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One man's crusade to create mini-park on 'Bridge Tender's Lot'

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of June 6, 2013)
Photo: Ted Mullett visiting the Bridge Tender's Lot' on lagoon.

For three years now, Sea Oaks resident Ted Mullett has been waging a quiet crusade over a little-known spot on the Indian River Lagoon, at the south end of Old Winter Beach Road.

What eats at Mullett is that the half-acre wooded lot with a gorgeous view of passing boats belongs to the public, but very few people know it’s even there.

“Why can’t it be a mini-park with a sign and some picnic tables and benches for everyone to enjoy?” he repeatedly asks whenever he can get someone on the phone who works for planning, zoning or community development.

Usually, he is told someone will look into it and call him back. But they always seem to forget, he says. So, he asked Vero Beach 32963 to do some checking.

The land is called the “Bridge Tender’s Lot” because a wooden bridge there, called the “Quay Bridge,” connected the barrier island to the mainland for about 25 years, around 1920  to 1945.

The bridge tender lived in a white wooden house on the property with his family and worked the swing mechanism on the bridge. County historian Ruth Stanbridge recalled that the tender’s family for most of that time was named “the Walkers.”

The property still has old live oaks with Spanish moss as well as sea grapes and cabbage palms. But the artesian well has been capped, and the gumbo limbos and Turk’s Cap bright red flowers are long gone. 

Mostly, the bridge was used in the winter by barrier island  citrus and bean farmers taking their crops to the mainland  and by developers bringing tourists from the mainland to the barrier island to buy land.

But around 1945, a barge hit the bridge and severely damaged it, requiring it to be torn down. Now, several of the massive cypress pilings are still visible near the shore at low tide in this narrow part of the lagoon.

Mullett frequently visits  the lot, which is sandwiched between two River Club lots still for sale. Recently, Bob McNally, owner of Palm Coast Development which is building homes in the River Club, drove up when Mullett was there, and the two men talked.

“This is public land. It’s a shame it isn’t being utilized,” ventured Mullett.

“I want to dress it up, make it look nicer to go with the neighborhood,” said McNally.

The neighborhood: Four beautiful estates on the river, which are part of River Club, the two River Club lots for sale and the Bridge Tender’s Lot.

Which raises a concern that Stanbridge voiced: “The neighbors don’t want it abused. The lot needs to be maintained and kept safe. You can’t just say, ‘Here’s a sign. Here it is.’ You need a plan before it’s available to the public.”

Community Development Director Bob Keating agreed: “That’s a high end neighborhood, and it needs to be an aesthetic area.”

County planning chief Roland Deblois was on vacation last week and couldn’t talk about the future of the property. But senior county planner Andy Sobczak did, acknowledging numerous calls from Mullett asking about it.

“About a month ago, a team from the county finally went out there and looked at the site, in response to Mr. Mullett,” said Sobczak.  “I think we’re leaning toward fencing it, fixing it up a little and putting a sign up that tells people it’s open to the public.”

“Nice to hear,” said Mullett. “I’m not a gadfly. But it’s a shame that nobody enjoys this lovely piece of public property.”

Parks chief David Fleetwood said he is aware of the property, but has nothing to do with whether it becomes a park. “I guess someone could adopt it and approach the county. But we’re still in an economic crunch and I don’t know if the decision would be made for the county to maintain it,” he said.

Keating, however, thought the beautiful little lot on the river could be and should be made accessible to the public. He suggested a fence with an open gate, some benches and a sign at the end of Old Winter Beach Road that tells the public they can use it. “I’ll initiate it and get it moving,” he promised.

But not so fast, said county historian Stanbridge: “The historical society needs to be in on this and we need an historical marker approved by Tallahassee, not just any sign. It’s all doable, but it’s a slow process,” she said.

 Nobody knows that better than Ted Mullett.
“I’m not giving up,” he said.