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The not-so lazy days of summer



Tradition splash fountain

Kids love to run around in Port St. Lucie’s splash fountains. Sometimes their moms and older sisters and brothers join them or sit on the benches watching. CITY OF PORT ST. LUCIE

City offers a smorgasbord of fun things to do

BY SUSAN BURGESS

The city provides an amazing array of things to do during the summer. And of course, that doesn’t count all of the things that residents and visitors can find on their own, from paddleboarding and kayaking in the Indian River Lagoon to boating, fishing, picnicking and swimming or enjoying the view from Indian River Drive.

Ranging from educational to exciting, fitness to fun, residents and visitors don’t have far to look to find something they’ll love.

That didn’t happen by accident.

“We understand that one of the things that plays into making Port St. Lucie a great place to raise children or retire is to have interesting and fun things to do, especially during the summer time,” says city spokeswoman Sarah Prohaska, a mother of two who raised her children in Port St. Lucie. “The city council recognizes that and made adding ‘culture, nature and fun’ activities as one of its seven (major) goals for Port St. Lucie’s future.”

Port St. Lucie is the eighth largest city by population in Florida and third largest in South Florida. But the city council is determined to give it the feel of a small town, starting with creating neighborhoods and letting residents name them.

FUN FOR THE FOURTH
FreedomFest at the civic center on U.S. 1 at Walton Road is the largest of the summer events. Modeled with an old-fashioned family Fourth of July in mind, it features fireworks as soon as the sun goes down.

“We have beautiful fireworks every year,” Prohaska says. “We work really hard to make them great.”

A throng of thousands packs the square in front of the civic center each year to take part in FreedomFest. If you don’t know anybody in town, you’ll find it’s a fun way to meet some new people and begin friendships. The festivities start at 4 p.m. with bands and other entertainment, food and refreshments, games and activities for families, arts and crafts vendors and much more. Colorful and dramatic, the fireworks celebrating Independence Day start around 9 p.m.

Take the kids or grandkids to see the St. Lucie Mets to experience and cheer for a professional baseball team. Port St. Lucie is where the New York Mets train in the early spring, and the minor league St. Lucie Mets play in the summer. The stadium, known as First Data Field, is in St. Lucie West — a community that lies between Interstate 95 and Florida’s Turnpike. Weekend specials such as discount pricing for a family, free T-shirts or fireworks help you make it a memorable experience.

This year, Mayor Gregory Oravec signed a pledge at the national United Conference of Mayors to bring the Major League Baseball organization’s Play Ball program to Port St. Lucie. It gives kids of all ages the chance to participate in special activities for young people before a St. Lucie Mets game.

Still in the planning stages, the event may take place in late July. It’s expected to include baseball activities where kids can get help from some of the professional players, and could include some dancing, giveaways and other activities.

“We’re working with the St. Lucie Mets and Treasure Coast Sports Commission to put this together,” says Kelly Tiger, the city’s recreation manager. Musco Lighting, which specializes in lighting systems for sports, is helping to sponsor the event. Play Ball is a 3-year-old MLB initiative to get more kids of all ages interested in playing baseball.

KEEPING COOL
Living near rivers and the ocean, in a city where many backyards contain pools, knowing how to swim can save a life. Drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1-4 in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health. The popular Ravenswood pool and splash pad on Ravenswood Lane across Prima Vista Boulevard from Sportsman’s Park is a good place for children and adults to learn to swim. The splash fountains in Tradition and at the civic center are fun gathering places for kids and their parents. The fountain at Tradition overlooks a scenic lake.

The city is big on health and fitness and to that end, has two parks with built-in fitness equipment. The new Winterlakes Park off Torino Parkway will have a trail with fitness stations. Or, air conditioning might be the incentive for some to do their workouts and exercise routines at the Port St. Lucie Civic Center or at the community center on Airoso Boulevard. The city’s parks and recreation magazine Leisure Time, available on the city’s website, lists pages of activities from sports to art to fitness and dancing.

The city hosts two dances for people age 15 or older with special needs. Both are at the community center — one in June and one in August. Small children will delight in the Princess Tea Parties held every other month at the community center with a new princess to greet them each time.

Anyone who loves to garden but doesn’t have space for it at home will relish the chance to rent a raised garden bed at the city’s community gardens. Grow vegetables, flowers, herbs, and fruit (did you know that tomato, corn and cucumbers are fruits?) and bring home healthy veggies for dinner.

COMMUNING WITH NATURE
Find peace and quiet in Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens’ 14 outdoor “rooms” or sections devoted to such specialties as orchids, butterflies, hibiscus, bamboo, native plants, roses and more. With its beautiful fountain spray and small lake, it’s a popular place for weddings and special parties, too.

Next to it is the new Westmoreland Riverfront Park where a variety of entertainment amenities, ranging from a riverwalk to a restaurant to possibly an historical village, are in the planning stages. In the meantime, walk in and enjoy the vivid colors of a sunset over the North Fork of the St. Lucie River while standing next to a flourishing banyan tree.

Step out and commune with nature, or teach the kids about the birds, critters and fish that share the planet with us. Port St. Lucie’s crown jewel of a nature preserve is the former McCarty Ranch out west of town where there’s fishing on a lake from the shore or small boats (permits needed for motors), hiking, horse and biking trails and even overnight primitive tent and RV camping.

The 97-acre Spruce Bluff preserve off Southbend Boulevard is historically significant and contains two interpretive trails. It was settled in 1891 and is also the site of an ancient Ais Indian mound possibly used as a burial site. Several families, a school, a cemetery and a post office made up the small pioneer community. Visit and walk the trails to learn what it was like to live as a pioneer on the bluff or as a member of the Ais Indians.

Savannas Preserve State Park on Walton Road features a recently expanded nature education center with loads of useful information along with picnic tables, walking trails, canoeing, kayaking and volunteer-led guided tours (by reservation). Walk up to 15 miles of trails, including short loop trails, or ride a horse on more than 8 miles of trails. You might encounter wildlife on your walk or your paddle, including gopher tortoises, alligators, deer, marsh rabbits and a variety of birds including bald eagles flying way overhead — so bring binoculars if you have them.

BICYCLES FOR RENT
If you want to go bike riding but don’t own a bike, check out the 50 new rental bikes split among the civic center, Whispering Pines Park, Sportsman’s Park and the bus station across from the community center on Airoso Boulevard.

Ever heard of pickleball? No? Then check out this popular game played on an indoor or outdoor court similar to a tennis court. Hit the ball over the net with a large paddle resembling its smaller cousin, the ordinary ping pong paddle. The ball has holes in it, similar to a Whiffle ball. Port St. Lucie has courts inside the civic center and outdoor courts at Whispering Pines Park on Darwin Boulevard.

Sports in the city’s many parks include youth, adult and senior baseball and softball leagues, basketball, football and soccer leagues, cheerleading, volleyball and disc golf. Golfers can swing at the city-owned 18-hole Saints golf course or any of the many other courses in the area that are open to the public.

Back indoors, take advantage of art and dance lessons, racquetball, martial arts lessons including karate, kung fu, tai chi and judo or, for seniors, bridge, mahjong and more. Language classes are even offered at the community center.

CAMPS FOR ALL AGES
Children’s camps give the kids a place to have a great time while their parents are out enjoying something else. They’ll find great activities at toddler camp, youth camp or xtreme teen camp. The xtreme camp is always on the move — Mets games, a waterpark, ice skating (yep, you read that right), a visit to Boomers with its go-karts and bumper boats and, at the end, a trip to a theme park — for one unforgettable summer. If you’re too late to enroll your child this summer, plan on it and enroll early for next year or look into holiday and spring break camps.

Several years from now, perhaps by 2021 or 2022, the city will be building a BMX and skate xtreme park at Crosstown Parkway and Cameo with possible amenities including a bicycle motocross, or BMX, track plus mountain bike trails, a rock wall course, a separate strider bike track for youngsters and skate facilities.

Between this year and next the Jessica Clinton Park on Southbend Boulevard will get some turf improvements and sports lighting for football, lacrosse, rugby and soccer games.

SEE THE RIVER UP CLOSE
Don’t overlook the private enterprises that offer enjoyable things to do. The River Lilly EcoTour boat takes passengers from the River Park Marina on tours of the North Fork of the St. Lucie River aquatic preserve. Among the critters you may see as you glide along through the still water are alligators, all kinds of water birds and otters.

Three famous championship PGA golf courses are adjacent to St. Lucie West, along with the PGA’s learning center and practice course. Club Med on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River offers day or night passes to residents and visitors. Tradition has a farmer’s market where local individuals can sell their wares.

SuperPlay USA in St. Lucie West offers 48 lanes of bowling, laser tag, a batting cage, a mini-golf course and an arcade. An AMC 14-screen movie theater is right around the corner with 3D and jumbo digital screens.

A recent survey of city residents showed that 75 percent rated their quality of life as good or excellent, and a big part of that was due to the variety of leisure options and activities throughout the year, Prohaska says.

Although the 120-square-mile city with more than 185,000 residents has almost 40 parks and recreational facilities including the community center, there’s more to come. New parks and expansions are already in the works and a 10-year master plan will be developed to make sure future needs are covered.



FOR MORE INFORMATION

Port St. Lucie Parks and Recreation: www.cityofpsl.com/government/departments/parks-recreation.
In the left column you’ll find links to parks, sports and much more. You’ll also find a link to Leisure Time there so you can get a comprehensive look at what is offered. Leisure Time publishes two issues a year, each covering six months.

St. Lucie County nature preserves, county-owned parks and other things to do in or near Port St. Lucie: www.stlucieco.gov. Click on Things to Do at the top of the home page.

Swim lessons for children and adults: Schedules and descriptions are available at www.stlucieco.gov. Click Things to Do at the top of the page and under Recreation, scroll down to Pools and Aquatics.

Keep pool time safe and fun: www.watersmartfl.com