“Waggin’ at the Waterpark”: Furry Friends frolick at Calypso Bay Waterpark

DSC_9270For one day only, Palm Beach County’s Calypso Bay Waterpark opened up for our residents’ four-legged companions. On October 10, Calypso Bay remained open for residents to bring their dogs – small, medium and large – to cool off from the heat and play in the water. The dogs loved splashing around, playing fetch and chasing their furry friends around! By the end of the event, there were some pretty tired pooches. Staff at Calypso Bay say they plan to hold another similar event at the end of the season next year, which will be advertised beginning in the summer.DSC_9305

Calypso Bay Waterpark is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and is located in Seminole Palms Park at 151 Lamstein Lane in Royal Palm Beach.

Watch the video below for a glimpse of the event (and to see what happens when you put a GoPro on a very happy dog!)

Glades residents dance, bounce and run their way to an active lifestyle at free Family Fun Fest

On October 3, Western Palm Beach County residents – including those living in Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee – enjoyed free activities at the Glades Family Fun Fest at Glades Pioneer Park. The four-hour event allowed residents and kids to get out and get active through dance, bounce houses, rock climbing, oversized hamster balls, and team sports like soccer. A “Health and Wellness Village” also gave residents a chance to get important information regarding their health and wellness, as well as free health screenings and giveaways.

This event was not possible without the support of our partners, who donated their time and resources to help us facilitate health and wellness opportunities for our residents.

Thank you to our sponsors & co-sponsors:

  • 5210 Let’s Go!
  • Florida Health – Palm Beach County
  • Nisbet Enterprises
  • Palm Beach County Fire Rescue
  • Palm Beach County Office of Community Revitalization
  • Palm Beach County Youth Services
  • Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office
  • Palm Healthcare Foundation, Inc.
  • RC Hatton
  • The City of Belle Glade
  • Winn Dixie

We create opportunities for happy, healthy living!

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Project Seahorse: 150 Palm Beach County kids learn to swim, snorkel under Blue Heron Bridge


Courtesy: Dan Volker, Jim Abernathy

The Idea

In 2014, it was not unusual to find avid divers Jim Abernathy and Dan Volker under Blue Heron Bridge in Palm Beach County’s Phil Foster Park. The men regularly dive and take tourists to a stunning area under the bridge, a location world-renowned for diving and snorkeling. Divers and snorkelers are accompanied by a plethora of marine life: seahorses, octopus, schools of exotic fish, and a variety of other plant and animal life that thrive below the surface.

projectseahorse-bhb-52Above the surface, surrounding the men were tourists and residents alike basking in the hot sun and bathing in the blue waters. But, amidst the many people enjoying the beach, Abernathy and Volker noticed something concerning: a number of local residents and children were frolicking in waist-deep water. Curious, the men quickly found out the children didn’t know how to swim.

Living in Florida, they were disappointed to learn that the kids, who are lucky enough to live so close to the ocean, couldn’t take full advantage of their environment. It was a shame, as the kids took such interest in the divers, yet they didn’t have the skills to go beneath the surface to discover the whole new world of exotic marine life that lives just underneath their feet.

On Project Seahorse’s website, the men say that understanding the amazing underwater world “connects to the health of Palm Beach County now, and leads to an explosion in our coastal- and ocean culture-based tourism and related cottage industries….and this series of connections will transform our future.”

It was then, in 2014, that Project Seahorse was born. Its goal: to teach Palm Beach County kids how to swim and snorkel.

Making It Happen

Fast forward a year later, and the spark that started in Abernathy and Volker’s minds and hearts took a giant leap forward. In summer of 2015, Project Seahorse partnered with Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation and the City of Boynton Beach Parks and Recreation – among other private sponsors – to bring this wonderful experience to six separate camps and a total of 150 Palm Beach County children, ages 10 to 15.

Special Facilities Supervisor Joan Hutchinson says the county’s involvement made for a more organized fulfillment of the project, as county employees worked with the men to handle logistics, timeframes, permitting and more. “We took it to Recreation Services and helped them pull together a program that made sense for everyone,” Hutchinson said. More importantly though, Hutchinson added, the county’s support was key in developing community support for Project Seahorse and finding kids who would benefit from learning the skills Abernathy and Volker wanted to teach.

projectseahorse-bhb-13The program began several weeks before a big snorkel trip to Blue Heron Bridge with swim tests and lessons. Jonathan Dickinson, owner of Florida Freedivers, along with some of his staff, spent five days with each camp testing and teaching the children how to swim and snorkel. The little ones learned a variety of skills: from becoming comfortable wearing fins and masks, to the most important, how to breathe through a snorkel.

This was all done in the safety and control of the Palm Beach County Gleneagles Country Club Aquatic Center swimming pool at the CMAA Therapeutic Recreation Complex in John Prince Park in Lake Worth, which remained open for additional hours to accommodate Project Seahorse; the Boynton Beach group used Aqua Crest Pool in Delray Beach. Dickinson and his staff spent approximately 30 hours with the children teaching them the skills they’d need for their open water adventure. Certified water safety instructors from the Therapeutic Recreation Services Section worked with many of the children, helping them strengthen and improve their swimming skills.

“After weekly snorkeling lessons, one amazing outcome of the Project Seahorse program was that each teen improved their swimming levels. Non-swimmers learned to swim, weak swimmers became strong swimmers able to snorkel, and strong swimmers learned how to dive down ten feet under the water and view sea life up close,” said Adrienne Huisman, Palm Beach County Summer Camp Coordinator.

The Big Day

The big day came on August 3. Summer camps from Palm Beach County met at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach. The Boynton Beach kids snorkeled off-shore at an area just off of Boynton Beach. Abernathy and Volker came out in full force – complete with about ten volunteers and gear for the children to use. The volunteers were all diving instructors and each had a group of kids to take under the Blue Heron Bridge.

The children saw fish, octopus, starfish, and seahorses, among other marine life. The campers all loved the experience and were, of course, sad when it was time to leave.  The good thing, though, is that Project Seahorse will be back next year to teach new campers the skill of snorkeling. The children who learned this year can act as mentors for the kids next year.

West Boynton Teen Camp Director Cameron Morris added, “my teens loved the day we snorkeled in the ocean. They wanted more time and were asking if we were going to be able to go next summer.”

More exciting, in summer of 2016, Project Seahorse may be bigger and better – with two days of snorkeling instead of one!

The Phil Foster Park Artificial Reef and Snorkel Trail was completed in August 2012 and is the result of a partnership between Palm Beach County’s Parks and Recreation Department and Department of Environmental Resources Management.

For information about summer camp programs available through the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, visit http://www.pbcgov.com/parks/summercamps.

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Palm Beach County Lifeguards Travel to Daytona Beach for National Competition

It’s a three-day competition Palm Beach County Lifeguards train for year-round – the United States Lifesaving Association’s Nationals. This year, PBC Ocean Rescue sent eight of its best Lifesavers to run, lift and swim their way to the prize at this year’s USLA Nationals in Daytona Beach.

On August 6th thru 8th, the eight PBC Ocean Rescue members joined about a thousand competitors from around the nation work with specialized equipment in both open- and age-group competitions to show off their ocean rescue skills. This year’s events included American and International Iron Man and Woman, Run-Swim-Run, Taplin Relay, Landline Rescue, and others; one or more PBC Ocean Rescue team members entered in 12 of the 14 events.

Among the 49 teams who competed, PBC Ocean Rescue placed DSC_3036 copy-USLA-1-228th – a feat they still remain proud of, as this year, the team was smaller than in previous years. “We’re really proud of how our small but mighty team did this year,” said North County Training Officer Rob Rogerson.  In past years, Palm Beach County has had the honor of placing first in nationals– two times.

According to Steve Kaes, South County Ocean Rescue Training Officer and a competitor, one of the biggest rewards from this competition is the teambuilding it encourages among members. North and South County Ocean Rescue members don’t often get the chance to work together, so this event gives them the opportunity to get to know their fellow lifeguards and work with them, moving 300-pound boats and lifting 50-pound surf skis, among other tasks.

However, perhaps the most important goal of this competition is what every Ocean Rescue member strives to do – help save lives. Training for the USLA local, regional and national competitions ensure the lifeguards are always in top shape when duty calls. The events serve as an exhibition of skills for the competitors, and while the specialized equipment used for the events would not necessarily be used for real-life rescues, working with the higher-grade equipment does allow for more specialized knowledge and increased expertise when working with actual lifesaving equipment.

Nautica2015USLA_083The competitors volunteer their time and pay entry fees to compete; Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue is proud of all its competitors this year.

Congratulations to Tiffany LaCasse, who teamed with Jen Noonan of Pompano Beach Patrol to place third in the women’s Open Surf Rowing Final, the overall best rating for PBC Ocean Rescue at this year’s competition.

Also, congratulations to Tiffany LaCasse and Keshia Pinault, who teamed with two guards from other agencies and placed 13th in the women’s Taplin Relay Finals; to Chase Robertson and Keshia Pinault who competed in International Ironman, Surf Ski, Paddleboard, and Run-Swim-Run, and just missed the finals for those competitions; to Tom O’Connor, who placed high in the semi-final in Swim and Run-Swim-Run; to Steve Kaes, Keisha Pinalt, Russ Geweiler and Tom O’Connor, who were in the se
mi-finals in the Line Pull; to Steve Kaes and Russ Geweiler, who were in the semi-finals in the Open Men’s Row; and to Steve Kaes, Rob Rogerson and Dan Barnickel, who competed with distinction in multiple age group events including: Doubles Row, Rescue Race, Surf Swim, Rescue Board, Run-Swim-Run, Surf Ski, Taplin Relay; and International and American Ironman.

“We learned so much from this event. Rules and equipment standards have changed.Nautica2015USLA_015 So have many race strategies and tactics. With the new equipment we have ordered and budgeted combined with knowledge of our veterans and the enthusiastic younger guards, we expect many more of our department’s guards to join next year’s competition team. Our USLA PBC Chapter fundraisers raised enough in donations to reimburse $150 to each competitor to help offset travel costs and entry fees. We hope to do even better next year,” said Rogerson, who calls this year’s team a “young and growing team.”

On October 27th, PBC Ocean Rescue members will have the opportunity to compete in the Peanut Island Row and Paddle Race. Spectators can cheer from the sidelines as the competitors make their way around the Island.

Photo credit: Candi LaCasse

Gramercy Park Officially Opens with Community Celebration

OnGramercy-Park-Ribbon-Cutting Saturday, August 15, District 7 Commissioner Priscilla Taylor and Palm Beach County officials joined with Gramercy Park residents to celebrate the grand opening of Gramercy Park with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, community get-together, and barbecue. A local DJ entertained the residents while the children hopped to the beats in a bounce house and enjoyed their new playground. Former District 7 Commissioner Addie Greene, the visionary of the park, was in attendance and the Sheriff’s Police Athletic League gave tennis demonstrations to dozens of excited children and adults.

“Providing for youth enrichment, trails, and open space are essential services of our Parks and Recreation Department,” said Commissioner Taylor. “Gramercy Park will have a positive impact on children and adults of all ages in this community.”

GramercyGramercy-Park-Junior-Tennis Park is the county’s newest neighborhood park and is located at 5615 Parke Avenue in West Palm Beach. The 1.89-acre park includes three junior tennis courts, two age-appropriate children’s play areas featuring a slide, climbing structures, and an ADA-accessible Omnispinner designed for collaborative play. The park also includes a .12-mile walking trail, an open grass play field, benches, and a bicycle rack. Future plans include a community center building.

Gramercy Park was developed by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department in partnership with the Office of Community Revitalization, and the Gramercy Park community, as part of the Countywide Community Revitalization Team (CCRT) in response to the surrounding community’s request for a safer place for youth to play.

Fullerton Island Officially Opens in Jupiter

Fullerton Island ribbon-cutting
(front row) SFWMD Governing Board Member Melanie Peterson, Jupiter Councilmember Todd Wodraska, Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal R. Valeche, Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana, Jupiter Mayor Karen Golonka, Parks and Recreation Director Eric Call, FDOT Environmental Scientist David Bogardus; (backrow). FIND Commissioner Charles Isiminger, Environmental Resources Management Director Rob Robbins, County Administrator Bob Weisman, Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus.

On Monday, June 8, District I Commissioner Hal Valeche hosted the grand opening of Palm Beach County’s latest restoration project, the 12-acre Fullerton Island, located in the Town of Jupiter. Commissioner Valeche was joined by Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana, Jupiter Mayor Karen Golonka, Parks and Recreation Director Eric Call, and other state and local partners, to officially open the public-use facilities at the recently-restored Fullerton Island. More than 50 attendees enjoyed a brief boat ride across the Intracoastal Waterway to the island for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The island features public-use amenities which include picnic tables, a shade shelter, an informational kiosk, and a six-slip, day-use dock. On the island, 5.12 acres of mangrove habitat was preserved, 0.54 acres of mangrove and 4.23 acres of seagrass habitat was created, 1.07 acres of upland hardwood hammock infested with invasive nonnative vegetation was restored, and an additional 0.30 acres of hammock habitat was created.

Funding partners include Palm Beach County, the Town of Jupiter, Florida Inland Navigation District, Florida Department of Transportation, and South Florida Water Management District. View the Project Fact Sheet: http://www.co.palm-beach.fl.us/erm/downloads/pdf/projectfactsheets/FullertonIslandfs.pdf

See more photos in our Facebook album.

FIND check presentation
Florida Inland Navigation District Commissioner Charles Isiminger and Assistant Executive Director Janet Zimmerman, presented a check for $794,030 for the Fullerton Island Restoration Project to County Commissioner Hal R. Valeche.

Nine Miles of Equestrian Trails Officially Open in Okeeheelee Park

exploring the trail system on horseback
County officials joined together with the local horse community to officially open more than 9 miles of equestrian trails in Okeeheelee Park on Sunday, May 31.

On Sunday, May 31, Palm Beach County officially opened more than nine miles of new equestrian trails in Okeeheelee Park South with an early morning ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by Commissioner Paulette Burdick. Among the nearly 100 attendees were about 50 who participated in the event on horseback.

“Palm Beach County has historically been an agricultural and equestrian community, and this project furthers our commitment to support our history and to provide top-notch horseback riding experiences for local equestrian enthusiasts,” said Commissioner Burdick.

Development of the trails included extensive removal of exotic vegetation. The resulting scenic system of equestrian trails offers equestrians a unique opportunity to experience nine distinct local ecosystems: basin marsh, depression marsh, dome swamp, hydric hammock, lakes and ponds, mesic flatwoods, prairie hammock, wet flatwoods, and wet prairie.

“This restoration project eliminates intrusive exotics and also preserves and enhances nine different ecosystems that our children and our grandchildren can learn about and enjoy,” said Commissioner Burdick.

Conceptual Master Plan - Okeeheele Park South
Conceptual Master Plan – Okeeheele Park South

Joining the commissioner were Parks and Recreation Director Eric Call and Peggy Kovacs, an original member of the former Okeeheelee Park Citizens Advisory Committee who served alongside Dr. Jim Brandon, for whom the Equestrian Center is named. Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Commissioner Burdick aboard a Palomino named Sonny led the inaugural ride through the new trails.

The park’s master plan includes additional hiking and biking trails, which are well underway, and a canoe/kayak launch. Additional amenities include a playground, restrooms, and picnic facilities.

Okeeheelee Park and Jim Brandon Equestrian Center are operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department. The trails are open daily from sunrise to one hour before sunset. There is no charge to use the trails. Visitors are advised to adhere to the posted rules. View the photo album on Facebook.

For more recreational opportunities available through the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, visit www.pbcparks.com.