The long awaited feasibility study for recreational uses of the Weekiwachee Preserve has been completed. The study determined that recreational features and facilities are possible, and an initial cost estimate has been provided by Fender Marine Construction, Inc. for $808,898, which includes initial design, 56 feet of prefabricated footbridge, three 10’ x 12’ picnic shelters, five 15’ x 27’ picnic pavilions with concrete floors, and a prefabricated ‘EZ Dock’ kayak launch.
The feasibility study was approved in February 2022 and cost $65,000, funded by park impact fees.
The proposed project is called the Shoal Line Boulevard Recreation Area and has seen many variations throughout the years.
Two public information meetings were held on May 25 and June 21, 2022. With the release of the study, a “Town Hall” area of the Hernando County website was opened for public comment. The majority of the 218 comments that were collected online oppose the recreational development of the preserve.
The common theme of the comments are — that by its very name, the Weekiwachee Preserve is not to be frequented by humans and their sporting equipment.
Included with the Feasibility Study, is a 1997 Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) Preserve Management Plan that shows recreational use of the area has previously been considered. “It is the policy of the District (Board Policy 610-3) that appropriate public recreational usage of District lands be permitted, provided that the usage is compatible with water resource management and protection needs,” states the 1997 plan.
The plan also states, “Permitted recreational uses of the Preserve will include hiking, bicycling, fishing, swimming, picnicking, birdwatching, nature interpretation, canoeing, and boating use by small craft that lack internal combustion engines. The preserve will also be made available for environmental education.”
According to the study, approximately 60 acres of the 7000+ Weekiwachee Preserve, or less than 1 percent will be improved. Development will be split into two phases, the first being the creation of a beach area with a designated picnic spot and swimming area along the northernmost lake. This area will also be used for fishing, and kayaking. A composite boardwalk will extend from the parking area, southward to the beach area, and throughout greenspace east.
The second phase will include improvements to existing pathways, and new paths constructed around natural areas. The goal is to invite “passive recreation opportunities.” No cost estimate was available for this phase.