Michael and Clara Klein were the first two visitors to Boca Raton’s newest waterfront park, walking by just as a park ranger unlocked the pedestrians-only gate at Ocean Strand Park during its ‘soft opening’ Feb. 27. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
Ocean Strand offers A1A walkers an inviting retreat
*By Steve Plunkett
There was no music, no loudspeakers, no ribbon to be cut.
With almost no fanfare, Ocean Strand Park welcomed its first patrons on Feb. 27.
Clara and Michael Klein, who live on Sweetwater Lane just north of the park, were on their daily walk and became the park’s first visitors at about 9:30 a.m.
“There was a ranger opening the gate,” Michael Klein said.
“And I said I think they’re finally open,” said his wife.
“It’s pretty nice. It really completes this park system, I think,” Michael Klein said.
“We love it,” Clara Klein said, adding that the two benches on the Intracoastal Waterway were her favorites. “To me, anything looking at water is ideal.”
For the park’s first day, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District removed its “No Trespassing” signs and unlocked the pedestrians-only gate alongside State Road A1A. An official ribbon-cutting will be scheduled later.
An asphalt path leads from A1A to a picnic area about halfway into the 13.2-acre site. From there, a mulch path goes down to a second picnic table and a sandy kayak landing area with the benches on the Intracoastal. Another asphalt path connects the picnic area to the existing paved road as an alternate route to the Intracoastal shore for bicyclists and for people with disabilities.
“We are excited to see it opened up and with all the foot traffic on A1A, I anticipate lots of people enjoying the park,” said Briann Harms, the district’s executive director.
Still to come are signs identifying the parcel, located south of Spanish River Park and north of the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, as a park. The district will also install 300 feet of split-rail fence on the property west of A1A as repairs and additions, and 600 feet of new fencing east of A1A to block unwanted all-terrain vehicles from the ocean dunes.
Harms told commissioners at their Feb. 6 meeting that the $30,685 in fencing was needed.
“We are having some issues on the eastern portion of Ocean Strand with ATVs and motorbikes accessing the dune so we’d like to add split-rail fence on that side,” she said. “That obviously has to go through permitting and get surveyed and all that.”
Slow permitting by the city building department is partly why the park’s signs are not in the ground yet, Harms said. The city’s switch to a new electronic system meant some permit tasks in the transition needed to be input manually, she said.
Even before the park opened, Commissioner Craig Ehrnst told his colleagues it was time to give consideration to Phase 2 of Ocean Strand.
“We need to finish it out. It was a temporary thing that we did and we’ve got to visualize what it will be in the long run,” he said at the district’s Feb. 22 meeting.
“We did it with a let’s-just-open-it, let’s-just-put-a-pathway-down-there, and it turned into a massive, long-term project for a very limited usage,” he said. “There’s no parking; there’s no restrooms; there’s no shelter. There’s a big open area that could be useful as some kind of [playing] field. I think that’s got to be on the horizon.”
The district bought the land, which includes 3 acres on the beach east of A1A, and two additional parcels for $13.1 million starting in 1994. It banked the property without creating plans to develop it until Commissioner Erin Wright began a push three years ago to open the park.
Commissioners budgeted $75,000 to make Ocean Strand a pedestrian park in September 2020. That amount swelled to $600,000 to add an ADA-compliant path and fully remove exotic plants, then dropped to $300,000 when plans were scaled back after archaeologists there found eight pieces of pottery from 600 to 1,400 years old.
Instead of clearing Brazilian pepper trees and other non-native plants from the entire western tract, crews last September focused on the central portion with extra care for the ancient trash heap.
Also freshening up the site will be new pavement for what was once called Ocean Strand Drive. JJ Morley Enterprises Inc., which is building a three-unit condominium along the Intracoastal just north of the park, paid the district $15,000 for a temporary easement to stage construction equipment and materials, park vehicles and to enter and leave the area. The easement expired Feb. 28. As part of the deal Morley promised to repave the road.