By Steve Plunkett
The city and its consultant will work up a plan to restore the canoe trails and rebuild the boardwalk at Rutherford Park, but will drop an idea to add boat ramps for now.
“There’s universal demand for opening up these canoe trails there, for opening up, reopening the boardwalk, making it safe again, making it usable,” City Council member Jeremy Rodgers said at the council’s April 9 workshop. “I don’t see a driving need to decide what goes on this green blob here that could be either more paths or future boat ramps.”
The green blob was on a map Jennifer Bistyga, the city’s coastal program manager, prepared where she and consultant Applied Technology and Management Inc. proposed building two double-boat ramps. That idea sank at a Feb. 26 public outreach meeting when residents came out in force against it.
Bistyga said 100 attendees signed in at the outreach and 87 filled out a city survey: 86 said they were Boca Raton residents and 52 said they owned a boat; 32 boat owners said they had bought a pass to use the launch area at Silver Palm Park.
Asked whether they would use the proposed boat ramp at Rutherford Park, 16 said yes, one said maybe, 56 said no. The survey takers’ primary concerns were traffic on Federal Highway, boat trailers entering and leaving the park and boaters conflicting with other park users.
Fifty-five of those surveyed owned a kayak or canoe (24 did not), and of them, 56 said they would use a kayak/canoe trail at the park, 51 would use a kayak trail launch area, 55 would use the restroom if one were built and 20 would like a launch area giving nonmotorized craft access to the Intracoastal Waterway.
In other areas, 44 people said they currently use Rutherford Park, 71 said they would use the boardwalk if it is renovated and 72 said they would use a proposed pedestrian trail. Bistyga called the last two responses “a strong overwhelming yes.”
Respondents were also questioned on the Silver Palm boat ramp downtown. Forty-four said they currently use the ramp. And if a boat ramp were built at Rutherford, it would be the preferred launch area for nine people; eight people said they would use both it and Silver Palm; 35 said they would prefer Silver Palm.
Asked if they would like to see the Silver Palm ramp converted to some other use if ramps were built at Rutherford, 61 said no.
Mayor Susan Haynie, who attended the outreach session, called it “a very passionate crowd.”
“Everyone loves Silver Palm boat ramp. It’s very close to the inlet. It’s just a really special amenity for us,” Haynie said.
Rodgers, colleagues Scott Singer and Andrea O’Rourke and then-council candidate Monica Mayotte also went to the outreach.
Singer was not entirely convinced by Bistyga’s survey. He sent out a survey of his own to 200 people with boat permits and got 57 responses that were “a little bit different than what we saw” in Bistyga’s survey.
Of them, 39 said the city should continue plans to build boat ramps at Rutherford, 11 said no and seven were not sure, he said. He suggested proceeding with Rutherford ramps but promising that the Silver Palm ramps would stay open.
Haynie said trailer traffic at Rutherford was also a concern.
“When people are trailering boats — some in excess of 30 feet — it’s huge vehicles, huge trailers, large boats, and it’s a very, very restricted maneuvering space,” she said.
Bistyga said the city will issue ATM a work order to develop more detailed plans for Rutherford without boat ramps.