Change is Coming to an Old Friend

Valentina Franco, Staff Writer

Lifetime residents of West Palm Beach see Okeeheelee Park not only as a regular park with man-made lakes to kayak and wakeboard in, but they see it as the place where memories were shared with family and friends on the picnic tables or the nature trails. In many ways, Okeeheelee Park has been a part of the Wellington lifestyle and a loyal friend to South Floridians.
Standing at over 1700 acres with baseball, soccer, BMX fields, waterski course, dog-park, and nature trails Okeeheelee Park came into existence in 1996 after an initial purchase of only 90 acres. Over time, it has grown, accumulating sites such as canoe rentals, gift shops, butterfly gardens, pavilions, and much more. Even more sites are about to be added up to Okeeheelee Park.
Recently, there has been a substantial amount of trees being cut down in an area of the park named “Okeeheelee Park South.” However, Tim Granowitz, Manager of Park Planning and Development, reassuringly stated, “The work you see in Okeeheelee Park is the early stages of land restoration and wetland creation to open the park for outdoor recreational uses.”
While this project could last up to several years, the Park Planning is multi-tasking by controlling dangerous shrubbery that could potentially cause catastrophic wildfires, while also eliminating the different exotic tree species that could invade Florida’s natural ecosystem.
The Parks Department is stressing the security and preservation of sustainable wildlife, and placing a high emphasis on the environmental permits needed for these types of restorations.
While some Floridians might be opposed to the idea of cutting down any trees for any purpose, Granowitz points out that “roller chopping of the understory Saw Palmetto [which caused major wildfires last year] is standard, best land management practices, for this type of ecosystem.”
There is another side of the argument. Following the controversy of hurting animals that have already made a home out of what Okeeheelee Park Management is cutting down, Matisse Garnett-Young, junior, said “While I do think it’s a good idea to replace the trees that were causing an issue with new ones– since it’s much better than just cutting down trees for no reason– they should also keep in mind how it will affect the animals that are settled around there. As long as no animals are hurt, then I’m all for it.”
When the people of West Palm Beach being to see the development of this land restoration, they will be much less alarmed than now, when they’re seeing a barren, treeless land plot. The community will welcome the wetland creation and land restoration at Okeeheelee as it will give them another reason to visit Okeeheelee Park.