County reducing signage at boat ramps, beach accesses

Signs at Beach Access 7 on Siesta Key feature a broad range of information, including warnings about rip currents. Photo by Rachel Hackney

George Tatge has been the go-to guy for Sarasota County over the past few weeks as seaweed has washed up on shore.

At the same time he’s been overseeing crews collecting that seaweed, he’s also been engaged in a different sort of cleanup effort.

As Tatge puts it, he’s trying to rid the county’s boat ramps and beach accesses of “sign farms.”

The county is in the process of installing about 25 kiosks this year at those boat ramps and accesses to educate users about wildlife and make them aware of county ordinances, Tatge explained to members and directors of the Siesta Key Association on Aug. 2.

As manager of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, he knows firsthand that many parks are suffering from an overabundance of signs, he added. “The idea [with the kiosks] is to consolidate [them],” he said.

A a generic poster regarding seabirds and the wrack line on beaches, which was created by a state wildlife biologist, is being adapted by a graphic artists on staff with the county, he said. It will present to visitors and residents information about the wildlife common to Sarasota County.

Tatge explained in an interview with The Sarasota News Leader that manatees and shellfish, for example, are being featured on the kiosks at boat ramps, while snowy plovers will be among the creatures described on those at Siesta Key’s beach accesses.

“This is part of our effort to modify behaviors,” he said during the SKA meeting, adding that the new signage was preferable to “telling somebody, ‘No’ all the time.”

Kiosks at the accesses will let people know about the county ordinance forbidding dogs on the beach, he said, but they also will explain that the law was passed to protect beach-nesting birds.

He pointed out that every time a plover is threatened by a “four-legged animal,” the bird will abandon its nest. However, it generally will return if the nest has not been disturbed, he said.

While laws have been on the books for many years to protect the endangered sea turtles that nest on the county’s barrier islands each summer, Tatge said, many people are unaware of protective measures being taken to help the endangered beach-nesting birds such as the snowy plovers.

“These guys are in real need; the deck is stacked against them,” he added of the plovers.

“The plan is to provide an individual poster [for the kiosk] for [the] specific site,” he told the News Leader.

One side of each boat ramp kiosk also will provide a map showing the public how to reach the Intracoastal Waterway, he said.

At the Siesta Key beach accesses, he said, the goal is to place a map on the side of the each kiosk facing people as they leave the beach, to show them how close they are to the Village. That would encourage them to walk to the commercial area, instead of worrying about finding parking spaces, he told the SKA audience.

County staff began erecting the kiosks at the boat ramps first, he told the News Leader, because those sites “had the worst ‘sign pollution.’”

The effort to replace multiple signs with the kiosks started about a year ago, Tatge added.

Each kiosk costs approximately $2,400, including installation and permitting, he said. The first part of the project necessitated staff finding the type of kiosk that would work best in every location where one was needed. That would enable the graphics artist and mapmakers to work on a standard size, he said.

Funding for the boat ramp kiosks has come from the West Coast Inland Navigation District, Tatge said, while tourist development tax revenue is helping cover the cost of the beach access signs.

Some Sarasota County general fund dollars also are going into the project, he said.

“We’re being very creative [with the funding],” he pointed out.

While he could not estimate the exact timeline for completing the installations, he predicted it would take a couple of years. “It is a big project.”

Not only is a county graphics artist involved in the artwork, he said, but other staff is utilizing the county’s GIS mapping system to ensure the correct maps are placed on the kiosks. He wants to be sure people know exactly where they are in relation to Siesta Village, for example, when they look at those maps at beach accesses.

“I need to really help the customer understand where [he is] in the world,” he said.

“I get a request almost daily for a sign in a park somewhere,” Tatge added — usually from a member of the public.

That was all the more reason, he said, that he was “trying to put some thought and structure” into the installation of new signage.