Docks, ramps at Ray Wayside to get replaced with deal with accessibility

Ray Wayside Park, a popular Marion County’s destination for launching boats and paddle boats to reach the Silver River, is about to make big changes.

The county’s Parks and Recreation Department has been funding the project for a number of years, which will cost nearly $ 1 million. Renovations are scheduled to begin in 2022 to replace all launch structures and make facilities accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

County Commissioner Craig Curry addressed the improvements to the budget workshop last week during the presentation by Parks and Recreation Director Jim Couillard.

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“I got a handful of calls at Ray Wayside Park. You and I had some minor discussions about it, but is that going to be a pretty significant improvement? ”Curry asked. “This is a very heavily used access to the river.”

Couillard acknowledged the problems of deteriorating ramps and the lack of wheelchair accessibility, and told commissioners that improvements will mainly focus on the waterfront.

“The main thing is that this has just gotten dangerous,” added Curry.

Upgrades for Ray Wayside

Couillard explained the planned improvements to Ray Wayside, located at 9564 NE 28th Lane in Silver Springs, for the Star banner. The changes include:

  • Replacing the covering on the two existing boat ramps
  • Replacing the wooden dock structures with a new floating dock system and gangway passages
  • Adding a shadow pavilion near the boat ramp
  • Replacing the concrete bulkhead at the southern end of the waterfront with a grass slope for launching paddle boats
  • Adding a disabled kayak launch system
  • Adding a handicapped accessible fishing platform
  • Construction of new toilets

The wooden dock in Ray Wayside Park will be removed and replaced with a floating dock structure.  Some of the funding will come through the state's Florida Boating Improvement Program.

Couillard said improving the hand launch area is important given the increased traffic from kayakers and other paddle boats as opposed to motorized boats the park sees.

Along with the decay of the wooden docks, the toilets have seen their share of wear and tear over the years.

“The toilets next to the boat ramp are very old now and are made of wood, and they just suffer from being too close to the water,” said Couillard. “There’s a lot of rot and stuff that we’re constantly fixing, but I think we’ve exceeded the time to fix and are just starting to rebuild.”

ADA barrier-free recreation

An important point of the renovation is the ADA accessibility. Couillard says the accessible floating dock structure will be similar to those on Carney Island and the Hope Boat Ramp on Lake Weir.

“I met with a disabled group at the park about a month or two ago, and one of the things they asked for is a disabled kayak launch system, which is pretty neat,” he said.

Ray Wayside Park, a state property, has been administered by the county since 1976. In addition to boat ramps, hand launchers and toilets, there is a picnic pavilion, tables and benches.

“This site has probably been around for 40 or 50 years and it’s time to modernize it,” said Couillard of the upgrade to accessible launch features.

Kayaker Robin Romaine, tip of Ft.  White and her friend Sheri Clark (below) from Ocala make their way down the Ocklawaha River to the Silver River after starting from Ray Wayside Park on Monday morning.

The changes at Ray Wayside have been on the department’s radar for some time, but have been dependent on funding. The Parks and Recreation 2016 Master Plan states: “Marion County wants to make its facilities and programs as accessible as possible to people with disabilities.”

In addition to Ray Wayside, survey participants said the county should focus on accessibility to Belleview Sportsplex, Brick City Adventure Park, Carney Island, Horseshoe Lake, and Ralph Russell Park.

“We’re behind the times when it comes to providing accessibility to our disabled citizens and visitors, and federal law gives them accessibility rights,” Couillard said of the boat docks. “We have a long-term plan within the department to make all of these improvements across the parking system.”

Boater and fisherman Kenny Oakleaf of Ocala helps Robin Romaine, right of Ft.  White, start your kayak from Ray Wayside Park on Monday morning.

Increasing visitor numbers to county parks

All of the county’s parks with access to water “are currently experiencing phenomenal crowds,” more than Couillard has ever seen. The park’s upgrades are one way the department can handle increased crowds.

“The other component for me is that the boat ramp is a big part of our outdoor leisure and ecotourism vision to get tourists here,” he said. “To stay competitive with the other tourism markets, you need to have good, first-class facilities.”

Of the county’s boat ramps, Ray Wayside is especially popular as it is closest to Ocala and visitors can either drive up the Silver River or down to the Ocklawaha River.

Construction planned for 2022

The project is currently in the planning stage and the county is working with a local engineering firm on the changes, which are valued at $ 960,000.

The main sources of funding are the department’s internal budget, which comes from user fees at the parks – Ray Wayside has a $ 5 per vehicle fee – and money from the Florida Boating Improvement Program (FBIP), to which the state allocates a portion of the boat registration fees back to the counties. Parks and Recreation has been running FBIP funding for the project for many years.

Aside from the start of construction in 2022, the department has no schedule for improvements. She hopes to be able to carry out the developments in phases so that access to the water is never completely closed.

“We look forward to adding another world-class park to the community that will serve current visitors and generations to come, so we look forward to making improvements there,” said Couillard. “It’s a big deal for our department and for Marion County.”

Parks and Recreation is also planning a handicapped accessible boat ramp in Heagy-Burry Park in northern Marion County. The latest estimates for this project are nearly $ 2 million, but funding and a timetable are still being set.

Contact reporter Danielle Johnson at [email protected].

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