One of the top 10 beaches in the state is about to get even better.
Lovers Key State Park, which was rated the fourth best beach in Florida by the Travel Channel, will soon be starting a series of improvements that will upgrade the southeastern restroom facilities to a standard washroom from a compost-style bathroom. Also included in the plans are a boardwalk from the shelter to the Pavilion and exterior lighting for events.
The project was advertised Friday and will take six to eight months to complete, said Jim Ross, project manager.
The restrooms on Lovers Key island have needed repair since Tropical Storm Gabrielle hit in 2001, but flooding from subsequent storms compounded problems and prevented timely repairs. Plumbing the bathroom will reduce the amount of storm damage by lifting the sewage equipment off the ground, Ross said.
“As long as we have anything on that particular island, it will be susceptible to storm damage,” Ross said. “There’ll still be problems but they won’t be the kind of problems that will shut down the use of it.”
After Gabrielle, the facilities were closed for two years and portable restrooms were used temporarily, said Heath Alboher, assistant manager of the Bonita Springs park.
Ross estimated the project to cost between $200,000 and $250,000. About a fourth of the total will be funded by a Lee County grant, and the rest will be paid for with state park money.
“(The project) will just improve the quality of service that we already have,” Alboher said. “It will just make it a little easier on staff and visitors.”
Though many people don’t like compost bathrooms, Lovers Key beach-goers say they love the park enough to look past the slight stench that wafts from the restrooms.
“These parks seem very well maintained,” said Barbara Allison, a 56-year-old tourist from Swarthmore, Pa. “I’m wondering if (compost bathrooms) would be better because you don’t use as much city water.”
Most of the state parks have that type of facility because they are more environmentally friendly, Ross said. The other three restrooms in Lovers Key Park will keep the compost system since they haven’t had problems in the hurricanes, he said.
The southeastern restrooms serve the pavilion, which books between 50 and 100 events a year. The area is also the most popular spot for the estimated 600,000 visitors a year, Alboher said.
That amount of traffic demands a more modern sewage system, he said.
But even if Lovers Key never made another improvement, Cape Coral resident Valerie Tribbey said she’d still make the drive to the beach. She’s been coming to Lovers Key for the past eight years because it’s less crowded than sand that’s closer to home. And she’s just happy that the beach has any bathrooms at all.
“I don’t know that it matters if it’s compost-style, as long as they’ve got toilets,” said Tribbey, 53.
Cape Coral resident Sheila Helmstetter welcomes the restroom improvement but said the facilities are fine as they are. As for other improvements, she agrees with most other sun bathers — there’s nothing else she’d like to see.
“I wouldn’t do much more because it ruins things,” said Helmstetter, 54. “I’m all for reverting back a little bit.”