Patch Reef District's Pivotal Park

Al Travasos easily identifies the District's biggest accomplishment during his tenure as a Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District Commissioner.

The purchase and subsequent development of Patch Reef Park not only changed the face of the Boca Raton community, it also upgraded the District's mission.

“If I'm going to brag about something, Patch Reef Park was a major accomplishment and I just was excited to play a role in it,” Travasos said.

Development company Arvida came under internal pressure in the early 1980s to sell a large tract of land west of Military Trail and south of Yamato Rd.

At one point then-Boca Raton mayor Bill Konrad pushed for the city – with the District's help – to purchase land stretching all the way west to St. Andrew's Blvd and south to Potomac Blvd, with the idea of creating a public golf course.

District Commissioners thought the community would be better served by purchasing a smaller portion and creating a public park with athletic fields.

“My son was playing soccer and there were no athletic fields in town except for the high schools,” Travasos said.

Late in 1981 Arvida told Commissioners they could would sell the 55 acres, but the deal needed to be completed by the end of the year. With funding help from Palm Beach County, the District closed on what would become Patch Reef Park in the final days of December.

The purchase represented an evolutionary step in the 7-year-old District's mission. Chartered to help retire the debt incurred by the city's purchase of what would become Red Reef Park, the acquisition of Patch Reef marked the District's first foray into creating recreational facilities. The Florida legislature approved of the District's ability to make purchase, and eventually changed the District's name from the “Greater Boca Raton Beach Tax District” to the “Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District.”

Commissioners and city officials spent much of 1982 visiting other South Florida city parks and applying what they learned when designing Patch Reef. Watching most parks become unusable swamps during summer storms, Travasos insisted on state-of-the-art drainage systems.

Most of the parks that offered playing fields didn't have much else to entertain non-participants, so Commissioners pushed for a playground where kids could play. Sweltering beneath the unforgiving Florida sun at other parks prompted Commissioners to plant trees in what had been a relatively barren landscape.

“That is why there are trees everywhere - for shade,” Travasos said.

Which types of fields to create became a minor sticking point. His son Scott being a soccer player, Travasos wanted four soccer/football fields. James Rutherford, Director of the city's Parks and Recreational Services Department, wanted four baseball/softball fields.

“We wound up with three and three,” Travasos said, “That is one hundred percent the reason why.”

The project progressed at a speed that would be unrecognizable in today's world.

Crews broke ground in February of 1983, with U.S. Representative Dan Mica being one of the speakers at the ceremony.

“He said, 'This park is about kids, and we aren't going to dedicate it without kids. So, you two come up here,' and he pointed right at my son and my daughter,” Travasos recalls of Mica's speech. 

The park officially opened in 1983, with Little Leaguers throwing their first pitches at Patch Reef Park a few months later – a little more than two years after the park's purchase.

In 1987 the District opened an award-winning tennis facility, featuring 17 plexi-cushion courts and a clubhouse. That same year what would later be named the James Rutherford Community Center opened, providing space for community gatherings, events and classes.

Basketball courts and fitness trails became prominent park features.

Patch Reef became a popular site for picnics, Easter egg hunts and Battle of the Band events.

Youth baseball, softball, football, soccer, lacrosse and tennis organizations now call Patch Reef Park home.

“When I first got involved with youth sports here in town, everything went through Patch Reef Park. It has just a nice, cozy feeling,” said current District Commissioner Bob Rollins, first elected to the District in 1994. “It's just a complete park. I think it's probably the jewel in our crown.”

Patch Reef Park garnered national acclaim shortly after its opening. In 1991 the NAIA brought its men's soccer championship tournament to Patch Reef.

“Any time you undertake something like this it's a big boost to the community and everyone concerned with it,” then-Commissioner Gordon Gilbert told the Boca Raton News at the time. “It's a chance not only to showcase our beautiful park at Patch Reef, but also some of the facilities we have in Boca Raton.”

More than 3,000 fans watched the College of Boca Raton – soon to be renamed Lynn University – fall in the championship game to West Virginia Wesleyan.

One year later, the NAIA brought both its men's and women's tournaments to Patch Reef Park. This time the Lynn men claimed the national title by defeating Midwestern State University. Many attribute the success hosting and performing in those two tournaments as playing a major role in Lynn's decision to jump from NAIA to NCAA Division II a few years later.

Since Patch Reef's opening in 1983, District Commissioners constantly worked to ensure it remains one of South Florida's most highly regarded parks.

In 2019 the District installed artificial turf with organic fill on its football/soccer fields, allowing for more community use and less maintenance-related down time. A couple years later the District began a two-phase process of temporarily converting four tennis courts into 12 pickleball courts.

Commissioners are in the process of upgrading the children's playground to modernize it and provide greater ADA accessibility. 

And a new covered pickleball facility is coming in the near future.

“I've always had the opinion that if kids play sports, they don't get in trouble. I've always believed in the park system from that point of view,” Travasos said. “Now you look at the explosion of pickleball keeping adults happy and busy. I just think it makes it a better community, It certainly makes it a more valuable community. You can't tell me there isn't huge value to this community financially because of the park system.”

This story is part of series that will run through the remainder of 2024 highlighting the District's Top Accomplishments during its first 50 years. Other stories as part of the series include:

Patch Reef Park construction

Photo of Patch Reef Park construction that appeared in the Fort Lauderdale News.

Aerial view of Patch Reef Park construction.

An aerial look at Patch Reef Park construction.

Boca Braves football at Patch Reef Park.

Boca Braves football on the artificial turf at Patch Reef Park.

Patch Reef Park press box

Patch Reef Park football press box.

Patch Reef Park Pickleball

Pickleball at Patch Reef Park.

This story originally appeared in the June 2024 edition of our District Dispatch newsletter. To receive future newsletters via email, enter your email address below, then click "Send Me District Newsletter Updates!"