Lock 7 improvements proposed

OKEECHOBEE — An observation platform, trees, pavilions, more lights, a playground, an amphitheater, a canoe and kayak launching area and more paved parking are all proposed improvements for the Lock 7 recreation area.

At the March 9 Okeechobee County Commission meeting, Donnie Oden reviewed ideas for a master plan for the park.

He said grant funding has already been secured for trees, a pavilion and an observation platform.

Other improvements can be phased in as funding becomes available.

The proposed plan shows a stage and a terraced amphitheater on the east side of the new paved parking lot, with seating going up the side of the dike.  Mr. Oden said they have provided these plans to the corps for approval. He added that sunrise services are popular at Lock 7 and an amphitheater would be ideal for that.

“It will help enhance what we have there,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs. He added that paving more parking will help reduce the county’s cost of grading the shell rock which has been a continual problem.

Mr. Oden said they can seek state and federal grants for much of the work.

“If we get a certain phase ready to go, where we’re ready to turn dirt, that is the best time to go after funding,” he explained.

“This is incredible,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread, as he reviewed some of the proposed improvements.

“We take zero advantage of the lake unless you fish or airboat,” he said.
Driving by, “you can’t even see it,” he added.

“To direct some other types of recreation to it is great,” he said. “I think this is a really good start. I think this is something that is ripe for some types of federal and state grants. We need to turn over every leaf and every rock looking for some grant money for this type of project.”

“At some point there will be something at Okee-Tantie, so I am pleased that we will have a way of drawing people from the resort closer to town,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens.

“I am certainly in favor of doing it,” she said.

“I like the concept,” said Commissioner David Hazellief. He added that he would like to see the plan include a restaurant or a tiki bar overlooking the lake.

He added that it may not be allowed on corps property, but they should find out if that would be possible.

“In Pahokee there is a restaurant and tiki bar set up inside the dike and they sell alcohol, so there must be a way to allow it,” said Commissioner Goodbread.

Chairman Burroughs said the improvements would be something to be proud of.

“I suggest we have security lights and security cameras to keep people from tearing this up,” he said.

“I hope that whatever we do down there, we will have security to make sure that is incorporated in all pieces of it.

“We have a lot of people down at the pier now. People continue to do things that are not supposed to be done there,” he said.

Mr. Oden said he will check on the items the board requested and come back with a conceptional design for the master plan.

According to the staff report, in 1986 Okeechobee County was issued a Consent to Easement (CTE) to use the Corps of Engineers Right of Way in the area known as Lock 7.

The land, as described in the CTE, is approximately 30 acres and includes the parking area and bathroom facility constructed in 2015.

After the improvements of the bathroom facility and parking area, staff continued to initiate the development of a master plan for the Lock 7 area that included discussions with the Florida Game and Fish Commission (FWC), the corps and various other agencies that were recommended to the county by FWC, the staff report continues.

FWC will provide a grant valued at approximately $30,000 to furnish and plant trees on the east end of the park. The county also was awarded a $50,000 grant in July 2016, to build a pavilion and an observation platform.

Mr. Oden said the area is already popular with bird watchers, and the county staff is working with the Audubon Society regarding how and where to place lights.

The CTE will require revisions to extend the park area, the staff report states.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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