just going to be an increase in the size of the problem,” resident Tom Stroup said. “There’s no other way to put it. For me, it makes no sense to do anything if we’re saying that A causes B and we make A bigger, then we’re going to cause more B. There’s no way around it.”

Resident Jim Willard mentioned Fernwood Park today looks much like it did when he moved to Windermere 37 years ago. With its prime use as a boat ramp, Willard said, space is necessary for trailers to come in and out and for emergency vehicles to park.

“When you take those needs together, you simply don’t have a lot of parking left — and certainly not enough to accommodate a very significant boardwalk that is going to inevitably attract a lot of non-resident use,” Willard said. 

The majority of residents opposed the boardwalk outright or preferred a smaller-scale version. A second charette took place Wednesday, Sept. 23, after press time. 

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Danielle Hendrix was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com.

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