The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District announces additional reopenings and the temporary closure of the Ortona South Campground for campers due to construction, at Corps-managed recreation areas along the Okeechobee Waterway that were closed in March 2020 to protect against the further spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“The health and safety of our employees, volunteers, and visitors remains our top priority. Our rangers have been hard at work, planning for this additional phase of reopenings of our recreation facilities. They continue to implement protection measures and signage to ensure everyone can enjoy our recreation areas safely and responsibly,” said Jeff Fallin, Chief of the South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston.
“The Ortona South Campground will be temporarily closed to campers until further notice due to planned construction, and we are not taking reservations until construction is complete,” said Fallin.
“We know that everyone has been looking forward to the reopening of additional facilities, including the popular St. Lucie and Ortona North access and observation areas,” said Fallin. “We were pleased to be able to reopen the St. Lucie North access area much earlier than expected, since the Corps dredging project was completed several weeks ahead of schedule.
“Our excellent in-person water safety outreach and other interpretive and educational programs are still on hold for now – we are still not quite there yet, said Fallin. We appreciate the public’s patience and understanding as we continue to focus on safety for all.”
The guidelines for this additional phase of the gradual reopening of the recreation areas along the Okeechobee Waterway are shown in BOLD, and are based on the need for continued social distancing and other safety practices:
W.P. Franklin North
The campground gate is open to the public from sunrise to sunset. Access to the boat launch and fishing pier will be available during these hours.
W.P. Franklin South
The group shelters may be reserved for groups of 25 or less at recreation.gov. The playground will be open. CDC guidelines are posted at all facilities that are open. The W.P. Franklin Visitor Center and lock viewing area is open.
The Fishing Pier on the north side of the spillway at the Ortona Lock and Dam is open for public use from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., including access via both the North Side Access and the Ortona South Side. The large group shelter will be open to groups of 25 or less and may be reserved at recreation.gov. CDC guidelines are posted at all facilities that are open. The North Side Access to the Ortona Lock is now open.
The gate will be open to the public from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for day use. The wooden fishing pier will be open to the public during these hours. CDC guidelines will be posted at the currently open facilities. The metal Fishing Pier on the north side of the spillway at the Ortona Lock and Dam is open and accessible for public use from the Ortona South Recreation Area and the north access area.
St. Lucie Recreation Area
The group shelter will be reservable through the recreation.gov website for parties of 25 or less. The playground will be open. CDC guidelines will be posted at the currently opened facilities. The St. Lucie Visitor Center is open. The St. Lucie Lock North and South Observation Areas are also open.
- Visitors to campsites will be permitted during this phase of operations, in addition to campers with a reservation.
- All reservations or changes to reservations will be made on the Recreation.gov reservation system online or by phone at 877-444-6777. There will be no “walk up” reservations or cash or credit card transactions at public entrance stations or other locations on site during this phase of operations, for the safety of our volunteers. Due to planned construction in the area, the Ortona South Campground will be closed to campers until further notice, and reservations will not be available until construction is complete.
- Volunteer camp hosts will staff campground offices during normal duty hours and will maintain social distancing while directing campers to their sites or instructing them on the reservation only process. Phone numbers will be provided at check-in so campers may maintain social distancing if they require assistance.
- The COVID-19 situation will be monitored and evaluated on an ongoing basis. Any changes to recreational operations will be announced to the public via a news release and social media posts, as well as signage on site.
- The North Side Access to the Ortona Lock is now open.
- The capacity of restrooms will be clearly posted at all facilities to ensure social distancing is maintained for the safety of campers and visitors.
- Restroom facilities will be cleaned in accordance with CDC guidelines and signage will be displayed to promote hand washing using CDC guidelines.
- Facilities will be cleaned during this phase of operations and maximum occupancy will be clearly posted on all facilities.
- Rangers in uniform will educate visitors on maintaining the proper group size and social distancing to promote adherence to CDC guidelines for the safety of all.
Life jacket loaner stations will be open with both adult and youth sizes. Volunteers will sanitize the life jackets daily.
Amendments to this plan will take place as we move into the next phase of reopening, or if conditions require us to reenter a passive use or closed phase. Any changes to recreational operations will be communicated to the public via a news release and on social media.
The Visitor Centers at the St. Lucie and W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam are open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and open Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
St. Lucie Visitor Center
2170 SW Canal Street
W. P. Franklin Visitor Center
1660 South Franklin Lock Road
Most tours and interpretive programs at the Corps Visitor Centers in south Florida will remain closed until further notice. The public will be notified when Visitor Center programs are reopened as part of the future reopening phases.
For more information on Corps Visitor Centers, visit: www.saj.usace.army.mil/VisitorCenters/
While visiting Corps recreation areas, visitors are encouraged to practice social distancing and other COVID-19 safety precautions required and recommended by local, state and federal authorities, to include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC guidance on visiting parks and recreation facilities can be found online at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/visitors.html.
Though many sections of the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) remain temporarily closed through 2022 due to ongoing Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation construction, including culvert replacement and cutoff wall construction, the public may still access some areas of the trail for recreational purposes. When hiking on the LOST, visitors are asked to please observe all signage and do not enter construction areas and maintain social distancing from other hikers for your safety. An updated map of the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail construction closures and estimated dates for reopening is available at: www.saj.usace.army.mil/LOST.
According to the Florida Department of Health, visitors should be aware that water from areas with blue-green algae can make animals and people sick, and they should stay away from these areas. The algae may be blue, bright green, brown or red, and can have a strong odor like rotting plants. People who are very sensitive to smells may have respiratory irritation. If you come into contact with blue-green algae, get out of the area and wash off with soap and water. See your doctor if you think blue-green algae has made you sick.
Get more information from the Florida Department of Health on blue-green algae: http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/harmful-algae-blooms/index.html
More information on Jacksonville District COVID-19 response actions can be found at https://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Coronavirus/.