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Posted 8/28/2013

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By Erica Skolte

The W.P. Franklin South Recreation Area in Alva was a popular destination on the July 4th weekend, receiving more than 2,000 visitors. The swim beach provided a welcome place for families to splash, play and stay cool. Families also had fun picnicking, playing volleyball and soccer, throwing Frisbees and pitching horseshoes.

Many cruised the Caloosahatchee River, enjoying the scenic oxbows upstream or just being out on the water. Some enjoyed water skiing and tubing on the waterway, while others watched the wildlife along the shore. Late in the afternoon, a number of boaters launched and traveled west of the locks to take in the fireworks in downtown Fort Myers or Labelle. The locks were busy the entire weekend, while boaters traveled both upstream and downstream. Lock personnel advised the public on the closure times of the locks to make sure everyone could get home safely. Each of the five locks is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

While some people love fireworks, others just like to get away to a quiet place, far away from the noise and the crowds. W.P. Franklin North Campground was fully occupied, with almost 1,200 visitors, while Ortona Campground in Moore Haven reached about 60 percent capacity.

Downstream from the W.P. Franklin Lock, the river is brackish, and upstream, the water is fresh, so campers and local fishermen can catch a variety of fish from the fishing pier, including tarpon, redfish, snook, shark, blue crab, catfish, bass, bluegill, mullet, tilapia, and many others..

The weekend turned out to be a good one, from the W.P. Franklin to St. Lucie, thanks to the rangers, gate attendants, lock personnel, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, county law enforcement, Corps volunteers and the public all cooperating to make sure that everyone was safe. Rangers traveled from campground to campground and to the park, talking with the boating public about boating safety and the dangers of drinking while boating. Visitors were able to borrow life jackets for free at the life jacket loaner stations at the swim beach and boat ramp, helping to keep everyone safe.

Corps volunteers John Sox and Bounty Lautour were on duty all day, from 8 a.m. until sunset. They watched over the W.P. Franklin swimming beach and the park, and spoke with children and their parents about water safety. Volunteer Margie Raulerson answered many questions on the phone and in person at the Visitor Center.

With so many ways to enjoy the outdoors, Jacksonville District’s recreation areas help make the Okeechobee Waterway a fun destination for families all year round.

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