The progress she sees on each visit to the lake gives her chills.
When she first laid eyes on the parcel, the vegetation was overgrown and children had to walk through the woods to get to school. It wasn’t a place anyone would want to take their family, Ellis said.
She’s trying to change that.
“You couldn’t see from one side of the lake to the other,” Ellis said of her first visit to the lake. “Now you can see from one side to the other, and there’s a fishing dock that’s used continually.”
Ellis is the president of True Blue: Navy Families Benefactors Inc., and her main focus right now is raising the quality of life for people living on the base.
Lonnie Kenney shares the same goal.
Kenney is the director of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Office at Mayport, and he knows better than anyone how vital the new park will be to the people who live there.
“You take a mother pushing her child in a stroller: We have one sidewalk on the main road, and that’s really it,” Kenney said of the base’s facilities.
The completion of the Lake Wonderwood Trail Project will change that.
There will be a milelong paved walkway circling the lake for exercise. A canoe and kayak launch is part of the already-completed dock, and workers are putting the finishing touches on the concrete path and pavilion near the newly built playground on the lake’s west side.
When the base was built, the lake was created as a borrow pit — an area of land dug out during construction to be used at another location. Homes occupied by sailors and their families now line the sides of the lake, and Kenney said those are the people who will feel the biggest impact.
“When these men and women are heading out to deployment or they’re heading out for some sort of operation, they want to know that their families here have the best quality of life possible,” Kenney said.
True Blue was created in 2012 when Ellis decided she wanted to create something that would help Navy families. She did not serve in the military, but her husband is retired Navy.
The lake project got off the ground when it was approved in May 2013 by U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
The Armed Forces Families Foundation donated the playground and pavilion to True Blue, and the Herbert and Gertrude Halverstadt Foundation donated money for a new bridge that is part of the pathway. Ellis said the total cost of the project is $1.4 million and the first phase is scheduled to be complete in October.
Families will be able to start using the facility at that point, and soon organizers with the nonprofit will be able to move on to another project to benefit Navy families.
“We’re at a place now where late this year or early next year we are going to go out after some major donors,” Ellis said.
People interested in donating or volunteering with the organization can visit jaxtruebluenfb.org for more information.
Joe Daraskevich: (904) 359-4308