By Steve Plunkett 

    In a word, visitors to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center want more. 

    As in, “more from the center as well as at the center,” Judy Gire said while presenting a five-year strategic plan for Gumbo Limbo to the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District. 

    Gire, treasurer of the nonprofit Friends of Gumbo Limbo, said a majority of 120 respondents in a survey wanted expanded exhibits, expanded rehabilitation of sea turtles, the addition of a touch tank and perhaps a social venue at the educational facility. 

    When it came to limitations, “parking was unfortunately the No. 1 issue,” Gire said. 

    Gire and Michele Peel, the Friends president, joined Gumbo Limbo manager Stefanie Ouellette and city Recreation Services Deputy Director Buddy Parks 18 months ago to develop “a guidebook for the future.” 

    Among the committee’s goals: keeping Gumbo Limbo’s grounds open from dawn to dusk by 2015 and keeping the facilities open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. by 2017. 

    Gumbo Limbo was originally designed with schoolchildren in mind, Ouellette said. 

    “We have an expanded visitorship now” including people who want to go to Gumbo Limbo after work, she said. 

    The group also wants double the number of participants in camp programs and increase the number of turtle walks and hatchling release programs. 

    “Just like hatchlings return to their natal beaches after decades away, we’re finding folks that came to one of these programs as a child coming back now, 20-some years later, and bringing their children because they want their children to experience the same wonders of nature,” Peel said. 

    Also on the five-year wish list is a backup classroom for up to 120 campers on rainy days. 

    Parks said the committee took the survey, conducted workshops and focus groups to refine the results and drew up its plan before looking at a similar effort done nine years ago. 

    That 2004 plan “listed the same exact components that were needed, that were recommended for the facility,” Parks said. “It blew us away to see the similarities—one, more space, two, more staff.” 

    The beach and park district funds the city-owned Red Reef Park, which includes Gumbo Limbo. The committee hopes the district will consider its findings as it develops a master plan for the park. 

    Beach and park commissioners happily accepted the strategic approach. 

    “It was difficult to go forward with that [2004] plan because rather than a strategic plan, it was a site plan with construction of facilities, additions and numbers — it was all quantitative,” Commissioner Earl Starkoff said. “This is a whole new process. … I think most of this is going to come to fruition over time.”

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