By Roger Drouin
Tucked away on the south end of the Key and known as a local favorite, the park at Turtle Beach will be getting upgrades soon as part of a $601,000 Sarasota County improvement project. The improvement project includes expanded parking, new sidewalks and crosswalks, a relocated and improved children’s playground, fresh landscaping, a kayak launch, and an expansive rain garden with native plants.
Construction work on the improvements at Turtle Beach Park is expected to begin sometime in April, after the County Commission approves the construction contract with a vendor, Brie Ondercin, project manager from the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources department, told Siesta Sand.
Sidewalks will be installed throughout Turtle Beach Park. Currently “there is not a single sidewalk,” Ondercin said. New pedestrian crossings within the park will also enable beachgoers to safely cross both Turtle Beach Road and Blind Pass Road as they try to get to and from the beach. The new sidewalks will be installed throughout the park and lead all the way to the boat launch.
The current children’s playground will be relocated closer to the beach, where a new playground will be located, featuring a larger play structure. “It will be enclosed to keep children safe because it is close to [an existing] parking lot,” Ondercin said. The old playground was designed for children aged two to five, but the new playground will serve children ages two to 12.
"The primary goal [of the improvement project] is to provide more parking for visitors and also to make it a safer, more walkable park so people can get from one side of the park to the other without having to walk along the road shoulder,” Ondercin said.
The Turtle Beach park concept plan has been in the works since 2007, but plans were put on hold when the recession hit due to a decrease in surtax funding. “It was put on hold until additional funding could be identified,” Ondercin said.
The park is 16 acres with 959.25 linear yards (or 0.5 miles) of beach and Gulf of Mexico frontage.
The beach fronting the Gulf will be renourished as part of the county’s separate South Siesta Beach Renourishment Project. That project will add 800,000 cubic yards of sand to two miles of beach. It will buffer the eroded shoreline that was initially nourished with a million cubic yards of sand in 2007.
The rain garden
In place of the old playground, the contractor will build a parking lot that will add 26 spaces to the park and three additional handicap parking spaces.
Adjacent and to the south of the new parking, crews will construct a rain garden. About 100 feet long, this shallow retention pond will be planted with native vegetation. “It will look like a garden,” Ondercin said.
Similar to a bio swale, the garden will be comprised of native Florida plants, such as: salt grass, sea purslane, marsh elder, marshhay cordgrass. In addition, white mangroves will be planted and help the rain garden blend naturally with the shoreline of Blind Pass Lagoon.
New kayak launch
A new kayak launch will be constructed. The new launch will be located on the northern edge of the lagoon, and will allow kayakers to launch their vessels separately from the park’s motorized boat launch.
Currently the boat launch serves motorized boats as well as kayaks and canoes. “While users get along, there are sometimes safety concerns, especially if you are in a kayak at water level and a 32-foot power boat is trying to launch,” Ondercin said.
As a nice feature for paddlers, a kayak wash station will allow users to wash their kayaks and canoes.
Contingent on funding, plans also call for a gazebo by the boat launch as part of the current improvement project. But that gazebo is an alternate, and if it is not funded as part of the initial phase of construction, will be built during a later phase of improvements, Ondercin said.The bathroom at the park was renovated several years ago as a capital project.