Belle Glade Sun

Torry Island Campground draws droves

Belle Glade also repairing, remodeling golf facilities

BELLE GLADE — Belle Glade City Manager Lomax Harrelle presented an optimistic report about the Torry Island Campground’s progress to the City Commission on Tuesday night that included a video the city is using as a marketing tool statewide. From the numbers he cited, both the marketing and city staff’s operation of the park in place of the former private contractor has been a resounding success.

And although the city on Aug. 31 also reassumed operational control of the municipal golf course and then Hurricane Irma visited with its destructive winds and rains not two weeks later, staff and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers and contractors have achieved a smooth turnaround, Mr. Harrelle said. An intensive cleanup-plus-remodeling job has been under way at the golf course ever since Irma hit.

After most routine business was dealt at Tuesday’s meeting, he asked commissioners to step down from the dais and darkened the lights, saying: “We just want to spend the next four or five minutes showing you the film that’s been showing statewide regarding the campground, and then we’ll move into the golf course, and we’ll show you just a few clips of what we’re doing to clean it up, the improvements that we’re making, where the golf course is now – we’ve only been working on it for two weeks – and then the equipment and who helped us acquire this equipment.”

Set to music, the short video flashes still scenes of the campground and guests enjoying the island, the park’s amenities and the waterfront. Then some more grim pictures popped up, and he braced the commissioners, being careful to note that the city did not formally retake control of the golf course until Oct. 1.

“These first few pictures that you’re seeing are the destruction from the hurricane out on the golf course. We’ve been working through FEMA; we’ve been cleaning it up over the past two weeks. It was a mess,” he stated. “We’ve had truckload after truckload of debris, all the trees that we’ve had to cut up, tall and small pieces of equipment to get them out on the hard road because it was so wet in all there, and then from there, FEMA and their crews through their leadership removed the material.”

Mr. Harrelle went on with more photos on the overhead projector:

“This is the result of after we were cleaning it up, this is the way it’s coming together now … everyone in the city here, a lot of the city crews have been working long hours, seven days a week to get the golf course back in shape.”

The city manager told commissioners that one of the contractors who previously had worked on the golf course under former operator Golf Operators Link of Florida LLC had donated several pieces of the equipment used to maintain and then showed slides of many of them. “This is equipment that Mr. Johnny Schlechter is giving the city so we can get the golf course back and working. This is one of the tractors; all that other equipment was his,” he said, running through around a dozen more pictures. At one point, he noted, “I think that one piece of equipment there is like $35,000 to $40,000 alone.”

After showing city commissioners pictures of rental golf carts, on which staff required the provider to install windshields at no extra cost, he followed up with the trailer loaded with fuel to keep all the equipment running, both diesel and regular gasoline. The final item was a promotional magazine produced for marketing. “This … magazine that’s going out all over will be ready this month.”

Finally, Mr, Harrelle cited some numbers.

“We just wanted to show everyone since the city has taken over the campground, we have, just as an example, for the summer where we would have 60 or 70 campers in there, we’ve had 110, 120 campers all through {this past) summer, so it’s almost double. Same thing with the season. Season starts in November, runs through April, and we’re packed, whereas before it was hardly used. It is a significant turnaround, due to the city staff.”

The city manager praised commissioners for their foresight regarding the city’s two next best features to the Big Lake. “We think that the golf course complements the campground and vice versa. We think that it will really enhance the city as far as bringing more people into the city, and of course you get spinoffs from them buying different things throughout the city. This was a commission decision. I think it’s a good, solid business decision, and we just wanted to show you what, through the leadership of the commission, we’re doing.”

There followed a loud round of applause. As the commissioners returned to the dais, Mayor Steve Wilson said, “The only thing missing, Mr. Manager, is the tower.”

“We’re not there yet. We’re working on it,” Mr. Harrelle responded. That reminded him about that action the commission took earlier in the summer to seek bids on building an observation tower on the island.

“One thing I would like to add: The city has also gotten a grant for putting up a tower out there. It’s going to be 25 to 30 feet high. (The contract) has already been awarded, and we’re moving forward on that. So we’ll also have a tower out there. I think we already had one years ago out on the levee there, and we’re going to have one at Torry Island also.”

Mayor Wilson said: “Thank you, Mr. Manager, for your hard work, and staff. You get the credit, but the staff is doing the work, so thank you.”

“I said staff, Mr. Mayor,” Mr. Harrelle noted.