Last week, Fort Meade officially became only the second city in all of Florida to be designated as “Blueway” community by the Florida Paddlers Association.
It is hardly a ceremonial title, and has the potential to be a major boost to the Fort Meade economy, if the community at large fully embraces and develops what Mother Nature has provided us.
The Peace River provides some of the most spectacular and natural paddling opportunities in the state. A number of developments, either already completed or in the works over the next few years, could position the city as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts from across the United States.
In a small way, it already is just that. For the past two years, Paddle Florida has sponsored a three-day Peace River trip that has attracted boaters from as far away as Alabama and Ohio. As work continues to spread about our natural gem, those numbers can swell.
Recently, a consortium of public and private interests put the finishing touches on a lovely launch site at the Mosiac Peace River Park on County Road 640. This is an important development because now canoers and kayakers have a place to easily launch from to make Fort Meade an actual destination point. In the past, Fort Meade itself was mainly just a launch site because much of the river north of here was either inaccessible or unnavigable.
The navigation issue will get a big boost, too in 2013, when Swiftmud completes a water retention project at Lake Hancock, essentially where the Peace River gets its start. A new dam-like structure there will allow lake levels to rise significantly. That water will then be released year-round — more in the dry months, less during the rainy summer season — to help insure a good water flow in the river regardless of the weather. That will be a huge plus for potential boaters to know in advance that the river will regularly be more navigable than it is today.
Of course, Mosaic’s Streamsong Resort is another project that could and needs to capitalize on its proximity to the river. The phosphate company could spend a billion dollars on their resort site, but never come close to recreating what the Peace River can offer them. For a resort that plans on marketing themselves to outdoor and nature enthusiasts, the opportunities to provide world-class paddling day-trips is literally laying at the resort’s doorstep.
Finally, the City of Fort Meade is actively investigating significant upgrades and expansion of the Outdoor Recreation Area, considering such things as campsites, equine activities, and another launch/takeout site at the Mt. Pisgah bridge.
As a Blueway community, Fort Meade will be prominent on the Florida Paddler’s website, which officials say even today gets 4,000 hits a month from boaters looking for places to spend time and dollars.
Ultimately, capitalizing on these opportunities is up to us, the residents, businesses and leadership of the city. This confluence of events is truly once in a lifetime, delivered to Fort Meade on a silver platter. We can’t afford to drop what’s being served.