State officials have plans to make Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park shine with new facilities.
Some 51,000 visitors last year came to the park, Jennifer Z. Carver, park planner for Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said recently as those plans were made public. The roughly 4,000-acre park hugs the coastline from Port Richey to Hudson.
Planners must find a way to increase public access to the park without trampling the breeding grounds of rare wildlife or ruining delicate salt marshes that sustain all types of species.
For the three- to four-dozen residents at the meeting when the park plans were unveiled, the overriding question was when will the park's new main entrance finally open.
Soon, replied state officials.
Work first began in April 2008 on the main entrance, which is off U.S. 19 north of Ridge Road, and other improvements.
It's difficult to pinpoint an exact date when the main entrance road, which has been fenced off for years, will open, park ranger Christine Dorrier said. Planners must finish a sign for the entrance and then obtain a permit to install it.
It's possible the long anticipated opening could come by the end of the year.
Some $470,000 is available for park improvements, said Ezell Givens, assistant bureau chief of Florida Park Service.
"We have that money in the bank," Givens told the audience. However, another $300,000 is needed to finish the enhancements.
For the southern portion of the park, in the Port Richey area, planners envision a paved parking lot for the main, day-use area. Walkways and boardwalks are in the works along with a playground, restrooms, picnic facilities and space for potential rental concession stands.
An elevated observatory remains among goals as well as more signs and trail markings. The main entrance could gain a ranger station.
For the northern section, near Hudson, planners want to improve the Black Rail Trailhead and add an elevated overlook. Restrooms and picnic facilities appear in plans. Two residence sites for staff and volunteers are under consideration.
A second canoe and kayak launch is envisioned for the northern part of the park. Planners also want more room for a primitive campsite on Hope Bayou, which is west of Senate Manor.
Preserving natural resources remains a top priority. The park has two artesian springs, Salt Spring and Cauldron Spring.
The park shields some 4 miles of undisturbed coastline with breeding habitats for several rare bird species. Also on site is a historic salt works dating from the mid-19th century.