A nearly $10 million redevelopment project is underway that will significantly transform the look of the Indian River Inlet campgrounds and park.
With the $150 million bridge complete, state agencies can now focus on adding more campground space and day-use parking to both the north and south sides of the inlet, while also increasing bicycle and pedestrian accessibility and park amenities.
Gov. Jack Markell, Department of Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O'Mara and local legislators toured the construction site Dec. 16.
“This is a big deal for the area,” said Markell. “This area relies so much on tourism. And to see this opportunity come to light, I think it's going to be an incredible upgrade.”
About $7 million of the nearly $9.87 million project will be funded by the Federal Highway Administration in the third phase of the bridge project. The rest will be paid for with state capital funds awarded to the Department of Transportation.
Construction on the south side of the park and a portion of the north side is expected to be complete by May 12, in time for the Memorial Day holiday. The rest of the project will be finished in fall 2014.
“This is a remarkable investment for this area,” O'Mara said. “When you think about the hundreds of families that will have opportunities to enjoy the natural resources up close for the next 50 years because of these investments, it's unreal.”
On the south side, crews are already constructing a larger day-use parking area east of Route 1. With a new configuration, the lot will increase nearly 200 spaces to 627. Plans to use the old bridge as an off-shore reef fell through, but the concrete will be used as underlayment for the new parking lot.
West of the bridge, the access road will be rerouted for easier RV access and to enlarge the camping area. The road will follow the inlet and feature parallel parking for fishermen.
A new 94-space tent campground will occupy the northern-most part of the south side in what was previously used for angler parking and as a staging area for bridge construction. Forty-one tent spaces also will be added to the RV campground area, and the RV campground will add six new spaces bringing the total number of southside RV spaces to 145.
“We tried to focus on keeping the core activities that were here before,” said Park Superintendent Doug Long. “We expanded it a little bit, but for the most part we made the experience a lot better.”
It is on the north side of the inlet that the most noticeable changes will occur over the next year. When the bridge project kicked off about 10 years ago, most of the park's north side recreation areas were lost to the construction. With all the equipment and materials gone, the park can be brought back into the fold.
The northside lot will be transformed from an undeveloped overflow area to a campground with full amenities.
“It was a post in the dirt with a number,” Long said.
The new 74-space RV campground will be fully operational, with electric, water, sewer, a bathhouse and even laundry facilities. It will also have an additional six ADA-accessible spaces and two host spaces.
The campground will be built in what is now the day-use parking area. Crews are already building a new 221-space day-use parking lot near the bridge, its original location. To accommodate fishermen who complained about the move, the plan includes a 31-space parking lot west of the campground near the U.S. Coast Guard Station.
To increase pedestrian and bicycle accessibility in the area, a promenade has been included along the edge of the water out to the beach on both sides of the inlet. Cyclists and pedestrians can use the bridge's pedestrian walkway, on the eastern side of the span, to access both sides of the bridge.
The online reservation system for the campgrounds is currently blocked, Long said. Once the project is further along and completion is within reach, the website will reopen.
O'Mara said he is happy to see the vision of his predecessors finally coming to fruition.
“We have 30 million people looking for something else to do and now this is giving them another great reason to come to this area,” he said. “It's a legacy we can all be proud of.”