Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Park Camping Plan Draws Large, Noisy Crowd in Dunedin

The prospect of adding 45 camping spots at Honeywell Island State Park in Dunedin—including spaces for RVs—drew several hundred boisterous opponents to the plan. Originally the meeting was to have been held at the Dunedin Library, but as word spread throughout the community, the city and the Florida Park Service (FPS) scrambled to find a space that would accommodate a larger group. The crowd that turned out at the Hale Senior Activity Center filled the auditorium, an adjacent room, the foyer, and spilled out into the parking lot. It included local residents, park volunteers, city officials, legislators, and environmental activists. Perhaps they should have booked the Blue Jays stadium across the street!

The crowd was raucous, waving signs, chanting, and cheering the bearers of a “Save Our Park” banner. A number of state legislators and city officials spoke eloquently against the camping plan, as did a man whose family gave land for the park. He had with him the key to the city his mother was given by Dunedin officials on that occasion. The crowd gave warm applause to the park’s rangers and its superintendent Peter Krulder, who said he learned of the camping plan only two weeks ago. Of the dozens of people who got up and spoke, one wanted tent camping and one suggested a boat ramp (vetoed several years ago) as a more environmentally-friendly alternative. Neither idea was positively received by the crowd. Everyone else spoke against the plan, for some excellent reasons. Several news stations were there with cameras, as well as a reporter from the Palm Beach Post who was interviewing the more interesting speakers.

There are a host of reasons why camping, with or without RVs, does not belong in Honeymoon Island State Park. Among them are that the park is already very heavily used and adding 300 more visitors a day (FPS estimate) just increases the already significant human footprint there. The presence of campers 24 hours a day 7 days a week removes the possibility of prescribed burning, an important management tool. Honeymoon is one of only three coastal islands in Pinellas—along with Caladesi Island and Shell Key—that is not developed. None of the other 20 barrier islands in the county is available to shorebirds and sea turtles for unmolested nesting. Adding campers, with their noise, lights, food waste and the predators it would draw, would unnecessarily stress these creatures. The park is small, and the footprint of the proposed campground and supporting infrastructure obliterates some of the best habitat in the park, effectively cutting it in half with no wildlife corridor between the two halves. The Park Service’s ostensible reason for adding camping to state parks is to “enhance the visitor experience by adding family camping” and they say that they receive many requests for more campsites. The crowd at the meeting was not anti-camping—many were campers and some said they had RVs—but they sensibly recognize that the size and character of Honeymoon Island dictate that it should remain a day-use park. By its own admission, the FPS has not calculated whether the camping plan would result in a net positive cash flow, and their paltry 9-page plan reflects this deficiency in financial analysis, as well as a lack of environmental planning.

Honeymoon Island is the state’s most-visited park in the state’s most densely-populated county. According to the Florida Park Service, the park took in revenues of $2.2 million and netted $1.6 million, profit which went into the Florida Park Service foundation account to be used to help run all state parks. Volunteers contributed 27,000 hours of service last year, equivalent to the labor of 13 full-time park employees.

Showing up and speaking our minds may be one of very few avenues we have left to stop projects we don't want, since during the most recent session the Florida Legislature scrapped many of the environmental regulations that used to protect our wildlife and natural communities. Popular opinion can be very powerful when people stand up in large numbers to those in power. I believe that many employees of the Florida Park Service, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Water Management Districts, et cetera, disagree with the direction they receive from Tallahassee but can't protest for fear of losing their jobs. If the public rises up in vociferous opposition it gives bureaucrats with a conscience the political cover they need to do the right thing. Seeing the crowd tonight speak out to protect a beautiful place that they dearly love—which is also a valuable natural resource—was very inspiring and gives me great hope for the future of this state!

This plan affects not just Honeymoon, but 55 other parks. You can speak up too! Here’s a link with the email address to do so. Write your local legislators, too!

Links for contacting DEP at: http://pinellas.fnpschapters.org/notes/110704.html

Article by Craig Pittman about the meeting in the St. Petersburg Times:
http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/hundreds-turn-out-to-oppose-rv-camping-sites-at-honeymoon-island-state-park/1179023

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