$200K upgrade for popular park called ‘win-win’

Users of Oars and Paddles Park in Indian Harbour Beach are applauding nearly $200,000 in improvements recently approved by the county Tourist Development Council .

The improvements are the result of a series of meetings with neighbors earlier this year seeking more efficient – and less noisy – use of the park, its pier and canal.

The $199,495 will fund an additional pier, repairs to the existing pier, installation of pilings, gangways and railings, and an additional 60 parking spaces, all of which should help alleviate the situation, which prompted 17 speakers at the March 14 Indian Harbour Beach City Council meeting.

The 4.7-acre park, taken over from the county last year by Indian Harbour Beach, is an important public access point to one of the world’s best winter flat-water training areas – the Indian River, Banana River and Grand Canal – and is used by the 120-member Space Coast Crew and other crew teams, dragon boat paddlers, Stand Up Paddlers, kayakers and canoeists.

The proposal for improvements using TDC funding came about after sometimes heated discussions between City Manager Mark Ryan, Space Coast Crew, Space Coast Dragon Boat Club and representatives from the Harbour Isles Homeowners Association. The park is increasingly busy during winter months, prompting complaints of noise in the canals, overuse and parking problems, making for traffic within the park and on local roadways.

”We certainly want to be as good neighbors as possible and these improvements should enhance what the neighbors experience,’’ said Rick Baney, head coach for Space Coast Crew.

The club, and all other users, will now have twice the amount of dock space for launching and taking vessels out of the water, which should improve the efficiency of the park and keep boats from having to stage in the canal while trying to keep the crew members quiet, he said.

The expanded parking lot will especially help during weekends when many of the cars are there for people to run or bike on nearby Tropical Trail on Merritt Island, he said.

Baney also noted that the park has improved since being taken over from the county in 2016 with the addition of sidewalks and the use of temporary kayak racks for the elite paddlers who spend winters in training.

The TDC will give final approval of each project package including the Oars and Paddles improvements before funds are disbursed, said TDC Chairman Jim Ridenour.

“That whole project is huge because (paddling/rowing) is a growing area for tourism in Brevard County. We’re careful about what we give the money to so they’ll have to come back to us with a project that is shovel ready,’’ he said.

The project must be started within two years, or else the funding approval would be withdrawn.

Other projects also receiving initial approval for TDC funding include: Palm Bay Nature Center and Campground ($1.7 million), Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage Museum, ($500,000), Titusville Multi-Use Sports Arena ($7 million) and Viera Regional Sports Complex ($5 million).

“We’re super pleased that the county TDC recognized the value of the park,” said Beth Gitlin, captain and founder of Heart and Soul Dragon Boat Team. “It’s a win-win situation for the TDC to improve the park to be able to handle the use” by so many groups of paddlers.

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