march 2, 2017

A meeting of the Lake County Board of County Commissioners was advertised for a special Parks and Trails session on Thursday, March 2, 2017, at 6:00 p.m., in Chambers at Minneola City Hall, 800 U.S Hwy 27, Minneola, Florida.  Commissioners present at the meeting were: Sean Parks.  Others present were: Bobby Bonilla, Parks and Trails Division Manager; Jeff Cole, Community Services Director, and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk.

Commr. Parks related that he was the District 2 County Commissioner and welcomed those in attendance to the meeting.  He commented that it was a privilege and an honor to serve them and thanked everyone for coming out to participate in their government.  He opined that the residents should be part of the process, since it involved the use of their tax dollars.  He explained that this was the fourth meeting regarding the County’s parks and trails system, and this meeting will include an update on the South Lake Regional Park, which was located between Clermont and Groveland and consisted of 141 acres on the south side of Highway 50.  He related that this facility was put into the County’s master plan in 2005, since the Board at that time realized that parks and trails were important for the community’s quality of life and something the community wanted.  He mentioned, however, that there was a delay in construction of the park due to a number of factors, such as confusion about which entity was responsible for some aspects of the project and commitments in other parts of the county.  He commented about the large amount of growth that is expected to occur in South Lake County in the next 8 to 10 years and opined that this facility is well overdue.  He displayed a chart which summarized the progress of the South Lake Regional Park project for the last few years and mentioned that the County was waiting for the engineering plans to be finalized.  He specified that the park will have 8 softball fields, 4 youth baseball fields, 2 adult baseball fields, 8 multi-purpose fields to be used for sports such as cricket, a multi-use trail and trailhead, restrooms, concessions, canoe launch, fishing pier, boardwalk, nature trail around the entire park, playgrounds, pavilions throughout the park, three basketball courts, four pickleball courts, and dog park.  He mentioned that the master plan includes completely redoing the road into the facility with curb and cutter, repaving, buffering walls, and landscaping, noting that they will avoid removing the heritage oak trees that will be in the way.  He assured everyone that he has been working to get the park done as soon as possible.

Ms. Ginger Corless from Tindale Oliver thanked everyone for attending the workshop and noted that she would provide a brief overview of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan as well as the Trail Master Plan update.  She recapped that she had worked on the original Parks and Recreation Master Plan in 2005 in which the South Lake Regional Park was named a high priority.  She related that a lot of the trails are still in the planning stage, and they do not have answers for a lot of the connections and specifics on design.  She explained that they wanted to hear the participants’ ideas and priorities, including new facilities and connections to fill in the gaps of the trails.  She recapped that they had started on the master plan late last summer after gathering a lot of data and information and doing assessment and review.  She reported that the next step would be the recommendation phase after having these public meetings and coming up with the ideas that work from a technical standpoint and take into consideration priorities they hear from the community and how those work together.  She stated that they were planning on finishing the Master Plan by the fall of this year, and she specified that they will be looking at and assessing details such as maintenance of the facilities and maintenance standards, and she commented that she was amazed with how much the County’s staff can do because of their training and ability to manage and take care of all of the County’s facilities, including 160 acres of blueways, 53 different facilities which were open 7 days a week totaling 4,000 acres of property, and a large number of public lands totaling over 2,700 acres.  She pointed out that there were 533 acres of park land when the Parks Master Plan was done in 2005 and that the County has added over 600 acres of active park land and sports complexes as a result of implementation of that master plan.  She explained that the public lands were purchased for the primary purpose of conservation and management of environmentally significant property.  She presented a list of the different types of facilities found in a variety of Lake County parks which show a mix of passive and resource recreation as well as active sporting components, such as trails, boat ramps with both motorized and non-motorized access, fishing opportunities, dog parks, and multi-use fields.  She pointed out that there are currently a lot more recreational facilities than there were in 2005, as well as more of a variety of the kinds of facilities in response to what the residents want.  She mentioned that there were projects currently moving forward.  She pointed out that they will also be analyzing the infrastructure that the County has to have in order to support all of their facilities, such as the quality and age of the restrooms, signage, access, and parking.  She announced that the opening of the McDonald Canal Boat Ramp was last Thursday, February 23, which was made possible with a joint partnership with the St. Johns River Water Management District.  She added that Lake Idamere Park, which contained the Miracle Field, was a wonderful facility for both passive and active recreation for people and children of all abilities.

Ms. Corless stated that they were looking at regional connections that would expand the trails throughout the state, minor shared-use trails connecting with the region, local trails which may connect within their communities, nature trails, paved shoulders as a way to get between parks or trails when other trails are not available, and blueways trails as a way to explore the county’s waterways.  She commented that the completion of the Coast to Coast Trail and the great opportunities it offers to connect with the South Lake Trail and other regional trails will be wonderful for the county and its economic development.  She pointed out the locations of other regional connection trail projects in the area, including the Wekiva Trail currently under construction, the Heart of Florida Loop Trail, the North Lake Trail, and the St. Johns River to Sea Loop.  She reported that a previous plan done in 2008 identified a lot of those kinds of opportunities, including the South Lake Trail, the Coast to Coast Trail, the Hancock Trail, the Montverde connection, US 27 Trail, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Citrus Grove.  She related that they will take the information gathered from all of the assessments they are doing to create an analysis and come back with recommendations about how everything should work and move forward, how they compare with other counties, how partnerships with other agencies will allow them to leverage what the County has to provide more to its citizens, and increasing opportunities for economic development, tourism, and improvement of the quality of life.  She commented, however, that they also have to look at different funding scenarios in order to build a plan that was realistic and could be implemented as well as one that the community wanted.  She asked each table containing six to eight people to appoint a spokesperson and to work as a group to gather a list of recommendations and to answer a set of questions regarding parks and recreation facilities on one side and a set of questions for trails on the other side, emphasizing ideas regarding the connection of gaps in the trail system and what improvements in recreational facilities they would like to see built while referencing each of the three maps which were placed on the table, which were a parks and recreation map, a trails map, and a public lands map, as well as a list of the current inventory. She asked for each group to work for the next half hour to come up with at least three ideas to improve the parks and trails, which they will share afterwards.  She then asked that they individually complete and hand in an exercise and questionnaire and that they give the web address to others so that they could also complete the questionnaire online. 

Ms. Corless asked for the spokesperson for each group to share the ideas that they came up with during the work session.  One spokesperson commented that they identified the South Lake Trail, the Green Mountain Trailhead, the McDonald Boat Ramp, Lake Louisa State Park, and PEAR Park as the best recreational assets in the county.  She also related that they would like to see facilities that would enable cycling on Blackstill Lake Road all the way to Old Hwy 50, improvements made to the Lake Apopka Boat Ramp, a facility similar to PEAR Park in South Lake County, and more nature trails and playgrounds.  A spokesman for another table reported that one of the primary areas they were looking at was additional athletic facilities such as football, soccer, multi-purpose, and softball fields, as well as indoor athletic facilities that could be used for sports including basketball and indoor track, sprinkled throughout the county.  He added that the need for additional boat ramps with more access to the waterways came up quite a bit, as well as connectivity to the trails, completing the Coast to Coast Trail, and inclusive playgrounds such as the Balanced Playgrounds.  A woman who was spokesman for another table stated that Hiawatha was a great and well-constructed park, but the Minneola Athletic Complex was in need of change and refurbishment, especially in the children’s area, and that the Hancock Trail needs some trees for shade.  She related that they also wanted to see connections made to the TavDora and Lake Wekiva Trails and the connection of the South Lake Trail to the Van Fleet Trail.

Another table’s spokesman expressed appreciation for PEAR Park, Ferndale Preserve, Green Mountain, and Oakland Preserve.  He commented that growth will be primarily coming to the south part of the county, but there is a shortage of park facilities and playgrounds where growth is expected, especially in the Four Corners area and east Clermont along Hwy 50.  He opined that the road from CR 455 and Hwy 19 connecting to Sugarloaf from Howie in the Hills to Montverde needs a larger bike shoulder to ensure safety on narrow roads in rural areas, and he relayed that they recommend connections in high traffic areas around schools so that students can bike to school.  He related that they were also interested in connecting the Wekiva Trail to Tavares, and he believed they should encourage the cities to work with the County to provide parks and bike stations along the trail.  The spokesperson for another table commented that they had liked the Green Mountain scenic overlook and trailhead for viewing wildlife, the Hickory Point facility, and PEAR Park.  She agreed with a previous speaker that the Four Corners area is void of any parks and also believed that the Wellness Way area needed parks which included trails and athletic fields.  She expressed the desire for the completion of the South Lake Regional Park and recommended building playgrounds and having activities for older children.  She relayed that their group strongly believed that the trail at the scenic overlook needed to be connected to Montverde, and she also requested that the overlook be made higher due to the height of the trees.  She expressed concern about the safety of crossing the streets at some of the trails without pedestrian crossing lights, and she believed more restroom facilities needed to be available on some of the trails.  Another individual suggested that the County provide a rest area on the blueways for people to get out and take a break.

Ms. Corless commented that everyone had a lot of great ideas and made note of the idea for playgrounds for older kids in middle or early high school other than traditional sports.  She commented that social media has totally changed the way children are currently experiencing recreation, such as using technology to do scavenger hunts.  She pointed out that safety was an issue for the trail crossings and mentioned that the County has been working on the Safe Routes to School program with the Lake-Sumter MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and the School Board.  She mentioned that the Wellness Way sector plan identified how they would support public services there, including looking at a regional park in that area based on population and growth.  She thanked everyone for coming to this forum and announced that the next public meeting will be at the Mill Creek RV Park in Umatilla on March 23.

Commr. Parks told an inspirational story about a resident of Clermont who had chance to move his successful construction and architect business somewhere else but chose to keep his family in Lake County because of the quality of life.  He asked everyone to complete and return the surveys, post their experiences using the County’s recreational facilities on social media, and email the County Commissioners to let them know this was a priority for them.


There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 7:45 p.m.



timothy i. sullivan, chairman