Other voices l A missed opportunity | Columnists

I can’t say I’m surprised. Thanks to the myopia of the BOCC, the county appears to have lost a chance to acquire a prime property that could have been developed into a fantastic park and paddling/fishing destination for residents and tourists.

According to a January 12 Chronicle report, efforts by Commissioner Kinnard to purchase the 3.6-acre Pirates Cove property at the end of Ozello Trail and merge it with the existing community park have been thwarted. The owners of the property, apparently frustrated by BOCC’s procrastination and the “rejection of some board members” (most likely Scott Carnahan and Ron Kitchen), have taken the property off the market and now intend to subdivide it for host sites.

Gary Rankel

Get more of the Citrus County Chronicle

I have spent 34 years with the Department of the Interior managing fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation resources and associated public use programs across the country, and the past 16 years kayak fishing many places along the along the Nature and Space coasts. These experiences provided me with information on what to look for in assessing the recreational and outdoor tourism potentials of various water bodies and parcels of land, and first-hand knowledge of launch sites. and adjacent fishing grounds in central Florida.

In my opinion, the Pirates Cove property and surrounding coastal area is unmatched in terms of aesthetic value and tourism potential for paddlers, fishers, ecotourists and people who simply want to get out and enjoy nature.

Good luck finding willing sellers of private properties next to prime fishing and paddling water in Central Florida that can be developed for public use. The demand for these scarce resources will continue to grow as the population grows. The plot at Pirates Cove is clearly among the rarest of these resources.

An expanded Pirates Cove Park could have served as an ideal neighbor and access point to the recently approved Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve, which in itself will attract more visitors to our area wishing to view protected seagrass fields and, unlike Three Sisters Sources, manatees in their natural habitat. No additional manatee feeding programs, like the one recently implemented in the Indian River Lagoon, will be needed here. A short distance from this property, visitors and residents can also encounter dolphins, sea turtles, rays, a variety of seabirds, and other marine life in a relatively unspoilt ecosystem.

Paddle sports are among the fastest growing outdoor activities in the country, with Florida leading the way in number of users. The existing community park at Pirates Cove has already been discovered by outsiders and looks a lot like Hunter Springs Park: overcrowded on weekends with maddening conditions for launching and parking. Unlike Hunter Springs Park, there is plenty of space and potential to accommodate expanded parking and visitor use.

I often meet southern anglers who move to Pirates Cove anxious to escape the local waters affected by recurring bouts of red tide, green slime, fish kills, sport fishing closures and overcrowding. The new toll road will generate more trips. Ditto for the many old codgers I meet from The Villages who drive here to spend more of their senior times enjoying Citrus County.

According to a recent report, approximately 40 of the nation’s top active adult communities are located in Florida, including 26 within an hour or two of our region. Many of their residents belong to fishing and boating clubs and travel considerable distances in search of quality recreational experiences. Adding 3.5 acres of prime recreational land to what is now a barren parking lot would have greatly improved its potential for daytime use and resulted in longer stays.

I’ve made contact with members of boating clubs that run year-round trips across Florida and kayak fishing groups that run tournaments throughout the southeastern United States. An expanded Pirates Cove park would have provided them with a popular destination to congregate and include in their annual tours.

As they currently do at the existing community park, many outsiders would have visited the expanded park during peak fishing times in the spring and fall, increasing visits during the off-peak periods between manatee and bird seasons. scallops, and helping to maintain a vibrant year. -economy based on tourism. Auxiliary businesses throughout the county would have benefited.

An expanded Pirates Cove Park could have relieved crowds at the normally congested Chassahowitzka River and Kings Bay sites, making all of those areas of the county less stressful and more appealing to local residents and visitors. It would also have helped reduce congestion at county ramps. Additional existing installation sites on the private property itself could have been used to expand launch activities and reduce clutter at the ramp and shoreline of the adjacent community park. Failure to create the park will now result in continued and growing congestion at other water access sites in the county. The subdivision of the property into new habitation sites and the removal of associated vegetation and new construction will result in undesirable habitat degradation.

The expanded area could have been managed as a passive park with only a few portable and easily transportable structures required, all of which could have been secured in place and/or easily removed from the site before the big nest hit, leaving the area in its natural state. . A user fee could have been charged to cover maintenance. Arrangements for a small catering service, a kayak rental operation and a guided eco-tourism service could have been considered to enhance the visitor experience, with caretakers of these operations possibly taking on maintenance responsibilities, relieving thus the county of these functions and expenses.

Alongside the construction of a marina on the Barge Canal, the acquisition and amalgamation of the Pirates Cove property with the existing community park would have been a game-changer in terms of putting more feet on the street, bodies in halls and heads in beds. Its cost would have been far outweighed by the long-term benefits to local businesses, job creation, further sustainable economic diversification and development, and increased government revenue leading to more affordable taxes.

If the new park had been created, I would have gladly given it up to the increasing number of paddlers, fishers and ecotourists who would certainly arrive. I would still be able to drag my yak to other more secluded spots that only a few of us residents know where I can fish in solitude with few or no humans in sight.

The good news, I suppose, is that landlords could resume negotiations with the county if their subdivision plan didn’t generate the return on investment they were hoping for. Maybe the BOCC will get another chance to do the right thing.

Gary Rankel, also known as PackerYaker, is an award-winning “Kayak Fishing” author.

About Justin Howze

Check Also

Seney Refuge Improvement Projects Update

NORTHERN MICHIGAN – Seney National Wildlife Refuge was fortunate to be one of the recipients …