Main Menu

Riverside Retreat leaders satisfied with bridge resolution

Riverside Retreat leaders satisfied with bridge resolution

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Riverside Retreat leaders satisfied with bridge resolution

By Jenna De Marco | Nov. 3, 2009 {1099}

A proposed new bridge crossing the Caloosahatchee River will not be located along the border of the Florida Conference Riverside Retreat as was feared by retreat center leaders.

Hendry County commissioners were considering three east and west alternatives each for the new road and bridge, but recently voted for construction near the Hendry-Lee County line, a few miles west of  Riverside Retreat. Source: Photo #09-1336.

Instead, Hendry County commissioners unanimously decided to construct the new bridge near the Hendry-Lee County line, a few miles west of the retreat center.

“I feel very blessed and very excited and relieved,” said Martha Pierce, Riverside Retreat director.

Beginning with a large e-mail blast several weeks ago, Pierce recruited hundreds of retreat center patrons to voice their opinions against locating the bridge adjacent to the camp border.

“It was just an amazing spider web,” Pierce said of the huge network she reached through the United Methodist connection.

“We celebrate being a part of a connectional system in which local, regional and national leaders supported the cause of preserving the natural setting of Riverside Retreat,” said the Rev. David Berkey, executive director of the conference’s camps and retreat ministries.

The bridge issue also provided a helpful opportunity to “share our story with the local community and government officials” about the value of the camp to the area’s economy and residents, Berkey said.

Although the center welcomes between 6,000 and 7,000 thousand visitors each year, “it’s been kind of an uphill battle to get locals to realize that we are more than just a sleepy little camp,” Pierce said.

By the Oct. 27 public hearing, the county had received more than 2,400 e-mailed comments about the issue from across the United States via its Web site, A project planner who spoke at the meeting said the response was the largest in his 16 years’ experience, Pierce said.

Comments were 20 to 1 in favor of the western alternative, county spokesman Ron Zimmerly said. Remarks from Riverside Retreat patrons and residents of a motor coach resort across the river “obviously were factors” in the decision to locate the bridge near the Hendry-Lee county line, he said.

This proposed east alternative shows the road and bridge running along the eastern border of the camp (section 427), with the bridge crossing a portion of camp property. File photo #09-1310. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1087, 10/08/09.

Retreat site committee member Mac Baker said placing the bridge at one of the “east alternatives” near Riverside Retreat would have been “a disaster” for groups on both sides of the river. Baker attended the Oct. 27 meeting and described it as positive for Riverside Retreat. Protecting the camp’s quiet and peaceful environment is important for future generations who are growing up in more urban settings, he said.

No funds or timeline for building the bridge are yet available, Zimmerly said. The recent decision on where to locate the bridge was an important preliminary step, however, in planning for future requests for construction funds, he added.

Now that the county’s decision is made, Pierce said she has no lingering worries. The process taught her to stay concerned and “connected both with God and with others because I know there were a lot of prayers going on for this, too,” she said.

Related story

Riverside Retreat leaders, supporters express concern over proposed bridge

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.