Big Cypress National Preserve

Workshops set up so public can offer ideas

 

scocking@MiamiHerald.com

Hikers, bikers, anglers, campers, hunters, off-road vehicle drivers, paddlers and others are invited to attend two public workshops this week to present their ideas for accessing the vast back country of the Big Cypress National Preserve.

The preserve began soliciting input on routing of hiking paths, secondary ORV trails and locations of campsites last fall. A primary goal is to reroute a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail, which winds from the Oasis Visitor Center on Tamiami Trail north to the boundary of the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation in order to separate hikers from ORV users. Now officials want to get more specifics from users on where they would like to pursue their activities and suggestions for making that easier while balancing the need for conservation of natural resources.

Meetings will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Hyatt Regency Bonaventure Conference Center in Weston and Tuesday at Big Cypress Welcome Center on Tamiami Trail in Ochopee.

For those who cannot attend the meetings, public comments will be accepted until May 11.

Preserve spokesman Bob DeGross said planners will consider all the public comments and present a slate of alternatives by late summer or early fall for another round of feedback sessions. The back country access plan could be finalized by 2016. To learn more, visit http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=49334.

In other Big Cypress news, Zone 4 airboat access will be closed because of low water at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Pending higher water levels, the area will reopen June 6. Meanwhile, all other management units that allow wheeled ORV access will remain open through June 1.

On June 2, the annual 60-day closure to allow resources a break from motorized vehicles will begin in those areas and will reopen Aug. 1.

Landowners and their guests will be able to access their properties during the closure by following approved routes.

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    Off-road vehicles such as swamp buggies, street-legal 4x4s, ATVs and UTVs will be allowed back in the Big Cypress National Preserve on Friday, marking the end of the annual 60-day recreational closure to ORV access. Only the designated primary trails in the backcountry will be open. All secondary trails will remain closed for an additional 60 days. The closure does not affect landowners’ access to private property using permitted trails. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/bicy.

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