The county commissioners will decide the fate of Rum Island Park today at the regular meeting at 5:30 at the School Board Auditorium, 372 W. Duval St., Lake City.
The park, abandoned by the county for decades, is a controversial topic because the county now has invested money in it for renovation and wants to impose a strong set of rules which drastically change the customary usage by locals.
A workshop was promised for the public to contribute input but it never took place. The park has been closed for nearly a year and will likely open in August.
The public may speak to the commissioners at the meeting today at 5:30.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Commission considers charging admission fees for Rum Island
Thursday, July 16, 2020
TONY BRITT [email protected]
County officials are considering charging admission and implementing several new fees and rules at Rum Island Park, when the park reopens in the coming weeks. “We’ve never charged admission into the park before, but the problem is it’s such a small park and it’s gotten so crowded, we’re going to charge admission into the park,” said Ben Scott, county manager, during a telephone interview last week.
Rum Island Park, located at the southern end of the county, offers access to the Santa Fe River and accommodates paddling (canoes or kayaks), swimming, picnicking and fishing. Scott said county officials are considering a plan that would allow Columbia County residents to purchase an annual pass to the park at a reduced price compared to an annual pass sold to out-of-county residents. Under the proposal, county residents could purchase an annual pass for $25 and an annual pass for out-of-county residents would cost $60. Senior citizens (over 65 years old) and veterans can apply for annual passes at no charge.
The county is also proposing a $5 per vehicle fee and the money would be placed in an “honor box” at the park and the temporary decal provided would have to be displayed in the vehicle’s windshield or the vehicle could be towed at the owner’s expense. Outfitters, anybody who has commercial activity in the park more than six times per year, can purchase a permit for $1,500 a year. The board also plans to review a proposal where 20-25 annual passes will be allocated to the Friends of Rum Island organization, a park support group, whose volunteers periodically clean and maintain areas of the park.
County officials are expected to get more public input on the proposals and review other rules governing area parks and community centers during the 5:30 p.m. Columbia County Commission meeting today at the School Board Auditorium, 372 W. Duval St. County officials discussed the potential rules to govern Rum Island Park and the new fees last week during a workshop at the Fort White Community Center, where more than a dozen people either questioned initial fee amounts, the park’s hours and other parts of the initial proposal.
County officials are not expected to vote on or adopt the new fees and rules until the Board’s first meeting in August. “We’re also setting hours that the park will be opened and closed,” Scott said of the plan. The consensus that county officials reached during the workshop last week is that the park will be opened from sunrise to sunset. Scott said the proceeds collected from the proposed fees will be used to clean and maintain the park. Rum Island Park, which initially closed Sept. 9, 2019, for construction and renovation work, is tentatively scheduled to reopen sometime in August. “If we don’t get a bunch of rain, we’ll be open sometime in August,” said Scott, noting that the main holdup on the project has been weather related with all the rain the area has had.
Columbia County was the recipient of two grants that were funding the park’s facelift. One of the grants was from the Suwannee River Water Management District and the other grant was from 2019 legislative appropriations. Both grants were for $150,000 each.
The legislative appropriations funding was used to construct a permanent restroom facility at the park. The building was designed to have separate men’s and women’s restroom facilities, with two stalls on each side and the building’s plans said it would also have an entry sidewalk for park visitors. The building was designed so that during periods of high water events, the water could pass through the building. For years the park utilized Port-a-lets because there was no permanent restroom facility.
The other portion of grant funds were earmarked to address environmental issues, such as bank restoration, at the springs. “The restroom is complete,” Scott said during a telephone interview Friday. “I’m not sure if the bank erosion (work) is totally complete yet or not.” The funding from the SRWMD grant funded the park’s (river) bank restoration, as well as funded a portion of the drain field and septic tank work associated with adding a permanent restroom facility to the park. Scott, who has not seen the updated work at the park, said there have been complaints by people that the restrooms are too far away from the river in the park. “The restroom is about as close as we can set it, based on water management district rules,” he said.