Newton Beach Park, Planning for the Future

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“Today you will receive a summary from our first session for our Newton Beach Park Master Plan,” said Alison Giesen, Director of Cultural Resources for the Town, Mound House Director and Interim Parks & Recreation Director, to roughly 15 residents at the follow-up session in Town Hall on Saturday morning, February 2. “This will soon become our strategic action plan, so we are excited to complete the process.” “It is incredible what you accomplished so far,” agreed facilitator Lorna Kibbey of Leadership Solutions. “You came up with over 70 potential goals at our first session, and Giesen went over every one, including potentially changing the Newton Beach Park name.”

The February 2 program continued work from the initial session on January 14, where Kibbey guided 33 participants through the start of a Newton Beach Park Master Plan, including a Mission Statement that became, “Newton Beach Park is an educational and recreational experience for all,” and Vision Statement of, “To provide an oasis for recreation and education.” “What I love about these,” explained Lorna, “is you do not need to dig out notes to remember them because they roll off your tongue!” Town Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp reminded everyone, “The Town’s Comprehensive Plan from 23 years ago uses the word ‘oasis,’ so there is a lot of juice in there!”

Barbara Hill asked if the “Friends of the Mound House” would become a Newton Beach Park advocacy group. “That is up to the ‘Friends,’” replied Giesen. “They need to discuss this as a group.” “The “Friends’ already began to late last year,” related ‘Friends’ President Ellen Vaughn. “Hopefully that will carry over to this year.” “The ‘Friends’ is a small group,” added Becky Werner. “I initially wondered how we could possibly take care of two places, but having gone through this process, it is much easier to see what needs to be done and how we can do it.” Vaughn added that Newton Beach Park might draw different volunteers to the “Friends” to whom it might not have previously appealed. Shamp thought it might appeal to Beach Elementary School parents, who are younger than the average Mound House volunteer.

Shamp felt that Newton Beach Park, in combination with the Mound House, Bayfront Park, and the Estero Island Historical Association site near Matanzas Pass Preserve “might all work together to promote historic locations on Fort Myers Beach, integrated together, to explain what great history we offer. It could be ideal for tourists, especially with families, for when they get their fill of the sun; we don’t promote our history enough.” Vaughn suggested a type of history walk fundraiser, “like the ‘Putt & Pub Crawl,’ once or twice a year, for a fee to raise funds.” “Friends” Vice President Gayle Crabtree-Pergoli found that appealing, saying “we can celebrate those connections and the incredible people who lived here that not everyone knows about.” Kibbey said, “that is a great idea,” with Giesen quickly adding, “I already wrote that down!”

The Iron Is Hot

Shamp explained that the Town is in excellent financial condition, “For what we all pay in taxes, we get a lot, including being able to do projects we could not do before, so this is the time to jump, while we have stable finances. No one likes to raise taxes, and I do not necessarily foresee that, but we should strike on these ideas now, while the iron is hot!” “You have many champions in this room,” added Kibbey.

Newton Beach Park features the Seven Seas Cottage formerly owned by late island resident Jim Newton, who gained notoriety through his book, “Uncommon Friends,” about his relationships with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Charles Lindbergh and Dr. Alexis Carrel. The Seven Seas Cottage, built in 1953, was a major focus in the life of Newton and his wife, Ellie, where they lived, worked and entertained their influential friends. Because of this significant history, the Town secured a Florida Community Trust Grant to help finance its $2.3-million purchase in 2003, with the Town paying $310,000; Lee County $969,000; and the Florida Community Trust the balance, with the site becoming the first Town-owned public park in 2010. In addition to the Seven Seas Cottage and beach frontage, it has a tiki hut, paid parking, nature and educational programs, recreational opportunities, and historic and environmental signage, among other amenities.

Giesen described the next steps: “Lorna and I will formalize the action plan, then bring it to CELCAB (Cultural & Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board) for review and hopefully approval. It then proceeds to a Management & Planning Session, then to a Town Council meeting for final approval. All this should be complete within a couple of months, then we turn the plan into reality.”

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news