Goals are to increase safety for visitors and protect resources, director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources explains
Beginning Oct. 1, the operating hours will be changed at 26 public parks and beach accesses that Sarasota County owns and operates, Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), has announced.
New signage will inform the public that the facilities will not be open after 10 p.m., a county news release says.
“These changes have been made in coordination with law enforcement and municipal partners,” the release adds.
All of the beach parks and accesses will be affected by the Oct. 1 change, Rissler noted during a Sept. 22 Facebook Live video with county Communications Department Director Donn Patchen.
Phillippi Estate Park, which stands at 5500 S. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, also will begin closing at 10 p.m., instead of midnight, the county list notes. Further, Patriots Park, located at 800 Venetia Bay Blvd. in Venice, will close at sunset. It has been open until midnight.
South Lido Beach, which is within the City of Sarasota’s jurisdiction, also will close at 10 p.m., instead of midnight.
Residents who live near Siesta Public Beach have complained for years about disruptions perpetrated by mostly young people in the parking lot late at night. That park, including the parking lot, has not been closing until midnight, as Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, has told Siesta Key Association (SKA) members.
Additionally, in years past, county employees have found evidence of people driving on beaches at night, which is a violation of county regulations.
Staff’s goals are to increase the level of safety for visitors, to enhance opportunities for staff maintenance, and to protect the county’s natural and cultural resources, Rissler pointed out during the Facebook Live event.
Most of the natural parks close at sunset, she said, “because they don’t have any activities going on after dark.” Parks with recreational and athletic events traditionally have closed at 10 p.m., Rissler added. “So we have some consistency there,” she pointed out of the adjustments coming on Oct. 1.
The Sarasota News Leader found a few comments posted on the Sarasota County Government Facebook page in response to the announcement. One person complained about losing the opportunity to fish at night. Another pointed out that not all employees have what would be considered “normal working hours,” and some of those individuals like to walk the beach at night.
Yet, even county commissioners have talked about problems resulting from homeless individuals sleeping in county parks after the facilities close.
In response to a News Leader question, Rissler said she did not need to seek County Commission approval to implement the new hours. In her position as a department director, she explained, she is considered a county administrator designee with authority to take such action.
During the Facebook Live event, Rissler also debuted the new signage, which will replace the kiosks that county staff erected in 2012.
During an August 2012 presentation to members of the Siesta Key Association, George Tatge, then-manager of what was the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, noted that the chief objective in installing the kiosks was to rid the county’s boat ramps and beach accesses of “sign farms.” Many county parks, he added, were suffering from an overabundance of signs. The kiosks would consolidate all the information listed on those signs, Tatge said.
The kiosks — or totems, as Rissler called them during the Sept. 22 Facebook Live event — have featured lists of activities that are and are not allowed at the specific locations, Rissler explained. The new signs are more modern, she continued, and they are made of the same type of reflective material used on roads. They also are bigger, she pointed out.
The hours for each park will be clearly visible at the bottom of the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” list.
Rissler further noted that the park rules are laid out in Chapters 90 and 130 of the Sarasota County Code.
Anyone wishing to learn details about the hours and amenities of a particular park may check the PRNR webpages by visiting www.scgov.net/parks, Rissler added.