Anclote Key shuttle requires careful study
A Times Editorial
Published July 13, 2005
The state park service wants to make parks more accessible to more people and provide a greater variety of activities for them to enjoy. But what should be the priority? Better accessibility or preservation of park ecosystems?
The risks involved came into clear focus with the announcement last week that the state is considering a boat shuttle service to Anclote Key.
The island, located in the gulf 2 miles west of the Pinellas-Pasco border, now is accessible only by private boat. Tens of thousands of boaters visit the island every year, but the numbers are limited by the island's inaccessibility to those who don't own boats.
A shuttle service to the island, part of the 700-acre Gulf Islands GEOpark, would change all that. State parks officials are in the early stage of planning a charter boat shuttle that would carry visitors to the island and back. They would pay a fee, take a scenic boat ride of 20 to 30 minutes from the mainland and get to spend the day on an undeveloped, windswept island where the only residents are two humans - a state park ranger and a park volunteer - and a lot of wildlife.
The island has beaches, pine trees and the recently restored historic, 101-foot-tall Anclote Key Lighthouse.
Anclote Key and nearby Three Rooker Bar are nesting areas for shorebirds. The birds lay their eggs in the sand and grasses where they can be trampled by unknowing beach walkers, by dogs running off their required leashes and by children chasing kites. Park rangers try to post signs at significant nesting areas, but lots more humans on the island beaches put the eggs at risk and could scare off nesting colonies.
Three years ago, the state stirred up a controversy when it proposed rules to regulate the behavior of boaters visiting Anclote Key. The state wanted to impose the rules because its priority at the time was to protect the island's natural resources. Visitors were trampling plants and nesting areas, leaving behind trash and sometimes camping out on the island, so the state wanted to define some areas as off limits. Preservation seemed more important than access at the time.
Today, the state's position appears to have shifted.
"Really, we are in the business of maintaining resources and providing access," Don Bergeron, assistant park manager for Honeymoon Island and Anclote Key, told the St. Petersburg Times. "We do want to encourage visitation on the island ... "
Some people would see that as a fair approach. After all, Anclote Key belongs to the people of Florida. Taxpayers fund the rangers' salaries and the cost of maintaining the island. Why shouldn't they be permitted easy and full access?
Those people might also mention that another gulf island, Caladesi off the coast of Dunedin, has been accessible via a public ferry from Honeymoon Island for years, yet hasn't suffered irreparable harm.
However, people whose priority is preserving some of Florida's unspoiled beauty might argue that less access, not more, is the only sensible approach at Anclote Key. They might mention that Anclote Key is a state preserve - a preserve - and that putting more humans on the island every day would change the balance of nature there and put the island's future at risk.
In the weeks ahead, the state will talk more about its plans for Anclote Key. People on both sides of the debate will be listening closely.
However, if the state of Florida wants to walk the fence between protecting state park ecosystems and providing more access to visitors - a difficult balancing act - it must do so with plenty of study first and a set of rules for visitors that is energetically enforced.
[Last modified July 13, 2005, 00:09:17]
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