Swamp buggies are one step closer to returning to Picayune Strand after the Collier County Commission voted Tuesday to submit a resolution that supports allowing visitors to use the vehicles during hunting season.
The issue was brought forward by Commissioner William McDaniel, who said he had worked with a number of local organizations and governing agencies, including the state forestry service, and saw broad support for allowing residents to use the buggies in order to more easily access portions of the strand.
“Lands acquired with public treasury funds should be afforded the greatest amount of opportunity for public access,” McDaniel said.
Before being turned into a state forest, the land that is now the Picayune Strand was often used by residence who enjoyed driving All-Terrain Vehicles, or ATVs. After becoming a state forest, ATVs were banned from the property, but as part of the deal that secured the land in 2003, the state was supposed to provide 640 acres to the county for off-roading vehicles.
After some litigation, the two parties settled in 2011 and the county was given $3 million to find their own area where residents could drive their ATVs. The discovery of arsenic contamination at a potential site on the shores of Lake Trafford near Immokalee shutdown the county’s last attempt at securing land for an off-roading park. As of 2018, Collier County has not established a new property for ATV owners to use.
Commissioner Penny Taylor joined a number of representatives from environmental organizations in expressing concern that the wording of the resolution may be a back door to allowing ATVs back into the strand.
“I wish we had gotten a definition of a swamp buggy from forestry, so I would feel more comfortable,” said Taylor. “I’m concerned about the breadth of that definition.”
McDaniel told the board that he too wanted to avoid allowing ATVs to return to the state forest.
“I am comfortable adjusting the language to specifically exclude ATVs,” said McDaniel.
The commission voted 4-1 to approve drafting the resolution that would support the return of swamp buggies, with Taylor in dissent. While the resolution may help inform policy, ultimately the power to regulate swamp buggies inside the Picayune Strand lies with the Florida Forest Service, who will make the final decision.
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