JACKSONVILLE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District announces additional reopenings starting May 14, at Corps-managed recreation areas along the Okeechobee Waterway that were closed in March 2020 to protect against the further spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“The health and safety of our employees, volunteers, and visitors remains our top priority. Our rangers have been hard at work, planning for this additional phase of reopenings of our recreation facilities. They continue to implement protection measures and signage to ensure everyone can enjoy our recreation areas safely and responsibly,” said Jeff Fallin, Chief of the South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston.
“We know that everyone has been looking forward to the reopening of additional facilities,” said Fallin. “Though some of our Visitor Centers and observation areas are reopening, other areas will remain closed for some time. Our excellent in-person water safety outreach and other interpretive and educational programs are still on hold for now – we are still not quite there yet. We appreciate the public’s patience and understanding as we continue to focus on safety for all.”
The guidelines for this additional phase of the gradual reopening of the recreation areas along the Okeechobee Waterway are shown in bold, and are based on the need for continued social distancing and other safety practices:
W.P. Franklin North
The campground gate will be open to the public from sunrise to sunset. Access to the boat launch and fishing pier will be available during these hours.
W.P. Franklin South
The group shelters may be reserved for groups of 25 or less at recreation.gov. The playground will be open. CDC guidelines are posted at all facilities that are open. The W.P. Franklin Visitor Center and lock viewing area will reopen.
The Fishing Pier on the north side of the spillway at the Ortona Lock and Dam will be open for public use, however access will be via the Ortona South Recreation Area. The large group shelter will be open to groups of 25 or less and may be reserved at recreation.gov. CDC guidelines are posted at all facilities that are open. The north side access to the Ortona Lock will remain closed until further notice.
The campground gate will be open to the public from 7:30 a.m. to sunset. The wooden fishing pier will be open to the public during these hours. The group shelter will be open to campers only for groups of 25 persons or less. CDC guidelines will be posted at the currently open facilities. The metal Fishing Pier on the north side of the spillway at the Ortona Lock and Dam will be open and accessible for public use from the Ortona South Recreation Area.
St. Lucie Recreation Area
The group shelter will be reservable through the recreation.gov website for parties of 25 or less. The playground will be open. CDC guidelines will be posted at the currently opened facilities. The St. Lucie Visitor Center will reopen. The St. Lucie Lock North and South Observation Areas will remain closed until further notice due to ongoing construction activities.
• Visitors to campsites will be permitted during this phase of operations, in addition to campers with a reservation.
• All reservations or changes to reservations will be made on the Recreation.gov reservation system online or by phone at 877-444-6777. There will be no “walk up” reservations or cash or credit card transactions at public entrance stations or other locations on site during this phase of operations, for the safety of our volunteers.
• Volunteer camp hosts will staff campground offices during normal duty hours and will maintain social distancing while directing campers to their sites or instructing them on the reservation only process. Phone numbers will be provided at check-in so campers may maintain social distancing if they require assistance.
• The COVID-19 situation will be monitored and evaluated on an ongoing basis. Any changes to recreational operations will be announced to the public via a news release and social media posts, as well as signage on site.
• The North Side Access to the Ortona Lock will remain closed until further notice.
• The capacity of restrooms will be clearly posted at all facilities to ensure social distancing is maintained for the safety of campers and visitors.
• Restroom facilities will be cleaned in accordance with CDC guidelines and signage will be displayed to promote hand washing using CDC guidelines.
Volunteers will sanitize the life jackets daily.
Amendments to this plan will take place as we move into the next phase of reopening, or if conditions require us to reenter a passive use or closed phase. Any changes to recreational operations will be communicated to the public via a news release and on social media.
The Visitor Centers at the St. Lucie and W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam will reopen. Please call ahead for hours.
• St. Lucie Visitor Center, 2170 SW Canal St., Stuart, 772-219-4575
• W. P. Franklin Visitor Center. 1660 South Franklin Lock Road, Alva, 239-694-2582
Most tours and interpretive programs at the Corps Visitor Centers in south Florida will remain closed until further notice. The public will be notified when Visitor Center programs are reopened as part of the future reopening phases.
For more information on Corps Visitor Centers, visit: www.saj.usace.army.mil/VisitorCenters/
While visiting Corps recreation areas, visitors are encouraged to practice social distancing and other COVID-19 safety precautions required and recommended by local, state and federal authorities, to include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC guidance on visiting parks and recreation facilities can be found online at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/visitors.html.
Though many sections of the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) remain temporarily closed through 2022 due to ongoing Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation construction, including culvert replacement and cutoff wall construction, the public may still access some areas of the trail for recreational purposes. When hiking on the LOST, visitors are asked to please observe all signage and do not enter construction areas, and maintain social distancing from other hikers for your safety. An updated map of the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail construction closures and estimated dates for reopening is available at: www.saj.usace.army.mil/LOST.