Honeymoon Island Advisory Panel Doesn't Want Camping, Either
On Tuesday night, the public made its opinion clear on the prospect of camping in the state park. On Wednesday, a panel of stakeholders agreed.
Rick and Helen Reynolds dug in the sand at Honeymoon Island State Park on Wednesday morning with their preschool-aged son. They are vacationing from Memphis, Tenn., and said they only wished to stay for the day. They said they couldn’t imagine staying past sunset.
“There’s a lake we like to go to back home, and there’s motor homes there — it’s trashy,” Helen Reynolds said. “This doesn’t seem like the place to let that happen.”
Little did they know that as they enjoyed the Honeymoon Island beaches outside, a dozen or so state-appointed citizen advisory board members were fighting for its future inside the nearby Rotary Centennial Nature Center.
About a dozen demonstrators gathered, bearing posters, outside the Nature Center, but members of the Honeymoon Island State Park Advisory group clutched signs and various trinkets, as they expressed environmental, management and financial concerns to state Department of Environmental Protection officials.
Not one person condoned the prospect of RV accommodations, and only one expressed interest in tent camping on the island.
The DEP’s meeting with the advisory group was the second step in a process of gaining public input for its decision to move forward with a controversial land-management plan amendment designating 17.5 acres for camping and RV use.
Environmental impact — whether camping, especially high-impact camping, should be permitted — was one of the biggest shared concerns among citizen board members.
“What efforts will be made to minimize the impact of lights at campsites?” Florida Fish and Wildlife representative Brie Ochoa asked the DEP panel. “Are there going to be headlights shining toward the beach?”
She cited 2008 Florida Statute 542 that dictates that areas containing a habitat for species that are in peril have an obligation to protect and rehabilitate. The existence of unnatural lighting is known to cause confusion in sea turtles that use the natural reflection of moonlight as a guide back to their homes in the water. Lights from another direction, such as a car’s headlights or even light from campfires, could wreak havoc on that species, she argued. Rattlesnakes, a protected species, are also thriving on the island. Ochoa said that changes to the environment could hurt their chances of survival.
Part of the park’s responsibility would be to relocate any gopher tortoises affected by the addition of campsites. An estimated 160 boroughs are in the proposed camping area.
Ochoa estimated the cost of relocating them at $150,000. That figure assumes that at least half of the boroughs are active or occupied, which would mean moving 80 to 90 tortoises. She said there are no public areas that could withstand that large of an incoming tortoise population.
Financial and management concerns
Other board members were less than amused that no fiscal plans have been presented. They were shocked when they found out none exists.
“We are in a highly conceptual stage right now,” said Albert Gregory, head of park planning. “We’d go through many, many steps before we got to that point.”
That explanation drew confused looks from many panel members.
“I can’t imagine a private company entering into something like this without already doing the math,” Suncoast Sierra Club chairwoman Cathy Harrelson said. “This could be the greatest thing in the world and make a ton of money for the state, but we have no way to evaluate that.”
Harrelson also expressed frustration over a perceived misrepresentation of the proposed camping facility.
“They are calling it family camping,” Harrelson said. “They need to change that to full-service camping.”
Advisory group member Paul Cozzie of Pinellas County Parks and Conservation agreed.
He said the intention to encourage family camping is there, but determining who is there for that purpose and who is not is difficult, if not impossible. He said he has seen issues with alcohol and keeping track of people during nighttime hours.
“So, 45 campsites isn’t really going to bring that many benefits,” Cozzie said. “What it will bring you is a headache.”
Even advisory group members representing the interests of RV campsites in Florida gave the project a big thumbs down. Florida Association of RV parks and campgrounds spokesman Tim Deputy said campsites in state parks offer more pristine land and rates at a fraction of the cost of private companies. This is a detail he fears will drive private RV parks to failure.
“We can’t support the current plan because it allows for moderate RV camping,” Deputy said. Camping "should be rustic to add more appeal to campers looking for alternatives.”
The DEP panel must now weigh public input and the advisory group veto into its decision to move forward with the plan, which would next be slated for the DEP Acquisition and Restoration Council in Tallahassee on Aug. 19. That meeting, if it occurs, will be open to the public.