City of Palatka Newsletter July 24, 2023
Memorial Bridge boardwalk repairs scheduled to start
A contractor for the City of Palatka is scheduled to start work on repairs to the boardwalk that connects the north and south banks of the St. Johns River, under the Memorial Bridge in the City, on Monday, July 31.
The wooden boardwalk, which opened in 2005, has been closed because of safety concerns because of the deterioration to the portions of the walkway.
The boardwalk is part of the statewide Rails-to-trails system owned by the Florida Department of Transportation but maintained by the City under an operational agreement.
Florida's Rails-to-Trails program repurposes abandoned railways into recreational trails, providing opportunities for walking, biking, and other outdoor activities.
The trail that passes through Palatka is more than 50 miles long and connects Vermont Heights in St. Johns County to Lake Butler State Park in Union County.
The repairs will cost approximately $90,000 and will be paid for by a grant from the State of Florida.
The contractor, Greenway Bridge, LLC from St. Augustine, expects the project to take approximately five weeks to complete. During the repairs, several parking spaces in the lot on the south side of the bridge in River Front Park will be closed.
For more information, please call City Hall at (386) 329-0100.
Volunteers make Historic Water Works a hidden treasure
PALATKA - Down a narrow residential road near the Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka is one of the unique historic places that make the City so special. The Palatka Water Works provided the City's residents with fire protection and fresh water for more than 100 years and now provides a look at the City's history and Florida's water resources.
Constructed in 1886 by the Wheeler and Parks Company of Boston, Mass., large steam-powered pumps in the small brick building supplied water to the City from springs and streams in the Ravines until the plant closed in 1986, being replaced by the City's R. C. Willis Water Treatment Plant on Moody Road.
After closing, the water works were saved from demolition, preserved through a community effort, and reopened as the Water Works Environmental Education Center. Still owned by the City, the center is now lovingly cared for by a group of dedicated volunteers who build trails, conduct tours, manage the community organic garden, and care for resident gopher tortoises.
"This place is incredibly important in the history of Palatka, but it is also extremely educational regarding the whole story of water in Florida, water resources, water conservation and protecting the St. Johns River." said lead volunteer Shann Purinton, "When people visit, they can see how water flowed from the ravines into settling ponds and big tanks and then was sent out to the City by big wood-powered steam engine pumps. That is really fascinating."
"But we also show how the water cycle in Florida is a complex and interconnected process, essential for sustaining life and ecosystems in the state." she continued, "When visitors come, they can walk along the little nature trails, read the kiosks about history and nature, have a picnic lunch and see our tortoises." There are also 12 to 15 gardeners who tend plots in the organic garden located along South 13th St.
The Water Works center is home to several gopher tortoises that are permitted through the Fish and Wildlife Commission and used to educate students and visitors about their importance as a keystone species.
Last Wednesday, a group of volunteers was hard at work in the summer heat caring for the property by cutting the grass, painting tables and weeding. Shann and other volunteers also conducted a tour of the building and grounds for a family of grandparents and their grandchildren.
"We have probably 12 to 15 regular volunteers that keep this place going." said Shann, "We have people who genuinely care about this place. We have retired professionals and university professors, people who value the history and the importance of educating visitors about Florida's water and environment."
Shann is a retired Vice President of Student Affairs at St. Johns River State College.
The center is open to school group field trips during the school year.
"Visiting the center helps spur young people on to not only appreciate Palatka's history but also learn about Florida's special environment," said Shann. "The Water Works is a hidden treasure in the Gem City."
Admission to Palatka Water Works is free. The center is open on Wednesdays 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and on the 1st Sunday of the month 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
For more information, call 386-325-9585 or visit www.palatka-fl.gov
In the Spotlight - Daunte Wilkerson
Daunte Wilkerson knows firsthand how important being involved in sports and being outside is to the youth of Palatka.
Daunte, who is interning in The City of Palatka's Recreation Department this summer, has been an athlete for most of his life.
"I have played sports all my life," said he. "At Palatka High School, I was a weightlifter, played football and was on the track team. I love sports; they helped make me who I am today."
Daunte graduated from Palatka High in 2022 and is now a sophomore at Bethune-Cookman University, studying K through 12-grade physical education. After graduation, he plans to return to Palatka, where his family has lived for generations.
"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a funeral director and then an NFL player, but now I really want to be a teacher, coach, or a recreational coordinator for some type of city or county." he said, "I want to work with kids."
One of Daunte's most significant role models is his grandfather, Jerome Wilkerson, a longtime athletic director, assistant principal, and baseball coach for Palatka High School.
"He really inspires me to do good in this world," he said.
Daunte is getting real-life experience working for the City.
"I love working with the recreation department. We are basically managing all the City's softball and baseball fields, dragging them, killing the weeds. Keeping them nice." He said, "I am also in charge of scheduling soccer teams, reaching out to parents, emailing, making sure everything runs smoothly."
I have learned that to reach out to kids and get them interested in sports, you have to keep your parks pretty and clean. No kid wants to play on the nasty field, so we take pride in what we do."
"And that is important because if you don't have kids outside and active, you either have unhealthy kids or you have kids run into the law, and that's not good for the city at all," he continued.
"It has been a pleasure working with Daunte this summer. He is a very sharp young man and a born leader." Reno Fells, the City's Recreation Coordinator, said, "It is very important for the youth in this community to have role models like Daunte working with them. His best trait is his positive attitude and he is coachable”.
"I'm very happy that I was able to work as an intern for the City of Palatka this summer. Seeing that the City is making big strides in the community has been a blessing." said Daunte, "I can't wait to see what the future holds."
City of Palatka Explores Participation in Florida Main Street Program
The City of Palatka is reaching out to its community members to gather insights and opinions regarding the prospect of Palatka becoming a designated Main Street Community. As part of its ongoing commitment to revitalize downtown, City Hall and the City Commission are considering participation in the Florida Main Street program.
Downtown areas once associated with vibrant commerce and bustling activity often evoke images of abandoned and decaying buildings. However, successful initiatives like the Florida Main Street program have demonstrated that revitalization is possible. Communities such as DeLand, St. Petersburg, and Ocala have experienced a renaissance in their downtown areas thanks to the program's focus on historic district revitalization, fostering economic development, and attracting job opportunities.
Established in 1985, the Florida Main Street program provides valuable technical assistance to various Main Street programs throughout the state. As part of a larger network comprising over 40 nationally recognized programs across the United States, it has a proven track record of driving sustainable transformations in communities.
The Main Street Approach works best in communities that already have valuable resources, such as historic buildings and local independent businesses. Palatka certainly meets those criteria, and residents with strong social and civic connections and a genuine desire to make positive changes.
By implementing a mix of long-term and short-term actions, the Main Street Approach helps bring about lasting transformations in these communities.
The Florida Main Street program requires a city the size of Palatka to hire a full-time Executive Director for the program and a volunteer board of directors comprised of community members to oversee the project.
These requirements must be considered as the City enters the budgeting sessions for the next fiscal year, and we value your input.
For more information, please visit the Florida Department of State’s Main Street website at https://dos.myflorida.com/historical/preservation/florida-main-street/
Let us know if you think this program is right for Palatka by taking a few minutes to fill out our survey at https://bit.ly/PalatkaMainStreet
Join our team – Career Opportunities with the City of Palatka
- Equipment Operator (Driver)
- Human Resource Director
- Human Resources Coordinator
- Police Officer
- Refuse Collector
- Sanitation Equipment Operator (Driver)
- Utility Maintenance Worker-Trainee
- Water Plant Mechanic
- WWTP - Operator Trainee
Please visit www.palatka-fl.gov/ for more information or to apply.