Okeeheelee Park Wins Venue of the Year From the Florida Sports Foundation

The Florida Sports Foundation, which is the official sports promotion and development organization for the State of Florida, recognized one of Palm Beach County’s premier parks during the annual Florida Sports Summit. The Florida Sports Foundation presented its annual awards to recognize Florida communities and sports commissions for their efforts to cultivate sports tourism in Florida. The awards were presented at the annual Florida Sports Summit, which was held November 8-10.

Okeeheelee Park, which is a Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation venue, has been named the 2021 “Large Market Venue of the Year” by the Florida Sports Foundation. This award is presented annually to Florida’s small, mid, and large market venues that excel in fostering sports development while creating tourism impacts within the state.

Okeeheelee Park is one of the largest parks in south Florida, which covers over 1700 acres. Okeeheelee Park is a catch-all for traditional and action sports. One of the most versatile venues in Palm Beach County, Okeeheelee Park includes eight tennis courts, six pickleball courts, five lighted youth baseball diamonds, four lighted softball diamonds, and four lighted multi-purpose fields that are ideal for soccer, lacrosse, football, rugby, and more. Okeeheelee Park not only contains a 27-hole public championship golf course; it is also one of the few venues in the region with an 18-hole course for disc golf. Five expansive water-skiing lakes allow for professional water-skiing competitions. One of the nation’s premier cable wakeboarding facilities, Shark Wave Park, also resides within Okeeheelee Park. The site also features a premier equestrian venue in the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center and the top-ranked BMX track in Florida, Okeeheelee BMX.

Okeeheelee Park was a launching pad for sports tourism recovery in The Palm Beaches. The Palm Beach County Sports Commission and Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation partnered to host a diverse collection of sports events at Okeeheelee Park over the past year. The first youth sports tournament to take place in Palm Beach County, during a post-Covid-19 era, happened at Okeeheelee Park through baseball. During the year, a variety of youth baseball events, girls fastpitch softball tournaments, soccer showcases, and tennis contests filled the venue while providing an economic and tourism benefit to The Palm Beaches. Okeeheelee Park was also home to a national BMX event in addition to professional and amateur water ski events. The Jim Brandon Equestrian Center hosted national equestrian showjumping events and provided a stage for the Kids Fitness Festival of the Palm Beaches, which introduces Palm Beach County’s youth to a variety of sports.

“The Palm Beach County Sports Commission and Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation have an incredible partnership, which sparked a sports tourism recovery in The Palm Beaches,” said George Linley, Executive Director of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission. “Okeeheelee Park is one of Florida’s most comprehensive and resourceful venues with a sprawling footprint that is a setting for a multitude of sports. Together, the Palm Beach County Sports Commission and Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation utilized Okeeheelee Park to deliver sports tourism products over the past year. We are extremely grateful to the Florida Sports Foundation for recognizing Okeeheelee Park as Florida’s Large Market Venue of the Year.”

“I am very honored that Okeeheelee Park was selected as Sports Venue of the Year by the Florida Sports Foundation,” said Eric Call, Director, Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department. “The park was master-planned in the ’70s-’80s as Palm Beach County’s central park and designed to offer recreation and sports opportunities for both amateur and professional athletes. We’re very proud of the relationship we have established with the Palm Beach County Sports Commission and look forward to collaborating on many more events at Okeeheelee Park in the future.”

Parks for Pollinators Bioblitz

PBC Parks participated in the national Parks for Pollinators campaign, which was aimed at raising public awareness of the importance of pollinators and positioning parks as national leaders in advancing pollinator health. Organized by the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA), the Parks for Pollinators BioBlitz event was held during the month of September.

We created a project – named Parks for Pollinators 2021: Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation – in the iNaturalist app, which was shared with NRPA and added to the national campaign. Participants used the iNaturalist app and website to record and identify observations of various plant and animal pollinators found in parks, natural areas, backyards, and other locations throughout the county.

The PBC Parks project recorded about 1,500 observations with more than 500 species identified. More than 200 identifiers and nearly 250 observers participated using the iNaturalist app.

“I really enjoyed looking for as many pollinators as possible in the one-month span. I know I definitely won’t stop looking for them any time soon!” said Mikie Green, PBC Parks Volunteer.

Mikie was recognized with observing the most species in the county during the event on iNaturalist (username coolcrittersyt), with over 80 species of pollinators.

Parks play a key role in protecting and preserving pollinators and their habitats, and BioBlitz events are designed to create a literal snapshot of plants, insects and animals to see what wildlife is present in local parks. The activity not only let participants safely explore their local parks and learn more about the species through the iNaturalist mobile app, the information gathered also provided specific data on the species located in the parks — which can help park and recreation professionals manage those spaces for biological diversity and build ecological resilience. 

In addition to featuring the project on PBCParks.com, BioBlitz activities were conducted at events, like the “Palm Beach County Library System Park(ing) Day”, in order to provide the community with more ways to understand the importance of pollinators and their impact on the environment.

Palm Beach County International Coastal Cleanup 2021

On September 18, Adopt-A-Park Partners collected over 1,400lbs of trash at county-operated beaches and parks as part of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), a global awareness day that began in 1986 by Ocean Conservancy to remove trash from the world’s beaches and waterways. Our partners came out via foot, paddle and SCUBA to host seven cleanups, enlisting over 400 volunteers. The ICC is also an opportunity to educate the community about how plastics and waste impact their environments and how they can make a positive difference by reducing, reusing and recycling every day.  

A huge amount of gratitude goes out to all of our partners and those who participated and contributed to the success of the ICC. Special thanks to the following participating Adopt-A-Park Partners who made a difference during the ICC: Loxahatchee River Center, Visit Palm Beach/Palm Beach Eco-tourism Association, Beach Bucket Foundation, Pura Vida Divers, Nautical Ventures, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, Lake Osbourne Estates Homeowners Association and the Caloosa Cleanup Crew.

A monthly clean up host, The Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute was able to hosts their largest cleanup to date with 62 volunteers. They removed 160lbs of garbage—a new record for our partner. Loxahatchee River Center adopted Coral Cove Park this day and removed over 100lbs from the shoreline with the help of almost 90 volunteers of all ages. Meanwhile, Visit Palm Beach/Palm Beach Eco-tourism Association and the Beach Bucket Foundation held a collaborative effort at Ocean Reef Park, removing over 600lbs from the beach with almost 150 volunteers—an outstanding effort leaving our beaches pristine and trash free that weekend.

At Phil Foster Park, our long-term Adopt-A-Park partner, Pura Vida Divers, hosted a land and water cleanup under the Blue Heron Bridge. A team of divers from Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office came out to support this event and helped remove litter that was created from a vessel that had previously polluting the waterways. Pura Vida hosted 49 volunteers and removed 155lbs of garbage. Nautical Ventures organized a paddle cleanup around Peanut Island with 28 volunteers and removed nearly 200lbs of garbage from the Island and surrounding waterways. In John Prince Park, Lake Osborne Estates Homeowners Association came together and cleaned around the trails and shoreline of Lake Osborne, removing 111lbs of litter.

Special thanks to Keep Palm Beach County Beautiful, Inc. for championing this event each year, encouraging organizations to host or participate in organized cleanups and for providing supplies and t-shirts to participants.

You can help keep PBC Parks’ beaches and parks clean by becoming an Adopt-A-Park partner, a program that gives participants a sense of park ownership and an outlet to give back to the community by maintaining parks, beaches, and trails through picking up litter, maintaining flower beds, painting, and more. You can also join or organize a beach cleanup. Learn more about volunteering with PBC Parks here: https://discover.pbcgov.org/parks/General/Volunteer.aspx.

Power of Parks: Sandi Schwartz

Welcome to Power of Parks, a podcast produced by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, where we share inspiring stories from people who have benefited from nature, parks, and recreation.

Episode 19 features Sandi Schwartz — a Palm Beach County resident and author of “Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer.” She’s also a passionate environmentalist, and spent years working in the environmental field and she’s dedicated to helping others recognize the ways nature can help minimize stress and increase happiness.

History Comes Alive: Medical Instruments

History Comes Alive at Loxahatchee River Battlefield Park features different topics from reenactors at the annual Battlefield Reenactment event. On this episode, Robert Feeney portrays Edward Frederick Leitner, a Military Surgeon during the first Battle of the Loxahatchee. Feeney displays and discusses a number of medical instruments used during the Second Seminole War.