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Rum Island Park is fast becoming old news, but because there may be some who have not yet heard or not yet visited the park, we are re-posting with permission Stew Lilker’s article in the Columbia County Observer. Stew sent us the article and we appreciate his sharing with us.
After a Year, Rum Island Park Finally Re-Opens: Handicapped Parking an Afterthought & an Issue
Posted August 31, 2020 11:30 pm | Updated Sept. 1, 2020*
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Rum Island Park, after a year of being shuttered for two renovations, re-opened today. While not yet collecting money, there was an attendant on hand telling folks the fees were on the way. Like Lake City and the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, handicapped accessibility can be an afterthought.
Background: County Business as Usual
In 2017, then Assistant County Manager Scott Ward came to that January’s legislative delegation meeting and announced that he was asking for support for “a $150,000 legislative appropriation for the Rum Island Park Restroom Project.”
It was business as usual in Columbia County. No one outside of the inner circle of the County’s good ole’ boys had ever heard of the Rum Island Park Restroom Project before the legislative delegation meeting. Neither the folks at Our Santa Fe River, the non-profit dedicated to the river’s preservation, nor the Suwannee River Water Management District, which has jurisdiction over any renovation project on the river, were consulted before hand.
There was money available from the District River Grant Program. However, it appeared that no one in the County government knew about it.
In April 2019, the Park was in danger of being shut down for the whole summer. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the Park remained open through Labor Day 2019.
The Park was to open after the 1st of the year (2020), but various issues, including the County’s screw-ups, delayed the opening.
Not to veer off its historical pass-the-buck course, the County blamed whoever it could find, like the Water Management District and the Corps of Engineers.
Finally, today the Park officially opened.
Ten days ago, your reporter met Commissioner Rocky Ford at Rum Island Park to take some photos and review the improvements.
Parking outside the Park, your reporter and Commissioner Ford walked into the Park.
The first obvious omission was any visible signage on the new $162,000 restrooms that indicated that they were restrooms.
Commissioner Ford did not look happy and said he would have a sign made.
The sign was not there today.
There are no lights inside the restrooms, nor is there a changing station (the kind that hangs off the wall) in either restroom.
The men’s room has no urinal. Already, after only a few hours of being open, there was urine on the toilet seat and the toilet was not flushed. There is no automatic flush mechanism on any of the toilets.
A former high ranking County Director said, “I don’t understand how they could not install a urinal. Do they expect that someone after having a few beers is going to walk in there, a beer in one hand, and lift up the toilet seat?”
There is one moderate-sized paper towel holder in each restroom and no electric hand drier. On a busy day, the paper towels may be expected to last about an hour.
Should folks be able to get a permit for stargazing by the spring, the restrooms will be useless without electricity, forcing folks back into the woods, something which the restrooms were designed to stop.
On August 19, the second thing Commissioner Ford noticed was the gravel parking area across from the newly constructed restrooms.
Your reporter asked Commissioner Ford, “Why isn’t there a handicapped space over here? The handicapped parking is ‘a mile’ down the road.”
Commissioner Ford answered, “I was thinking the same thing.”
Commissioner Ford said he would have the County look into it.
On August 20, your reporter sent self-explanatory photos of the handicapped parking issue to the Water Management District, Commissioner Ford, and County Manager Ben Scott.
The County Manager did not respond.
The next day Lindsey Garland of the Water Management District responded via email to Commissioner Ford and the Observer: “Thank you for reaching out. The additional impervious surface may or may not necessitate a modification to the existing permit. The District encourages the County to contact the District’s Resource Management staff to determine what, if any, documentation and/or application may be needed. Have a good weekend!”
The County did nothing with the excuse that Clint Pitman, the County Grounds Superintendent, was in quarantine because of the coronavirus. It wasn’t clear if the coronavirus affected his ability to dial the phone or why his boss, Assistant County Manager and Director of Public Works Kevin Kirby, did not personally follow up.
Your reporter has heard nothing from the County and understands that Commissioner Ford had met with Greg Bailey of NFPS, the engineering firm that designed the restrooms. Mr. Bailey was supposed to look into paving for handicapped parking across from the restrooms.
That Is Not the Only Thing
Today, your reporter visited Rum Island Park to see if it opened. It did.
It also rained, but it wasn’t a lot of rain.
The rainwater pooled up in front of the restroom handicapped ramp and was just something else that nobody from the County noticed or inspected during construction.
The Third Dock
The renovation of the banks around the spring included two new docks: one handicapped accessible and the other a staircase. These two landings replaced the wooden structures which the County complained were always being vandalized.
The County left the third wooden dock in place. It is not clear why it wasn’t replaced with the other two during the $150,000 spring bank restoration.
A little over a week ago, a tree fell through the center of the third dock during a rainstorm.
According to Commissioner Ford, the County’s position is that if insurance pays to replace the dock, it will be replaced.
The Bank Restoration
There is a silt boom protecting the spring cul-de-sac.
The County is working on a way to close off the spring to boat traffic, especially to keep them from landing on the newly restored banks.
It is not clear what the County has up its sleeve.
The County also needs to have “keep off the grass” signs on both sides of the railing around the spring.
After over three years of planning and building, Rum Island Park is again ready for prime time.
Whether or not the County is capable of fixing the obvious screw-ups is yet to be seen.
Everybody this reporter spoke with thinks the park is “pretty.”
*Update: Photo of bank restoration and handicap ramp added.
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