Despite new fence, kids still bridge jump at Rogers Park

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WEEKI WACHEE — Rogers Park was bustling with activity on Wednesday afternoon.

Under cloudless skies, in temperatures around 90 and humidity at a breath-sapping 37 percent, children splashed in water in a roped-off section of the Weeki Wachee River on Wednesday.
kids still bridge jump at Rogers Park
Bridge jumping into the Weeki Wachee River has become a problem at Rogers Park where kids climb and damage a fence to gain access. AARON NAGLE

Families lounged and sunbathed nearby, while teenagers played volleyball on a nearby beach.

As Wednesday marked the last official day of school in Hernando, the overall mood at the park seemed both laid-back and festive.

What may be welcome news to county officials and some residents is that no one was breaching the fence on the side of the Fraces B. Carlisle Bridge to leap into the water.

Harry Johnson, Hernando County’s Parks and Recreation manager, said that maintaining the fence on the Shoal Line Boulevard bridge has been an issue for the county’s Public Works Department for years.

“They got a call from the sheriff’s office last week, saying that the fence had been cut again, and kids could get in and jump off the bridge,” Johnson said. “It’s an ongoing issue.

“The fence is there for safety purposes. We don’t want people to jump off the bridge, and we don’t encourage it. Years ago, a student jumped off the bridge and paralyzed himself.”

While information on a county website says that lifeguards are seasonal at Rogers Park, signs at the park say that there is no lifeguard on duty, so people swim at their own risk.

Many swimmers did so this week, and some even dove off a sea wall at the edge of the beach and into the river — outside the roped-off area for swimmers.

Aaron Nangle, who runs Clear Choice Web Solutions at Hernando Beach Marina, said that he has observed kids jumping off the bridge for years.

Often, he said that he and other patrons of the nearby Upper Deck restaurant are entertained by the displays of youthful exuberance.

“I just thought it was hilarious that they just put up these fancy new guards — the best ones so far,” Nangle said. “I was on a pontoon boat going through there and talked to the workers” putting up the new fence.

“I asked them, ‘Do you think this one will work?,’ and they’re like, ‘No.’ ”

Nangle said that the new fence appears to be taller than previous fences, but it does nothing to dissuade jumpers.

“It just gave them a higher place to jump off of,” he said. “Kids’ll be kids. They want to have fun.”

Nangle said that he doesn’t worry about kids jumping into the middle of the river because the water there is deep, but that there are rocks on the side.

Even though the new fence isn’t keeping kids off the bridge, Nangle understood the need to replace the old one.

“The old one was more like just a chain-link fence,” he said. “It was a good size thing, but it was old. You’d see the kids pull the fence away and crawl through and crawl around.”