Jacksonville, FL — City Council president Lori Boyer wants more from the big river that slices through the largest city in the state. She wants more restaurants, more trails, more docks, and more boat ramps. She wants more residents and visitors to have access to the river for kayaking, photography, fishing, or whatever floats their boat.
A multi-agency plan to “activate” the St. Johns River is cruising toward the finish line and should be finalized this summer, Boyer said in a public update at city hall May 8.
“There are countless projects being worked on all the time,” she said. “At these meetings, we can only cover a few.”
Boyer also wanted to correct a local community newspaper article where she was quoted saying the river isn’t good for kayaking.
“I did not say that or I did not mean that,” she said. “We have a ton of waterways here, and some are better for one thing than others. I wouldn’t put an inexperienced kayaker in the water at River City Brewing, for example.”
Boyer is referring to an area of the river downtown where there are strong currents. Part of activating the river will be better communication to residents and visitors about what activities are best where.
There are plans to create a phone app to show what’s going on around the river and what skill level is required. There are also plans for an online forum so residents can communicate with each other and officials if, for example, there is damage to a ramp or dock. Videos will be posted on YouTube of offshore reefs that Boyer said rival reefs in the Florida Keys.
Boyer has brought many groups together to coordinate efforts. For example:
- Three council subcommittees have been studying new opportunities for sports, entertainment and non-motorized activities.
- The Parks and Recreation Department has been working on interactive kiosks at what will eventually be up to 10 spots along the river, each reflective of the neighborhood where it’s located. The idea was generated by locals with the American Institute of Architects and Haskell Corp.
- Boyer also has met with the state Department of Transportation to coordinate efforts for new walking and biking paths.
- Hanna Park officials have experimented with “Adaptive Kayaking” to help people with disabilities learn to kayak. They recently had 60 participants including stroke victims and the sight-impaired.
- Surrounding beach towns and advocacy groups, like the Late Bloomers Garden Club and Greenscape of Jacksonville have been included.
Boyer studied the river fronts walkways of Detroit, Augusta, San Antonio, and Ontario, Canada and found Jacksonville’s “cold and sterile” compared to the lush greenery found in other cities.
“What’s missing?” she asked the crowd, after showing pictures of landscaped walkways in other cities, and steel and concrete walkways in Jacksonville.
“People,” one audience member quipped, to laughter.
She’s hoping local groups will help maintain new trees and landscaping which she thinks the city has the budget for.
Boyer’s goal is to have all the plans finalized before the next city budget process.