Even in the best of times, finding money to improve or create new public projects always generates lots of questions. Often new spending is simply a no win no matter how good the project may be.
Recently just such a project is winding its way through the public meeting process in Collier County; the project is called the “Gordon River Greenway.” The intention is to create a nature park located just south of the new Freedom Park on Golden Gate Parkway. This new park will run from a northern starting point of the Parkway, south along the backside of both the Naples Zoo and the Conservancy, eventually melding into the Gordon River.
The overall size of the area to be developed into a park is 124 acres. The development will include a small parking lot off of the Parkway, an asphalt path and wooden boardwalk walking path through the preserve areas, a joint parking lot for the zoo and the park along Goodlette Road, a kayak launching area and some miscellaneous informational and overviewing structures. Over 90 percent of the land involved will be in preservation.
The bulk of the property was purchased years ago after a voter referendum approving the zoo purchase and was augmented by another section to the south that was purchased by the Conservation Collier program, also created by voter referendum.
In today’s budget restricted times with little or no money to maintain our current parks or keep open facilities such as libraries, the very first question that should come up is where the heck all the money is going to come from to do all this new work. We are woefully under balanced in park lands in the rural areas of our county and it would seem that the last place we need to create a new park with what little money that is available is within areas that already have ample park and recreational facilities; such as our urban areas.
At a recent public meeting the question of funding for this new park was asked of county park’s staff and their answer was that the funding for these improvements comes from a grant provided years ago by the Trust for Public Lands as part of the original grant that helped the county acquire the zoo property in the first place. That should mean impact fees and property taxes will be untouched throughout this improvement process. This bit of information will hopefully be strictly adhered to as improvements go forward.
The planned park is to be a “…unique passive park along with a water quality system to mitigate and reduce pollution levels in the Gordon River….” There will be a series of pathways and boardwalks constructed to allow the public viewing access of wetlands and tributaries that were mostly inaccessible previously. As expected, whenever something new is proposed, even though it may be well intended, there will be concerns that it could be handled in a better way. This park is no exception.
Pathways composed of asphalt are not considered as environmentally friendly as other forms of surfaces, such as crushed shell or other porous materials that allow water to seep through instead of creating runoff, carrying petroleum contaminants from the asphalt. Since this park is supposed to reduce pollution levels, not generating more pollutants with inappropriate walkways seems a more logical approach.
In order to assure better water quality the current asphalt design is controlled by water quality swales to catch any pollutant run off. The use of a solid surface instead of something more porous was necessary to assure access to everyone, whether handicapped or otherwise. In a similar manner the parking lots have been designed to be 50 percent or greater with grass spaces while all asphalt spaces will have the necessary water quality swales and ponds. In high volume traffic areas, grass surfaces could end up becoming mud holes generating much greater maintenance costs.
Prior zoning on portions of this site would have allowed intense commercial development in one area and residential development of up to 3 units per acre in another. The amount of hard surfaces or pollutants from either of these uses on their own could have generated more negative consequences to the environment than the entirety of this whole proposed park.
When it is all said and done, seeing this park go forward as proposed is far better than nothing at all. Since the money is from a grant for that specific location, new money is not diverted from other areas of the county. No doubt some things could have been done differently but considering additional accessibility restrictions, costs and water quality results, the proposed plan goes a long way to meeting our goals with what is available. Even more so after considering the removal of the more intense land uses that could have been developed and the fact that the improvements will be paid with existing grant money makes this a practical proposal.