By Steve Plunkett

A city consultant’s recommendations on undeveloped Ocean Strand and the popular Gumbo Limbo Nature Center caught Beach & Park District officials by surprise.

Kona Gray, of EDSA Inc., which is creating a comprehensive master plan for Boca Raton’s waterfront parks, said the city should make Ocean Strand its No. 5 priority for improvements, after the Wildflower parcel and South Beach, Spanish River and Palmetto Dune parks.

But the city does not own Ocean Strand; the Beach & Park District does.

And at Gumbo Limbo, recommended changes include dismantling the relatively new, $2.3 million saltwater exhibit tanks. The city owns Gumbo Limbo, but the Beach & Park District pays for its upkeep.

District Commissioner Susan Vogelgesang got an update on the Gumbo Limbo plan Dec. 1.

“The smoke was coming out of my ears when the first thing out of their mouths was that they want to destroy the current tanks,” she told fellow commissioners at their following meeting. 

Commission Chairman Robert Rollins agreed. 

“I would not want to do anything to destroy those tanks because we paid a pretty good penny for those not too long ago,” he said.

Gray, who is doing a separate master plan for Gumbo Limbo, was not aware that district officials are “important stakeholders” and that the tanks are only 6 years old, Vogelgesang said.

“I am imploring the city to please include us,” she said.

Commissioner Craig Ehrnst complained that the city still has not rebuilt Gumbo Limbo’s observation tower after insisting in mid-2016 that it, and not the district, should supervise projects there.

“That tower may not mean anything to you if you’ve never been here, but for those like myself who have brought their kids up that tower … it is a big deal to a kid, it’s a big deal to our residents, that makes it unique,” Ehrnst said. “If you want to hire some big consultant to level it and start over again, I don’t think you need to do that.”

Ehrnst questioned whether the district should continue funding Gumbo Limbo 100 percent.

“If the city wants to run it with EDSA, I think they should, and they should pay the bill, too,” he said. 

On Dec. 11, Gray updated City Council members on the comprehensive park plan. 

“We want to thank the Beach & Park District for their input,” he said. “We presented to them … in May and they were very forthright and they gave us some good ideas about how we could make it better. This is with their input.”

EDSA’s concept for Ocean Strand includes a winding entry for cars, parking on grass for about 20 vehicles and a large green space for multiple events. The proposed park would also have a community garden, a botanical garden and a “sunset amphitheater” on the Intracoastal Waterway facing west.

“This existing natural hammock and all the trees that you see here are being saved,” Gray said. “We provided a little lookout pavilion so people can get out to the water. We also provided a non-motorized-boat dock.”

Rollins, who was not at the council’s presentation, was surprised to hear the priority Gray attached to developing Ocean Strand and said the district has no money set aside to build a new park.

“It’s really not on our radar in the immediate future,” Rollins said.

The district’s current commitments include building a new community center at the Swim and Racquet Center, installing artificial turf fields at Patch Reef Park and acquiring the Ocean Breeze golf course.

“That’s enough to keep you awake at night,” Rollins said. 

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