Shown is an artist’s rendering of the Caladesi Discovery Center.
DUNEDIN – The Friends of the Island Parks plan to announce at a fundraising event the bid award for construction of a three-story, open-air interpretative center on Caladesi Island.
Cindy Farris, president of the Friends, said the work will take about four to six months.
Though the construction timetable is not set, the organization is optimistic because of the favorable support for the Discovery Center, which will be built in the footprint of an old fire tower on the island that was torn down in 1980. The building will be about 25 feet off the ground and ADA accessible by elevator.
“Once we finish our fundraiser in March, we have a couple of other fundraising programs that we are going to be starting, so we’re hopeful that it will happen sooner or later,” Farris said. “We would love to break ground this year.”
The Friends, which have nearly 400 members, are working with a grant writer to look for additional money to fund some portion of the construction costs. The facility is expected to cost about $300,000 and the exhibits about $150,000, she said.
The fundraising event, which will be held at the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach, Thursday, March 14, 6 to 10 p.m., includes a sunset reception, dinner, live music, silent and live auction and talks by special guests who are knowledgeable about the island’s history. Ten re-enactors, depicting historic characters from Caladesi Island history, are expected to attend. Individual tickets are $125.
For information about sponsorships, call Cindy Farris at 781-6633 or email her at email@example.com. Former Dunedin Mayor Jerry Rehm, who was instrumental in Caladesi becoming a State Park in 1967, will be a guest of honor at the event.
“We just really believe the facility is going to be a great enhancement to the visitor experience on the island itself,” Farris said.
The center will have three themed areas: the islands cultural history, its wildlife, and island habitat.
Farris said she had the privilege of being in a bucket truck two years ago that extended to the height of the observation deck. She was above the trees and could see almost as far south as Pass-A-Grille.
“The view is absolutely incredible, but it gives you a wonderful perspective of the island and the coastal communities and to be able to look at that and help people understand how that has evolved over the years,” she said.
Terry Fortner, whose grandmother grew up on the island, said the center will have kiosks and interpretative signage among other amenities. She serves on the subcommittee for the fund-raising kickoff.
“What’s very exciting about the Caladesi Discovery Center is that there are so many people who travel to Caladesi already, field trips, school groups and special groups with Audubon,” Fortner said. “All of these groups will have a place to meet that’s a focal point. As much as there is to see and enjoy on Caladesi, just by walking from the ferry landing out to the beach and along the trails, it will make it so much more wonderful for our visitors as they can see even more of Caladesi. They will be able to see this higher viewpoint that the Discovery Center can afford and look out on the mangrove forest to the mainland.”
The use of an elevator will prevent the need for long ramps that could have an impact on the surrounding habitat.
The state will oversee the construction of the project and maintain the facility. A management plan for the island in 2007 called for an interpretative center and a tower to be built in conjunction with it, said Pete Krulder, park manager.
Krulder said the Friends have made great contributions to state parks, such as raising 60 percent of the funds for the nature center on Honeymoon Island and all the funds for a new playground on that island that opened in October.
“Every time I go down there that playground is packed,” Krulder said.
The Friends of the Island Parks’ main focus is the support of Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island state parks.
Caladesi Island is accessible by boat and a ferry that departs from Honeymoon Island. It has three miles of nature trails, a marina, picnic pavilions, bathhouses, a park concession and a beach. For more information about the island, visit www.floridastateparks.org/caladesiisland.