By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Boca Raton, the community that calls itself “A City within a Park,” just added its 47th recreation area to the roster of play sites within its borders.
On a cool morning that ping-ponged between showers and sunshine, a couple of hundred people made their way to opening ceremonies of the Hillsboro El Rio Park South, just across from Hillsboro El Rio North, a 12.5-acre facility which opened in 2002. Basically, the two fun sites are separated by SW 18th Street – and a lot of years.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony Feb. 22 bought together a bunch of current and past officials, including Mayor Scott Singer, Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers, City Council members Monica Mayotte, Andrea O’Rourke and Andy Thompson along with former Mayors Steven Abrams and Susan Whelchel and former deputy mayor and current Palm Beach County Commissioner Robert Weinroth.
Singer broke out to post a minute-long declaration on Facebook, announcing “the long-awaited playground,” a 10,000-square-foot location with a walking/jogging path, fitness station, playground, dedicated pickleball court, tennis courts, picnic pavilion, a soft launch area for canoes, kayaks and paddle boats into the El Rio Canal, along with parking and restroom facilities.
“For the many residents who have advocated for two decades for a park in the southeastern portion of Boca Raton, scattered showers couldn’t dampen their excitement at today’s official opening,” said Commissioner Weinroth.
Once home to the city’s landfill as far back as the 1960s, the area has recently seen infrastructure improvements, including a water main replacement along 18th Street followed by repaving of that road and upgrades to the railroad tracks that include quiet zone features to accommodate the new Brightline/VirginUSA trains.
City spokeswoman Anne Marie Connolly said the dedication included remarks from Recreation Services Director Michael Kalvort and the chairman of Parks and Recreation Board, Dr. Dennis Frisch. Then came the dedication of the Joe Good playground, named in honor of the late Parks & Rec. Board member who served for some 30 years. His family was there for the dedication.
“For the rest of the day, families met and chatted with city staff, enjoyed a nice walk around the new park, saw pickleball demonstrations and enjoyed all the park amenities,” said Connolly. “Special events also included bounce houses, face painting and food trucks.”
Following the ceremony, community events for residents took place, among them, pickleball demonstrations and children’s activities.
According to records on the city’s website, discussions of a park on the south side of 18th Street have been in progress for many years. A renewed commitment to activities at the city’s waterfront became a priority just during the past few years.
The city invested an estimated $7.8 million in environmental remediation, land clearing and other work at the park site.
After receiving input from surrounding neighbors and recommendations by the Parks and Recreation Board, the city drafted a new site plan, one offering a park that will be open dawn to dusk and includes a variety of amenities.