New Outdoor Recreation Area

My following letter was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on December 24, 2016.

As someone with a background in outdoor recreation planning, I’ve long felt that a paddling / kayak fishing complex at the end of Ozello Trail and a boat ramp on the barge canal would be two of the best investments Citrus County could make.  A Looking Forward opinion in the December 21 Chronicle got me thinking about the east side of the county, the ideas expressed by Inverness city officials in pursuit of their “small town done right” theme, and why the idea of a multi-purpose outdoor recreation complex at Big Lake Henderson hasn’t surfaced.

Have you ventured out to Fort Island Beach to view the high use it receives, even on weekdays, or to Hunter Springs Park to see the use it gets from beachgoers, kayakers (at least until recently) and picnickers?  If you’re thinking of heading to the popular Pine Island Park just north of Bayport for a day on the beach or to launch your kayak, you better leave early if you want a parking spot.  Even the small public beach and picnic area on Lake Hernando gets lots of use.  Homosassa is now planning to create a park along the river.

Have you attended the annual bluegrass festivals along the Withlacoochee River, or experienced the crowded concerts at Kings Bay Park?  It’s easy to understand why the city of St. Petersburg is looking to develop a waterside park and entertainment venue where the former pier was located?

These areas have many of the following things in common: inviting water, a sandy beach, beautiful open space, gorgeous scenery, nice picnicking and kids play areas, adequate parking, sunbathing and kayaking opportunities, occasional entertainment, maybe a nice boardwalk overlooking the water.

Why couldn’t an outdoor recreation complex, incorporating these amenities, be created along Lake Henderson adjacent to downtown Inverness?  Parents could sunbathe while the kids swim in a protected area, play on some jungle jim equipment, or build sand castles as mom and dad look on?  Or, they could launch their yaks for a relaxing paddle or to cast a line for a nice bass.  No expensive ramp would be required to launch; a sandy beach should suffice, although accommodation for our wounded vets and other disabled folks would be nice.

Given its proximity to the popular Withlacoochee State Trail, an area set aside for bikers to park their bipeds should encourage restful stopovers from their busy days attempting to stay fit.  Perhaps a vendor located onsite could have cold drinks and snacks on hand and maybe rent kayaks, paddleboards or those paddle boats that kids seem to love.  Pontoon boat rides on the weekends?   A beach volleyball or badminton court?  Horseshoes?  Shuffleboard?

How about creating a performance pavilion and scheduling concerts for the whole family to enjoy in a beautiful open setting, as opposed to standing shoulder to shoulder around the courthouse.  Perhaps some of the popular groups that regularly perform at Terra Vista, Top of the World, The Villages and other nearby entertainment venues could be enticed into adding the Lake Henderson Outdoor Recreation Area to their tours with all-expense paid tours of Kings Bay arranged to see and swim with our manatees offered as incentives.

That’s right: a cooperative venture between Inverness and Crystal River.  How’s that for a vision?