EAST MANATEE -- Plans for the expansion of Fort Hamer Park are under way, including adding more parking to the east.
Manatee County planners have until Feb. 28 to review the proposed changes, said principal planner Barney Salmon.
The project includes expanding and paving the boat trailer parking area east of Fort Hamer Road, adding vehicle and handicapped-accessible parking, lighting, irrigation and landscaping, and constructing required dry retention areas, said Charlie Hunsicker, county director of Parks and Natural Resources.
Use of Fort Hamer Park has increased sharply since Manatee County improved it and added an 8,000-square-foot boathouse to store racing sculls in 2011.
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Some of the best collegiate rowing teams in the United States now use Fort Hamer Park for winter training.
Legendary Harvard rowing coach Harry Parker said he was impressed by the rapid development of Fort Hamer Park, and accurately predicted before his death many more teams would coming to the facility to train.
Project documents are to be released for bid this week, with a projected March 30 bid opening. Construction is expected to take 180 days. The anticipated cost is about $900,000, Hunsicker said.
A future project in the works would increase the single ramp to a double boat ramp.
"We have seen a significant increase in public enjoyment of the grounds, public boat ramp and the rowing center, commensurate with the growing interest in recreational and competitive rowing and population growth in the Parrish communities. The only problem we foresee in the near future is accommodating increased popularity as growth continues and the new bridge across the Manatee River is completed while working to maintain the true 'old Florida' feel of Fort Hamer Park," Hunsicker said.
Public demand for active recreational play areas, open space and river trails will be met with construction and environmental improvements at Hidden Harbor Park and Preserve directly across from Fort Hamer Park over the next four years.
"We will keep an open dialogue with several representatives of Parrish homeowner associations who have expressed interest to incorporate even more activities in the fourth year of improvements and beyond, as funding permits, to create a destination place for passive recreation and play at Hidden Harbor," Hunsicker said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.