By Martie Thompson
St. Johns County is getting closer to developing four regional parks in the northern part of the county. St. Johns County Parks and Recreation is collaborating with sports architecture and planning firm OSPORTS, along with its partners Catalyst Design Group, CHW Professional Consultants, and Perez Planning + Design, to develop a master plan for multiple future county parks as an operation of the “Parks and Recreation Master Plan,” which evaluated the needs and priorities of the county and was last updated in 2019.
According to St. Johns County Parks and Recreation Director Ryan Kane, his department is in the process of gathering data from the community about wants and needs for the new parks. This is being accomplished by an online survey as well as a community meeting, which was held in Ponte Vedra Beach in early January. Next, the data will be evaluated and ultimately presented to the county’s Recreation Advisory Board.
St. Johns County already owns the 163 acres of new parkland in consideration, spread across four sites: Northwest Park, off of Greenbriar Road (63 acres); Silverleaf Park (40 acres) and Shearwater Park (10 acres), which are near the communities with the same names; and Nocatee Park (50 acres) located north of Nocatee Parkway.
Kane said that approximately 50 – 60 people attended the community meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach and that they are hopeful to schedule a meeting in the Northwest as well.
“The online survey has been a major component of our data gathering,” Kane said. “As of Jan. 10, we have already had 1,600 responses.”
The survey (https://ppd.mysocialpinpoint.com/st-johns-county-four-county-parks/st-johns-county-four-county-parks-page-1/) asks respondents to prioritize, from a list, the amenities that they would prefer at each park location. Options range from multipurpose fields and baseball/softball fields to playgrounds, off-road biking trails, disc golf, and a skate park, among others.
Kane said that the goal is to come up with a Master Plan to present to the Recreational Advisory Board, probably at a public meeting in March. Although construction will likely be phased due to financial constraints, at the end of the process the goal is to look at the four parks together so that hopefully all needs and wants are met. He pointed out that there will likely be some duplication of the most popular amenities.
In addition to the survey and community meeting, the Parks and Recreation Department has met with each county commissioner to learn what they had heard from their constituents. Kane said there had also been a stakeholders’ meeting with the various youth sports organizations, including Creeks Athletic Association, Florida Elite, and Ponte Vedra Athletic Association, for their feedback.
“A lot of our parks are built just for youth sports,” Kane said. “While that is important, we have a simultaneous great need for a full component of assets in addition to meet the needs of the community. The youth sports organizations support us in this.”
Kane said they’d like to model the four new regional parks after Treaty Park, located off State Road 207 in St. Augustine, which has a variety of assets and activities.
“Treaty Park is busy all day,” he said. “For instance, during the day there could be people playing pickleball, utilizing the dog park, walking on the trails … and then still have multipurpose fields for youth sports in the evenings.”
Presently, there is $14.5 million approved funding for all the parks, but Kane said that is just a beginning of the total amount that will be needed. Phased construction over the course of a number of years will be necessary due to funding needs. He said that prioritization decisions will be guided by finances and public opinion.
“Our goal is to make these parks community assets,” Kane said. “We have a generational opportunity and we need to get these right and meet what the community wants.”
Photo courtesy St. Johns County Parks and Recreation
Aerial view of the location of four new parks in St. Johns County.