A Phase One Feasibility Study is officially underway for McIntosh Park to see if overall water quality management, stormwater treatment and aquifer augmentation could be improved at the 360 acre site.
The city has officially taken the first step to transform McIntosh Park into a state-of-the-art nature preserve that may one day feature one of the most effective water quality controlling wetlands in the state.
The approximately 360-acre park is currently a nature preserve with several mowed trails and a large portion of wetlands and waterways that help improve overall water quality in the area.
For years the current design has helped clean up the water, however, the city believes it may be able to be vastly improved to even further enhance the process. Monday evening commissioners agreed to spend $215,049 for Arcadis, Inc to complete a Phase I Feasibility Study for the property.
“There’s 360 acres and let’s just use general terms. Half of it to the west is upland and half of it to the east is lowlands and wetlands. What we’re exploring is a concept that would turn the eastern portion into about 120 acres of lake or managed wetlands,” McDaniel said. “It would give us the ability to do water quality improvements by settling out nutrients and other contaminants, it would give us the ability to recharge the aquifer by allowing that water to settle through and go through its natural processes to get back to the aquifer and it would give us a place to put reclaimed water.”
The city has a pipeline available that would allow them to easily put reclaimed water back into the water system in times it needs additional water. McDaniel said the fourth benefit of the transformation is it would turn McIntosh into a “fabulous public amenity.”
For the variety of local agriculture farmers surrounding the property — including a fish farm and several strawberry farms — one of the major benefits of a redesign would be improved stormwater control. In heavy rains the city could pull water into the large waterways and hopefully help eliminate some of the excess water off some of the neighboring properties.
“That’s why we’re going through all of these feasibility designs,” McDaniel said. “Will it do all these things? Can we dig a lake? How deep can the lake be and all of that? That whole area out there geographically is a bowl. The terrain, it’s already a collector of water. If we can create a way to manage it better it’s a win-win for everybody.”
The hidden gem of a nature preserve is found along Paul S. Buchman Highway and has already received attention from the state. Soon it will get a makeover thanks to $300,000 from the 2018 State Legislature as well as $300,000 from the city to establish a more than two mile walking trail, a much-needed parking lot, a wildlife viewing platform, informational kiosk and trail educational signage.
The city acquired the land in 1996 and established the current park. In 2004 it was used as a SWFWMD project for stormwater treatment. In 2015 it opened as a passive park for the public to come and enjoy a practically untouched Florida wilderness.
Any construction will be carefully designed to be compatible with the potential results of the feasibility study so the city won’t have to go back and make changes later on down the road once the study is complete. It will need approximately two years of studies to be completed before the project could begin to move to design and construction.
“It’s a multi-year project, but we are already enjoying tremendous support from our state partners, SWFWMD, other agencies and there is interest from the legislature in this project because it hits so many important marks on water, water quaility, water supply and reclaim that we’re getting a lot of interest in it,” McDaniel said. “McIntosh is such a beautiful piece of property that will always be a natural preserve. We just see this tremendous opportunity to do something with it.”
Commissioner Bill Dodson joined McDaniel and Recreation and Parks Director Jack Holland on a tour of the site prior to the vote on the feasibility study Monday evening. They drove the entire 360 acres and Dodson said it was “almost like walking back in time.” He said the city park was a gem in the rough and that he was looking forward to seeing it fulfill its potential.
“I’m trying to manage expectations,” McDaniel said. “This week we took that first step. We’re not going to be building anytime soon. It’s going to take a lot of studies to see if this will work. All told it’s about a $10 million project to do what we’re talking about doing. We’re looking to get a lot of funding from the state. The mighty oak grows from an acorn and right now we’re in the acorn stage. It’s a very exciting project and of course I think when its done the city will end up with a beautiful natural park that all of our residents can enjoy.”