“It is the best muck diving in the country,” Skip Commagere said. Not a very complimentary description for the newest underwater trail in Palm Beach County, Florida. Muck divers are a special breed of underwater photographers. They seek out places that harbor weird ocean creatures. Spots that are protected from currents, waves and storms where underwater shelter provides niches for juvenile marine organisms to grow to adulthood. The term muck diving usually means these divers are willing to search the depths of backwaters and bays where the bottom is often mucky.
This is not the case at the Phil Foster Park Snorkel Trail under the east end of the Blue Heron Bridge where the bottom is clean white sand. It is a public county park provided with lifeguards and ample free parking.
“Blue Heron Bridge was a local secret spot. Only old time locals knew about it,” Commagere added. There are few off the beach diving sites with free parking. Divers can pull up to the curb at the east end of the Bridge, back into a free parking spot, unload their gear and suit up at handy wooden picnic tables, usually unoccupied except during weekends. Fresh water showers enable divers to rinse their gear after a dive.
“In 2008 the recession thing hit. Diving is expensive. It may cost $65 for a boat trip plus the cost of filling tanks. Many divers are family people. The husband may dive but the wife doesn’t. In the recession it’s difficult for the husband to say, ‘Honey, I’m going to spend $85 to go diving today but you stay away from the Mall.’ We started running free Blue Heron Bridge dive trips. We created this monster because we promoted it,” Commagere laughed.
For the owner and founder of Force-E dive stores to make a statement like that is extraordinary in and of itself. It shows a commitment to promoting an activity and offering scuba and snorkel divers a free alternative to spending money on boat trips.
“It has become a great dive site. Divers see strange creatures. It is also a relief valve for dive stores in Georgia and the Carolinas. They bring their students to South Florida for check out dives. The problem in South Florida is that boat diving can get blown out by weather. Driving down from out of state and then having to cancel dives is not a happy prospect. Some dive stores were checking out their students in fresh water springs and not coming down here to dive in the ocean just for that reason. The Blue Heron Bridge is a sheltered spot and allows them to dive. This is important to the economy of our area. They stay in hotels, go to restaurants, shop, spend money. The bridge is a little pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” Commagere is enthusiastic about the dive site, enhanced now with the County’s creating an artificial reef just off the public bathing beach.
There is a lifeguard protected area of the beach and a protected swim area. Divers are asked to make their entries off the beach outside the lifeguarded area so as not to interfere with swimmers. That is simple enough since there is plenty of room to spread out along the beachfront that faces south toward Peanut Island. Palm Beach County Commissioners, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Department of Environmental Resources Management pooled their expertise to install 600 tons of limestone rock off the beach.