From our friends at Oscar Scherer State Park:
A low-key groundbreaking on April 15 marked the official start of the second ADA-compliant trail at Oscar Scherer State Park, according to Russell Delaney, president of the Friends of Oscar Scherer Park, Inc. One of 100 citizen support organizations (CSO) in Florida’s park system, the Friends are creating the new trail by combining a $50,000 donation from Lee Wetherington Homes with the volunteer services of their 200-member group and an engineering study by the Florida Park Service over an old footpath.
Delaney describes the project as the first part of a four-pronged Lake Osprey Improvement plan. The one-third-mile long trail surrounds the lake and is accordingly named “Lake Osprey Trail.” Oscar Scherer State Park will open its new attraction to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, June 5, 12:30 p.m., in conjunction with the observance of National Trails Day, said John J. Roche, park manager. Lake Osprey Trail and the Lester Finley Barrier Free Trail, one of Florida’s first accessible trails and the Park’s other ADA-compliant trail, both meet and in many ways exceed requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Roche said.
Located in the center of the two-square-mile Park, Lake Osprey is used for fishing, swimming, and wildlife-viewing. Delaney describes the new trail as “a relaxing, shaded opportunity surrounding the lake and providing easy navigation along a natural surface that is clear of obstructions and reinforced with marl.”
At the groundbreaking, Delaney and Roche welcomed Lee Wetherington, founder and president of Lee Wetherington Homes, as well as Friends members Bruce Snyder, co-chair of the Lake Osprey Improvement plan and campground host/Nature Center volunteer Bill White, a wheelchair-bound volunteer.
The event began in the Nature Center, where Delaney reviewed the Park’s use of ongoing contributions from Lee Wetherington Homes—and later also the Lee Wetherington Foundation—since 2003. At that time, the custom home builder began donating at least $5,000 annually to underwrite the Friends’ Scrub Jay 5K race which is the major fundraiser for the Friends organization.
“Both the Friends and the Park are enormously appreciative of the many donations from Lee Wetherington,” Delaney said, noting that the $50,000 funding for Lake Osprey improvements represents a contribution of $250 for each home sold in Willowbend, a neighboring Lee Wetherington development. Other Wetherington-funded projects include the installation of 66 shade trees in the lake area and a revamped Nature Center with a screened pavilion that is primarily used for children’s programs and special events.
Roche took the opportunity to thank the Friends of Oscar Scherer Park for their invaluable services. “The Friends donated nearly 26,500 thousand hours of labor last year, the equivalent of 13 fulltime positions,” he said. He reported that the Florida Park Service has consistently recognized the Friends of Oscar Scherer in its annual awards programs.
The group left the Nature Center to photograph the official groundbreaking before walking the trail Bill White accompanied them in his motorized scooter. “Bill and I ‘walked’ the trail the other day,” Delaney said. “He did it effortlessly in his scooter and is very enthusiastic about it.”
To prepare for the trail’s construction, the Florida Park Service funded an engineering study to ensure compliance with ADA and other requirements. They also did a gopher tortoise study that required establishing a 25-foot-wide band, curving the trail around gopher tortoises that reside in the Park. With approvals in hand, the Friends began clearing brush and have continued to do most of the construction work. They used donated funds to purchase needed materials. These included four benches and signs they have placed along the path and $12,000 worth of recycled plastic “lumber” they are installing along the borders of the trail. They also hired contractors who staked the trail, marked its footprint and placed a layer a layer of crushed shell/marl along the entire surface. Venice-based Hazeltine Nurseries donated the use of a Ditch Witch and operator to assist in the installation of the landscaping timbers. To allow two wheelchairs to pass easily, they doubled the ADA-required trail width from three to six feet, Delaney said.
“We expect the Lake Osprey Trail to be very well-received, based on the response to the Finley Trail since its creation in 1996. The Finley Trail gets tremendous use because it’s not sandy like most other trails,” Roche said. “It is not used only by disabled people. We see young families with baby strollers, older couples taking a walk and people who just want a comfortable, scenic place to enjoy nature. Now visitors of all ability levels will have the choice of the Lake Osprey Trail and the Lester Finley trail for that old-time natural Florida experience.”