LAKEWOOD RANCH -- While children enrolled in summer camp and soccer camp are enjoying all the amenities Lakewood Ranch Park has to offer, some improvements are underway to keep the park at its best for years to come.
The park on 150 acres off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard between Lakewood Ranch High School and the Lakewood Ranch Y is a big draw for playing tennis, basketball, soccer, racquetball, tee ball, softball, baseball and football year-round.
To ensure fields are in top shape, especially during the Florida rainy season when summer storms can cause extensive flooding, Manatee County is excavating a new 1.25-acre stormwater pond at the park entrance just north of another water retention pond.
In addition, stormwater piping improvements are being made to help collect and keep the flow of water at bay for the surrounding fields and playgrounds. Excavated dirt will be used to build two more parking areas in the future.
These improvements are part of a site plan by Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources for future buildouts as funding becomes available, according to Tom Yarger, construction services manager for the county Property Management Department.
"We try to anticipate what we need to do in the future and, as money becomes available, we'll prioritize what is needed. For now, our first step is to handle additional stormwater in low-lying areas like the parking lot and tennis courts where water can't run through," Yarger said.
The project, which received permit approval by the Southwest Florida Wa
ter Management District, is expected to be completed by the fall. There hasn't been a major improvement project for Lakewood Ranch Park since 2012 expansions were approved for the Braden River Soccer Club and the East Manatee Bulldogs youth football team. Yarger says they have their sights set on long-range facility enhancements.
"We want to add another pavilion, additional restrooms, more parking areas and storage areas for athletics, building equipment and materials. But, for the time being, we are enhancing the existing park with ongoing irrigation repair and replacement, and conducting regular maintenance with new plantings, paint where needed and constant mowing," he said.
The work is not interfering with summer activities at the park, including the Manatee County Summer Blast Camp, whose east county branch is next door, and a camp by UK International Soccer. Coach Stevie De Rossi of Great Britain, who said he enjoys time spent teaching soccer in Florida despite the humidity and afternoon rains, is impressed by the park's well-manicured soccer fields.
"Despite the rain we've been having, the turf is still strong and no marks can be seen anywhere when someone skids," De Rossi said.
One student camper, 10-year-old Chloe Baxter of Parrish, said the location is great.
"Where I played before, they had holes in the ground and kids broke their ankles," Baxter said. "This is really nice grass and it helps make my game a lot easier."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.com