Last edited: January 25, 2005

County to Makeover Park

Hoo Hoo to become Riverwalk Family Park

Florida Today, March 31, 2003
Box 419000, Melbourne, FL 32941
Fax: 407-242-6620

By Judy Berman, Florida Today

Scandal closed a Brevard County park in 1999 after a Sheriff’s Office sting operation netted 32 men on sex charges.

The heavily-wooded park, known as a “cruising” spot—and still remains on some Web sites as such—may reopen next year. When it does, the former Hoo Hoo Park, now called Riverwalk Family Park, aims to draw families to the site.

The county is pursuing a $275,000 project to renovate the park. It hopes to get state grant funding to offset some of its costs when it adds a 1,000-square-foot building to the nature center. It would include interpretive material about the 6.4-acre park—similar to the displays the county has at Rotary Park in Merritt Island and at Lori Wilson Park in Cocoa Beach.

Now, the park south of Rockledge has a metal gate that prevents vehicles from entering off U.S. 1. Riverwalk is only open to environmental education programs and to those who rent the pavilion or reserve the park.

“Nobody wants it opened any more than we do,” said Dan Click, county Parks and Recreation construction engineer.

The county is accepting bids for the building project. It has applied to Florida Inland Navigation District to help pay for a portion of the cost. FIND’s decision won’t be made until summer. Click said the county might begin construction by fall.

When the building is finished, three staff members will be stationed there, Central Brevard parks manager Cathie Schanz said.

After the park was closed, the county spent about $7,000 to renovate restrooms, put in new grills and picnic tables, and cleaned a lot of the wooded areas where the illegal activities took place.

More than 300 people were charged with improper sexual activities during a 10-year period when Hoo Hoo Park was open, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The county hopes its new name will generate a new image.

So does Barry Birdwell. He’s a mentor for the group “Team In Training,” runners and walkers who raise money for leukemia and other forms of cancer. The group frequently meets at the park before it begins its long runs.

“I think it would be good to reopen it as long as there are wholesome family activities there,” Birdwell said.

Jack Nichols joked that if the county changed the park’s name that none of those activities would have happened. Nichols is the senior editor of Gay Today, an online magazine based in Brevard.

The name Hoo Hoo came from a fraternal order of lumbermen called Hoo Hoo International. The International Order of Hoo Hoo contributed to the building of the park’s boardwalk.

The group’s unusual name is traced to the description of “an alarming tuft of hair, of approximately nine strands,” on one of the lumbermen who became one of its first members, according to the group’s Web site.

But Nichols is upset about what led to the park being shut down four years ago.

“In this day of terrorism, when we’re worried about what’s going on around us, it seems absolutely beyond my comprehension how police could be spending our taxes standing around in restrooms and parks trying to arrest and entice people,” Nichols said.

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