Learned a few things in this last of the FDEP series of county meetings about state parks, (almost) the only one that also included the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail and its River Camps.
We also talked about the previous day’s meeting, in Hamilton County, which included Big Shoals State Park. Moving the portage around Big Shoals from Columbia County to Hamilton County, on the right bank of the Suwannee River, is now merely a discussion topic, not a plan. They do want to do something to improve the exit from the portage back into the river. The jagged and slippery limestone rocks are a safety issue. One possibility is steps like at the Big Shoals Tract Launch. They didn’t like my suggestion of just put in some posts with a chain for people to use to get down to the river. But steps would be great.
They are also considering adding a landing below Big Shoals, on the Hamilton County side. That is difficult, because even if they paved or improved the woods road that gets closest to the river there, people would still have to carry boats a few thousand feet to the river.
Because in addition to the 70-or-so public landings and River Camps of the Wilderness Trail, our Suwannee River Wilderness Water Trail includes all the platforms and many other landmarks in the Okefenokee Swamp, plus public boat ramps and landings on the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers, and many bridges, fords, beaches, and other historical and current sites, as well as all the springs.
The spreadsheet underlying our SRWT map currently has 343 rows, and our googlemap also includes 112 springs and 648 river and creek tracks and property tract outlines.
One FDEP person asked if I was suggesting they add all that to the Wilderness Trail. I said no, I’m suggesting you don’t want to be responsible for what we include in our Water Trail. I had already had this discussion with Edwin McCook, who invited me to this meeting.
And of course the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail does not include the Withlacoochee River, which is in our Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail, and the Wilderness Trail does not include the Alapaha or Alapahoochee Rivers, which are in our Alapaha River Water Trail.
In Mayo, we did talk about Troy Springs and Lafayette Blue, for which they have many improvement plans. For each of the parks, they also have ideas on potential acquisitions, but of course those all depend on neighboring landowners.
They were tired after days of these meetings, and I had to get on the road across the Suwannee River on the blue Hal W. Adams Bridge two hours to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
I was only the third person to sign up at the Lafayette County meeting. They said the Hamilton County meeting was the best attended.
I did not get names and titles. I will ask for those. Next time I do this, I think I will video each person: who are you, what do you do, what do you want to say.
About the subjects of these parks meetings, you can also send written comments through November 10, 2023, to FlStateParkPlanning@dep.state.fl.us.
You may review the meeting documents at https://floridadep.gov/parks/public- participation.
If you are interested in learning more about public meetings, please sign up to receive emails from the Department of Environmental Protection at https://floridadep.gov/
(click on “Sign Up” at the bottom of the web page).
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®