NAPLES — Sportsmen and conservation groups are attacking a scaled-back proposal to put part of the Big Cypress National Preserve off-limits to off-roaders.
The proposal, announced Wednesday in a final management plan for part of the preserve known as the Addition Lands, would designate about 47,000 acres of wilderness compared with 86,000 acres in a draft plan earlier this year.
The wilderness designation, which only Congress can enact, would prohibit motorized vehicles and roads and is seen as next to impossible to overturn once in place.
The National Park Service has been studying what to do with the Addition Lands since 1996, when it took over management of 147,000 acres added to the preserve in 1988.
“We feel like the plan has a lot for everybody and doesn’t have everything for anybody,” Big Cypress preserve Superintendent Pedro Ramos said.
Ramos said he heard criticism of the plan from both sides within hours of its release but said it is “time for resolution.”
Without the plan in place, swamp buggies have been prohibited from using the Addition Lands.
Both sides, though, said they planned one last-ditch effort to swing the proposed wilderness designation.
“It’s just not right that every inch of the preserve should be accessed by vehicles,” National Parks Conservation Association regional director John Adornato said.
Access to the Big Cypress has been a topic for litigation for years, and a leading sportsmen’s group was not ruling out a return to court.
Big Cypress Sportsmen’s Alliance President Lyle McCandless called the plan for the Addition Lands “totally way beyond the realm of acceptance.”
Sportsmen staged a rally against the larger proposal last summer at a rest area along Alligator Alley as it cuts across the Big Cypress preserve.
McCandless said a wilderness designation, no matter its size, will eventually spread to other parts of the preserve at the behest of conservation groups.
“We’re going to have to take a stand against any wilderness, period,” McCandless said.
Sportsmen say the wilderness designation runs counter to the 1974 law that created the original 582,000 acre preserve and sought to preserve traditional uses like swamp buggies and hunting alongside conserving the preserve’s wet prairies and sloughs.
The management plan released Wednesday also calls for 130 miles of swamp buggy trails in the Addition Lands.
New access points into the preserve would be built at mile markers 51 and 63 on I-75 and along State Road 29 into the preserve’s Bear Island unit.
Primitive backcountry camping areas would be provided in the Addition Lands.
A new hiking trailhead is proposed for I-75 and S.R. 29, and a boardwalk and picnic shelters are planned for the preserve’s Deep Lake.
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats