Picnic Paradise -- If You Own a Boat | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Picnic Paradise -- If You Own a Boat

Boaters cruising Broward County's inland waterway system in the past month or so may have noticed the shiny new aluminum docks and freshly landscaped scenery along the north side of the Dania Cutoff Canal. The 3000 feet of shoreline just west of the Ravenswood Boulevard bridge in Dania Beach sports freshly poured concrete walkways and flower beds brimming over with native plants and trees. Picnic tables dot the manicured scenery.

Yeah, the lush new layout is exactly what it resembles -- a park. Only this park has no paved road or parking lot, and the only traffic noise is from the occasional rumble of a jet taking off. The family-friendly picnic destination opened late last month, and as its name makes clear, Boaters Park is strictly for the nautically equipped. Its dirt roads are used only by park maintenance trucks.

The aluminum docks were added right onto the existing concrete sea walls installed by previous landowners, whose houses were bought out in a Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport noise abatement plan and demolished -- except for one, which was turned into the park's office/maintenance building. Two restroom structures were added, as were three large picnic shelters and fourteen concrete pads, as well as sidewalk extensions outfitted with picnic tables and grills.

In designing the narrow, linear park -- which at 100 feet wide totals six acres -- landscape architects left as much of the existing flora as possible but added mangroves and riprap boundaries along the sea wall. Designers also brought in 2000 native trees and plants, which have been divided into several distinct "zones," including a stand of pine scrubland, a grove of sabal palms, another of coconut palms, an oak hollow, and a grouping of mahogany trees. One zone consists of a big stand of bamboo left over from someone's yard.

Boaters Park is a destination on the Broward Urban River Trail loop, which circles from the Dania Cutoff Canal around to the south fork of the New River, then along the New River, and back to the canal. The only other water-access parks in Broward County are Deerfield Island Park in Deerfield Beach and John U. Lloyd Beach State Recreation Area just north of Dania Beach. The new park provides a unique inland stop for boaters, canoeists, and kayakers.

"In Broward there are not a lot of places to go in a boat other than bars and restaurants," notes John Fiore, an associate planner for Broward County's parks division.

The park site was originally developed in the 1950s as a single-family residential neighborhood. It was later purchased by the county and the Federal Aviation Administration to be used for aviation-related businesses. The county's aviation division chose not to allow the public access by land, because the acreage between the nearest road and the rear boundary of the park will eventually be used for industrial aviation work, and the county didn't want the liability of the public driving through it.

"So I came up with the idea of a boaters' park, a destination for boaters," explains Fiore, himself a boater of more than 40 years. He actually thought up the concept in 1994, and after years of bureaucratic wrangling, construction began about a year and a half ago.

"This is, in the 11 years of working for parks, the thing that I'm most proud of," claims Fiore.

He should be. Except for the occasional jumbo jet roaring overhead, the place is a tranquil, hidden retreat for boaters. It's exclusivity to boat owners, however, may be its only drawback. Granted, if not for the park, the public might have had no access at all to the strip of waterfront land. But the county dropped nearly $1.5 million on the project, so how long can it be before non-boat owners start whining?

Rather than bitch and moan, though, those who want to check the place out can always rent or borrow a boat and put in at the public boat ramp about two and a quarter miles west of Boaters Park, near Tugboat Annie's restaurant, 814 NE Third St., Dania Beach. A couple miles of paddling or rowing does wonders for the appetite -- and the attitude.