Friday, July 12, 2024

Gumbo Limbo’s Observation Tower is Back, Thanks to a Local Family

After nearly a decade, the observation tower at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is back—and it’s better than ever.

Jacob’s Outlook, named for the late Jacob Kosowsky, was unveiled in a rainy ceremony Thursday evening. Sheltered from the rain, members of the Boca Raton City Council, the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, and family members cut a green ribbon inside the center to celebrate the opening of the lookout tower. 

His mother, Sharilyn Jones, described it as “emotional.”

“We always wanted something to serve the community, not just honor him, because that’s who Jake was as well,” she explained. “[The tower is] where every child that grew up at Gumbo Limbo comes many times, so it has that significance, and turtles meant something special to Jake.” 

Sharilyn Jones and Stephen Kosowsky take a photo next to photos of their son, Jacob Kosowsky, at the ribbon cutting for Jacob’s Outlook at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. (Courtesy City of Boca Raton)

Kosowsky was 21 when he died in a car accident in Utah in 2018. A graduate of Boca Raton Community High School, he was studying public policy at Vanderbilt University and was known as the ultimate outdoorsman who loved sport fishing and spending time in the ocean.

During a break in the rain, attendees had a chance to experience the 44-foot-tall tower, jutting through the tree canopy of Gumbo Limbo. The ADA-compliant observation tower also includes 700 feet of ramp, wrapping around the structure to allow people who use wheelchairs, parents pushing strollers, and anyone in need of a more leisurely climb to get to the top. There, guests can rest on a bench and look out at the panoramic views of the Intracoastal, Atlantic Ocean, the nature park, and parts of the city.

A plaque reads, “A vista to inspire the soul from the depths of the ocean to the skies above.”

Many Boca Raton locals remember coming to the park and climbing up the original lookout tower. However, it fell into disrepair—efforts to renovate it proved that it was too far gone—and the district tore it down in 2016 after it was closed for more than a year.

The family said that Boca Raton Beach & Parks District Commissioner Craig Ehrnst, a friend of theirs, reached out with the opportunity to be a part of the new outlook tower at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. They pledged $500,000 toward the $2.56 million tower, and the remainder was funded by the district and Coastal Stewards. On Sunday, Jacob’s family and friends had a private dedication ceremony before the public one on Thursday.

Jacob’s Outlook at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center includes a 700-linear-foot ramp. (Courtesy City of Boca Raton)

Leanne Welch, the manager of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, joined the team in 2016 and promises of a replacement continued year after year. Seeing it finally come to fruition filled her with elation.

“The wheels of government turn slowly, but they do turn,” she laughed. “It’s been eight years and it’s a beloved asset in this city and I couldn’t be more thankful to the Kosowsky family for their unbelievably generous donation.”

Some of the first people to experience the outlook tower were summer camp kids. Welch says while it’s a bit of a hike for their little legs, once they get to the top “they love being up so high.” In the works are exhibits along the ramps that will explain the different layers of the forest canopy as well as the importance of the barrier islands and how climate change is changing the park’s ecosystem.

“It’s a humongous honor that they chose us to honor with Jacob’s legacy and it’s not something I take lightly. I never got to meet him but his family is so lovely,” Welch said. 

Jones recounted the moment she knew that the tower at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center was the right fit to honor their son.

“The first meeting we came here, when the opportunity came our way, I was in the parking lot…and there was a school bus out there and these little kids got off—it was Del Prado [Elementary School] where our kids went to school,” she said. “So for me it was like, “Yeah, Jake knows, Jake knows, let’s do this, this is a good one.’”

Christiana Lilly
Christiana Lilly
Christiana Lilly is the editor in chief of at Boca magazine, where she enjoys putting a spotlight on the Boca Raton and Palm Beach County community through both print and digital. Previously, she was the company's web editor. An award-winning journalist, she is the past president of the Society of Professional Journalists Florida chapter and a proud graduate of the University of Florida.

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