FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:  John Yarbrough or Barbara Manzo, Lee County Parks & Recreation
               (239) 461-7410, 461-7412

COUNTY TO CELEBRATE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF LAKES PARK

FORT MYERS, Fla. (April 15, 2004) - The cornerstone of Lee County's Parks System - Lakes Regional Park  will celebrate its 20th Anniversary next week with celebratory events and the waiving of parking fees for seven days.

From April 20 through April 27 no parking fees will be charged in the park. In addition, on April 24 (Sat.) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on April 25 (Sun.) from noon to 4 p.m. there will be a 20th Anniversary celebration with:

Both days will be opportunities for park visitors - while they are having fun - to learn about the future of the park, including the county's plans for continuing removal of invasive exotic vegetation and restoration of the native Florida wildlife environment and natural aesthetics of the park.

Lakes Park, which opened in April 1984, is considered by many to have been the catalyst for transforming what was then the county's small Parks & Recreation Department into the nationally recognized system it is today with many regional parks and thousands of acres of managed preserves.

Lakes Park attracts up to 500,000 visitors a year. It has 158 acres of fresh water lakes for fishing, canoeing and swimming (the swimming area opens Memorial Day and closes Labor Day). The park also has: a water playground; 2-1/2 miles of paved pathways for jogging, biking, rollerblading and walking; picnic pavilions, amphitheater, and lodge with complete kitchen; and playgrounds, miniature railroad, train village and fragrance garden. Paddle boats, canoes and bicycles are available for rent.

The 280-acre park continues to evolve. At Tuesday's (April 20) Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners will be asked to accept the 10-year (future) master plan for the park, which includes $30 million of improvements and a partnership with the Lakes Park Enrichment Foundation to raise private funds for the projects.

Below are facts about Lakes Park, its future, the enrichment foundation and the anniversary resolution that will be read at the County Commission's April 20, 2004 meeting.

Lakes Park Did You Knows:

Did you know the lakes at Lakes Park are not fed by a spring? The water is supplied from surface runoff from the surrounding drainage basin. Expanding development adjacent to the Park has negatively impacted water quality in the lake.

Did you know that the lakes in Lakes Park are man-made? The lakes were created by a mining operation that excavated lime rock for use as base material for highway construction.

Did you know that Lee County acquired the property for Lakes Park beginning in 1977?  Lee County acquired the site in phases with the first phase equaling 197 acres and phase two containing 82 acres. Total cost for phase one equaled $1,049,299.00. Phase two cost $567,488.

Did you know the Corp of Engineers will construct a filter marsh to improve water quality in the lakes? This project is part of the Everglades restoration project and will benefit Estero Bay as well by removing pollutants from the water before it discharges in to the bay.

Did you know that a standard gauge railroad once operated over right-of-way that ran through Lakes Park? The Seaboard Air Line Railroad had a branch that ran toward Punta Rassa. The tracks crossed through the park where the present loading area is for the miniature railroad, followed the path of the present day boardwalk/causeway across the lake than curved southwesterly and ran alongside what is now Summerlin Road. The line was abandoned in 1952.

Did you know that Lakes Park contains 158 acres of freshwater lakes? Lake depth varies from a few inches to 20 feet.

Did you know the Fragrance Garden has several distinct gardens? There is a herb garden, a butterfly garden, and a cactus & succulent garden. It also features a vine arbor, tropical fruit / spice walk, hibiscus garden, ferns & bromeliads, rose garden, memory lane, and a water garden.

Did you know that Lakes Park has 2.5 miles of paved trails? The trail is marked off to indicate distances for those who enjoy walks for exercise.

Did you know the Lakes Park is the site of the second concrete climbing wall installed in the State of Florida? The wall was installed in 2001.

Did you know the Train Village at Lakes Park was built in 1994 and carried the first paying riders in November of that year? Since that time over 300,000 passengers have been carried on the little railroad could.

The Future of Lakes Park:

The Lakes Park is rapidly becoming a green oasis surrounded by urban development. In 2002 the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (B.O.C.C.) approved the development of a master plan for Lakes Park (the plan) to assure the correct balance of uses, improvements, additions, and resource protection for the benefit of the citizens and visitors to Southwest Florida. In a competitive negotiation process the firm of WilsonMiller, Inc. was selected to provide the plan. After extensive research, public input, staff recommendations, and investigation of the site opportunities and constraints unique to Lakes Park, the conceptual master plan was developed. In April of 2004 the B.O.C.C. accepted the master plan for the Lakes Park. The plan provides a steering document for addressing and correcting water quality degradation, exotic invasive plant removal and reforestation, wildlife habitat restoration, aesthetic improvements, maintenance and park user improvements, and a host of additional amenities to allow public use of currently inaccessible portions of the Lakes Park. The most noticeable change to park visitors will be the change from a mono cultural Australian pine or Melaleuca forests to a diverse native landscape forest canopy and under story that provides wildlife habitat and vistas overlooking the lake. Improvements to the park entrances will include utilization of the rocks left on site from the original mining operations in addition to berming and landscaping to buffer traffic noise and view. Less obvious will be improvements designed to increase dissolved oxygen and water turn over throughout the lake resulting in better water quality. Site amenity improvements from additional boardwalks and fishing overlooks to walk path mist stations, playgrounds, parking improvements, restrooms, and more will be phased as funding is approved.

The Lakes Park Enrichment Foundation, Inc.:

In 2003 neighbors and users of Lee County's Lakes Park asked how they could help support planned park improvements. Recognizing that the park has significant value improving the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people, this group wanted to offer it's help. From the initial inquiries these dedicated individuals came together and created the Lakes Park Enrichment Foundation, Inc. This non-profit organization has developed the mission to "support Lee County Parks and Recreation in promoting ongoing community awareness, recognition, education, support and preservation of Lakes Park and assist the Department of Parks and Recreation in the implementation of its master plan through philanthropic and voluntary efforts for the purpose of removing invasive exotic vegetation and for the restoration of the native Florida wildlife environment and natural aesthetics of the park." With the help of the dedicated individual Foundation members and company representatives that support this mission Lakes Park will have significant improvements completed over the next few years. We ask that you support the Foundation through your membership.

R E S O L U T I O N

Whereas: The Lakes Regional Park was opened to the public in the month of April twenty years ago; and

Whereas: The Lakes Regional Park has provided a recreational outlet for approximately million visitors a year; and

Whereas: The Lakes Regional Park continues to be an open space oasis providing a welcome respite from our fast paced, high tech lifestyles while protecting and preserving green space; and

Whereas: The Lakes Regional Park positively impacts on the social, economic, and environmental quality of our County.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE Board of County Commissioners of Lee County, Florida does hereby proclaim the seven day period from April 20,2004 through April 27, 2004 as the Lakes Regional Park 20th year anniversary recognition week and urges all citizens to visit Lakes Regional Park.

Duly Executed this 20th day of April 2004.

BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA

John E. Albion

Chairman