Lakeland’s parks will vault to the next level in recreation opportunities when the Lake Crago Outdoor Recreation Complex opens to the public next month. The 144-acre park east of the Hollis Cancer Center in north Lakeland is the city’s first outdoors recreation complex with an aquatic theme.
Members of the media were invited to a tour and ribbon cutting Monday with Parks and Recreation employees and city officials. The $7 million project at 525 Lake Crago Drive overlooks a lush wilderness lake with walkways, manicured landscaping and boat dock for kayaking and canoeing. A contemporary, multi-use building is designed to open to the wild beauty of the Florida outdoors.
“We’re good at building ball parks and soccer fields, things we normally see as recreation facilities,” said departing city manager Tony Delgado during the dedication. “This vision is really going to change how our community sees parks and recreation amenities.”
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Photography: David Dickey Jr.
Delgado described the land as pristine and the amenities – the facility’s event rental space, classrooms and water sports programs – as what you would see in high-end resorts.
He remembers the emergence of a vision for the once state-owned land during discussions about a future park nearly 20 years ago when he became assistant city manager.
Parks and Recreation Director Bob Donahay said the project, on time and under budget, is the result of an all-hands-on-deck approach of the city using its own resources and employee teams to keep costs in check while not skimping on quality.
“It will be a revenue stream for the city,” Donahay said. “One hundred twenty people can be seated in the multi-use room.”
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Along with rental space, kayaking, and fishing tournaments, the city’s recreation department has new classes planned that sound more like a California health club. Recreation Supervisor Jared Freeman said, as of now, they have three yoga instructors, two for inside classes and one planned outdoors on the dock. Zumba and other fitness classes are in the works.
“We want to plan more outdoors fitness events,” Freeman said. One of his ideas is for a circuit training or obstacle course.
“The lake views and access to Lake Crago, a 70-acre body of gorgeous water and that’s just one of the five lakes our new park borders,” Assistant Parks Director Pam Page wrote on Facebook. “We will have kayak tours that showcase the incredible five lakes that connect into a paddling trail where you and your family can spend an entire day experiencing Florida native environments. Finally Lakeland has a facility that puts Lakes in Lakeland!”
In keeping with the park’s conservation theme, Lake Crago is named for a former phosphate executive, Arthur Crago, an ardent conservationist who advocated against air and water pollution.
In 2011 the future of Lake Crago Park was negotiated through a land swap with the neighboring Tenoroc state lands of over 8,000 acres. The land acquisition, or Phase One, accomplished with the help of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, includes the Lake Crago dog park and boat ramp built in 2015.
Phase Two is the new recreation complex. Phase Three, Donahay says, will include athletic fields and baseball fields.
The city says the park is slated to open early October.
Donna J Renfroe is a freelance writer and former broadcast news reporter and anchor in Lakeland.