Parks & Recreation: Building A Better Community

Volusia’s cities are blending the scope of parks & recreation into the fiber of community life. 

Thousands of acres are being enhanced with environmental learning centers; new gymnasiums and civic centers; nature parks and trails for fitness, hiking and biking; community and botanical gardens; expanded boat docks; athletic fields and waterfront boardwalks.

Fitness and recreation are an obvious focus of these projects. But there is also an emphasis on civic involvement, the environment, volunteerism and socializing, education and community-wide inclusiveness – elevating parks and recreation into a major part of building a better community.

Three of Volusia’s most thriving cities – Ormond Beach, Port Orange and Deltona – are undergoing major upgrades or laying out plans for projects to bring their communities into the lives of their residents – and also enhance their economies.

Mayor Bill Partington

Citizens are major players in many of these projects. “Our community involvement in Ormond Beach reflects the value our residents place on parks and recreation” comments Mayor Bill Partington.

In Ormond Beach, a Downtown Fit Loop is being spearheaded by the Rotary Club of Downtown Ormond Beach in conjunction with the city and AdventHealth Daytona Beach. This will create a 2-mile fitness pathway throughout the four parks at the corners of Granada Bridge.

A similar group effort of mountain bike enthusiasts has created a three-mile mountain bike trail throughout Riverbend Nature Park (off Airport Road) that already is being used by hundreds of bikers. And impressive community gardens for vegetables, flowers and native plants are succeeding through the nonstop efforts of civic and garden clubs and citizen volunteers.

“What’s unique about Ormond Beach is the citizens find a way to partner with the city without asking for any additional investment from the city,” comments Robert Carolin, director of the city’s Leisure Services department.

Ormond Beach commissioners now have their visions on building a community center on North Beach Street overlooking the Halifax River on property the city purchased from Ormond Beach Riverside Church. And a new gymnasium is being built at the South Ormond Neighborhood Center on Division Avenue, a recreation hub that the city’s leisure services directors say is one of the most popular in Ormond Beach.

Mayor Don Burnette & Pete Ferriera

In Port Orange, community workshops are conducted in the planning of all major projects. “We pride ourselves on that,” notes Peter Ferreira, deputy director of Parks and Recreation.

“Parks and recreation plays into the culture of a city,” comments Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette. “If you have a high quality city, parks and recreation is a big part of that. None of this is possible without engaged citizens.”

Port Orange Gymnasium Expansion Rendering

Port Orange leaders particularly are proud of a current community-oriented expansion of the gymnasium within City Center. Aside from expanded fitness and athletic facilities, “we are renovating it to be a true community center,” Ferreira stresses. There will be multi-purpose and meeting rooms, a versatile game room, rental space for events, connectivity to the adjacent skating park and a new home for ArtHaus, a non-profit cultural group that provides opportunities for artistic creation in children K-12.

“Interconnectivity” is the goal of Deltona planners visioning a series of trails throughout residential areas (particularly along the Providence Boulevard thoroughfare) to extend to the scenic nature parks and Lakeshore Drive overlooking expansive Lake Monroe. Such connector trails also would link with Florida’s regional trail system that converges in the Lakeshore area. Deltona’s dedication to trails has garnered it designation as a “Trail Town” by the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails.

Jerry Mayes

Jerry Mayes has the unique title as Deltona’s Economic Development and Ecological Tourism Sustainability Manager. As such, he sees vast economic and eco-tourism potential for Deltona’s numerous nature parks – along with the county’s Lyonia Preserve, renown for its extensive scrub jay habitat and environmental learning center. Mayes notes that Lyonia alone attracts more than 10,000 out of town visitors a year.

As a designated “Pollinator Friendly City,” Mayes is asking the city commission to name this as the “Year of the Butterfly” in Deltona and is planning a monarch festival for late summer.

Port Orange and Ormond public and private business leaders also see economic benefits to outdoor activities and recreational amenities underway in their cities.

Along the Halifax River in Port Orange, the first phase of a 12-foot wide waterfront trail has been completed within the Riverwalk park north of Dunlawton Avenue. The paved trail complements a playground, splash pad park and open recreation, picnic and event area, boardwalk and fishing pier. As the trail and park are fully completed, most of the remaining private land in the Riverwalk district is planned for restaurants, retail, residential condominiums and boat dockage – including an upcoming waterfront seafood restaurant. The trail will be named the Robert E. Ford Trail, in honor of the late council member who was a main promoter of Riverwalk, comments Mayor Burnette.

Shailesh Patel at Riverwalk

Port Orange-based Dredging & Marine Consultants (DMC) designed the Riverwalk park. DMC President Shailesh Patel stresses that Riverwalk was based on much public input and is meant to promote a “community healthy lifestyle, bringing families together” for recreation, picnicking, socializing and entertainment, kayaking and fishing. Noting the number of ongoing community events within Riverwalk, Patel says “it has exceeded expectations of what this park means to Port Orange and our community.”

Patel also sees economic benefit to downtown Ormond Beach with upgrades being made to Cassen Park along the waterfront on the west end of the Granada Bridge. Dredging and an extensive floating dock will accommodate up to 12 40-foot vessels. This project will follow up with a complete renovation of the park and bait house. Patel envisions that these enhancements will facilitate boat travelers to dock at the park and easily walk to nearby downtown restaurants and shops.

Ormond Beach Central Park

Environmentally, Ormond Beach’s Central Park through the middle of the city is 149 acres of nature trails in ecologically-rich habitat, parks and recreation areas, community gardens and five lakes that are interconnected by navigable channels for fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding and scenic beauty. An Environmental Discovery Center is situated along one of the lakes in the heart of Central Park. Stressing his appreciation for this environmental learning center, Mayor Partington says “it is so important that we teach our youth an understanding and caring for our environment as they will be the ones who ultimately take over the efforts to improve our sustainability and resilience efforts.”

Buschman Park in the heart of Port Orange is a “hidden gem,” comments Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Ferreira. Off Spruce Creek Road, the park is 30 acres of nature and hiking trails, streams and passive recreation areas surrounding a lake. “It’s really a quaint spot,” he says, good for fishing and bird watching, being a Halifax River Audubon Society bird sanctuary.

And Deltona’s numerous lakes scattered throughout the city are ideal settings for the city’s current and future parks, comments Mayes and Parks and Recreation Director Ryan Reckley. Mayes outlines extensive plans for parks including Thornby near Lake Monroe, the 60-acre Audubon Nature Park, Brewster, Beechdale, Snook / Rookery and Campbell parks. A Lakeshore Drive boardwalk overlooking Lake Monroe also is visioned, as is redevelopment of Deltona’s old community center complex on Lakeshore Drive as a Lakeshore EcoVillage of nature-oriented lodging and service facilities such as a bicycle rental shop and restaurant.

Ormond Beach Leisure Services Director Carolin and Deputy Director Stefan Sibley give much credit to city leadership for the strides that have been made in the city’s environmental and recreational / athletic programs. “We are blessed to have a commission that will listen and provide,” comments Sibley.

“Whether it is a splash pad, open green space, an environmental camp, boundless playgrounds, fishing tournaments, or a Championship softball field – Ormond Beach wants to make sure that our residents, young and old, have as many opportunities as possible to enjoy and learn about the beautiful community we live in while building healthy and wholesome habits with their families,” adds City Manager Joyce Shanahan.

And the cities’ recreational directors also stress that “inclusiveness” is a big consideration in the design of recreational facilities. They want to ensure that the amenities and playgrounds are accessible to everyone, young and old – and especially the physically handicapped. Two prime examples are Deltona’s ‘Inspiration Playground’ in Thornby Park and the ‘All Children’s Park’ in Port Orange, another elaborate playground area that was built by citizen volunteers and funded through community donations.

“Whether you are age 8, 18 or 80, we should have something for you. And I think we do,” says Port Orange Mayor Burnette.