Feature Article - March 2009
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Drawn to the Water

How Aquatic Settings Can Become a Community Gathering Place

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Don't Forget the Water

Depending on your setup and situation (such as whether your water is a lazy scenic area or an active thoroughfare for commerce and transport), the water itself may be an underutilized resource for recreation. Why not offer water-based activities in addition to the wealth of waterside entertainment?

"We have active visiting-ship programs, where a naval ship or Coast Guard ship will come, and we're the official port," said Penn's Landing's Milkman. Philadelphia also has its own tall ship, which is berthed at Penn's Landing. "Connecting to the water makes for very effective programming," she added. "People could go to a jazz concert anywhere, so we're respectful of that and try to do water programming." However, the Delaware River is an active shipping lane. Although they can't close it for events, they do use it for barge-launched fireworks to ring in the new year.

In Santa Barbara, Harbormaster Bridley oversees a 1,133-slip harbor for recreational boats and a few commercial fishing vessels, as well as Stearns Wharf, which includes a 2,000-foot ocean pier packed with restaurants, shops, boat charters and whale-watching tours. There's also a sea center and maritime museum under his management. There are kiteboarding lessons, junior lifeguard training, and rentals for kayaks, outriggers and catamarans, and the local yacht club sponsors races and hosts regattas. Of course, there are also those who show up just to spend a day at the beach. The park district steps in to manage and arrange a host of land-based activities (from wedding rentals to picnics to pro beach volleyball events), but Bridley's focus is "water-related and ocean-dependent uses" of the more than 130-acre area.

Port Aransas is also located along an active stretch of ocean water, but they've provided an assortment of access points for "fisherfolk," including the granite jetties that mark the harbor, a lighted fishing pier and the bulkhead that surrounds Roberts Point Park. This one-mile bulkhead also serves as a walking, jogging and cycling trail with benches and shade umbrellas along the way, and an observation tower overlooks the ship channel and provides "an excellent spot for watching the dolphins as they bow-surf in front of the cargo ships and tankers that travel the channel," Mysorski noted.

If you do opt to make the water itself part of your waterfront attractions, "the number-one challenge is simple," said Grand Haven's Cisneros. "Being good stewards of this area—preserve, protect and educate others about the importance of our waterways, dune lands and forests."

Take care that you structure your grounds and activities so you don't damage or destroy the very resource that's made the destination in the first place.