Oars and Paddles Park, awash in activity, set for further upgrades

The next wave of major improvements is rolling right along for Oars and Paddles Park, the canal-front rowing haven in Indian Harbour Beach.

A new, Brevard County-funded dock helped with the challenge of an increasing volume of paddlers, leading to record-high park usage and a banner training year at the popular facility owned by the City of Indian Harbour Beach since 2016.

With the season winding down, city officials have now turned to working on a draft design for a more efficient parking lot with 20 additional spaces to be funded by a $199,495 allocation from county Tourist Development Commission (TDC).

The city has spent $60,520 on the improvements completed to date, with the remaining $138,975 to finish the design and construct the parking lot expansion. There is no estimate for the final project cost.

The 4.7-acre park is an important public access point to one of the world’s best winter flat-water training areas including the Indian River, Banana River and Grand Canal.

It also is home for the 103-member Space Coast Crew and serves dragon boat paddlers, stand-up paddlers, kayakers and canoeists, not to mention the park’s role as a parking area for bicyclists and runners on nearby Tropical Trail on Merritt Island.

The TDC-funded improvements were prompted by discussions with neighbors to the south who complained about unnecessary noise during launching. The Space Coast Dragon Boat Club in 2017 submitted the TDC request for improvements, with the new dock to help alleviate long staging times to make the process more efficient.

This past winter the busiest season at Oars and Paddles Park since Indian Harbour Beach took it over, with a rough estimate of use by 130 boats, not including Space Coast Crew or dragon boats, during the March/April peak of the season, said recreation director Kristin Cusimano.

Asking for county tourism money for the park “just makes sense because it’s such an important economic driver in our county. It’s what you want to spend money on because it promotes a healthy lifestyle,’’ said Jacie Stivers, an avid dragon boater who helped to spearhead the request.

The new dock has made the park more efficient for the Space Coast Crew team, said head coach and director of rowing Bryan Little, who also welcomes the parking lot improvements and additional spaces.

“The dock has been a godsend and has made a lot of things more efficient, including getting the kids off the water quicker during bad weather,’’ he said.

Little took on the position in July. He pledged to continue working on shorter staging times, as well as playing music only sparingly during training. “We will do our best to minimize the impact from noise pollution,’’ Little said.

TDC Executive Director Peter Cranis said the funding is appropriate because the park represents a key element in promoting outdoor recreation-based tourism to Brevard County.

“We were very pleased we could help with the refurbishment of the Oars and Paddles Park in Indian Harbour Beach. This park is an amazing gem within the Space Coast that draws visitors from all over. The potential now to draw even more visitors and positively impact the economy is very real,” he said.

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