$2.5 million park to open in Sebastian next year

SEBASTIAN Barbara Zingman is eager to show her friends around a massive oasis in the middle of town.

The Sebastian resident joined about 30 other bundled-up volunteers on a blustery Friday morning to finalize construction of the 166-acre Sebastian Stormwater Park. They planted more than 750 stabilizing plants, shrubs and plugs of grass around its ponds and other areas.

"I got my hands dirty and I helped create it," Zingman said of the $2.5 million park. "I'll be bringing my friends here to go walking."

The heavily wooded park, south of Englar Drive and west of Caprona Street, could open officially to the public in a year. Until then, St. Johns River Water Management District officials will monitor the park and make sure its water pumps are working and its ponds and wetlands are removing pollutants as they should.

The ponds and wetlands will filter pollution out of water pumped from the adjacent Collier Creek, which collects storm water from more than 1,000 acres of the Sebastian Highlands and connects to the St. Sebastian River and Indian River Lagoon. The cleaned water then will be returned to the creek.

Late next year, St. Johns will turn over the park's maintenance to Sebastian officials, who also will decide whether to add new recreational features. Currently, the park has more than two miles of hiking trails, and grassy berms around the ponds could serve as picnic spots.

Photo
SARAH GRILE sarah.grile@scripps.com

Jim Gallagher of Sebastian jokes with his wife, Judy, while planting plugs of grass that will help stabilize the shoreline of a pond at the Sebastian Stormwater Park on Friday. The park's ponds and wetlands will filter pollution from water pumped out of Collier Creek, which collects stormwater from more than 1,000 acres of the Sebastian Highlands and connects to the St. Sebastian River and Indian River Lagoon. The cleaned water then will be returned to the creek.

The city's main park task will be keeping the berms mowed, but city officials don't yet know what the annual mowing cost will be. City Manager Al Minner visited the park Friday and said installing benches, and allowing people to walk their dogs on the trails and to canoe or kayak on the ponds are some recreational issues that might be considered.

"I'm sure we'll take a good hard look at making it the best it can be," he said of the park.

St. Johns Project Manager Ralph Brown said while the park won't open officially until late next year, many people including some with dogs already have walked along its trails.

Zingman's husband, Bruce, also helped to install plants at the park Friday. He said the volunteer planters included residents of Sebastian, Vero Beach, Roseland and Little Hollywood.

"It's just a gorgeous area in the middle of Sebastian," he said. "I didn't believe it was this big."

The planting work marked the end of the park's construction. The project began five years ago, but most of the time since then has been used to obtain various permits. The actual construction took about a year and a half, St. Johns officials said.

OASIS IN SEBASTIAN

What: Sebastian Stormwater Park.

Size: 166 acres, about the same size as the Sebastian Municipal Golf Course. The park includes three ponds, the largest of which covers 21 acres.

Where: Bounded by Collier Creek to the west and south, Englar Drive to the north and Caprona Street to the east. Entrance is on the south side of Englar Drive, just east of South Easy Street.

Function: The park's ponds and wetlands will filter storm water from Collier Creek, then clean water will be returned to the creek. They'll remove an estimated 80 percent total nitrogen and 56 percent of total phosphorus both from fertilizers and 79 percent of sediments and suspended solids from the water.

Recreation: There are more than 2 miles of hiking trails. Berms around the ponds can be used for picnics and bird watching. The city later might add benches and allow people to walk their dogs there.

Preservation: Park includes several stands of live oak, as well as many gopher tortoises and scrub jays.

Opening: About a year from now.

Cost: $2.5 million in state and federal money.

Managers: The park will be overseen by the St. Johns River Water Management District for the next year, then the district will turn over its maintenance to the city.

Last Modified: Sunday, March 15, 2015