Pasco County residents are being invited to give their input on how they want to see the only state park in the county evolve.
State officials are updating the unit management plan for Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, a nearly 4,000-acre span of nature near Port Richey. Werner Boyce is the only state park in Pasco.
Officials are presenting a draft of the plan update at a public meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the West Pasco Government Center, and they will be taking public input on the document.
The state started acquiring the land for Werner Boyce the 1990s and gave management authority of the park to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2000. The DEP still manages the park today.
The management plan being discussed Wednesday is a nearly 200-page document that guides management of the park over the next 10 years. The last management plan was created in 2001.
The plan outlines ways of dealing with invasive species and human impact. It also addresses facilities to add, like a new canoe and kayak launch accessible to people with disabilities and new picnic pavilions and bathrooms.
The park sits on the coast just north of Port Richey and contains salt marsh, seagrass bed, coastline, mangroves, hammocks, two artesian wells and the site of a mid-19th century salt works.
Its habitats are home to imperiled species of plants and animals as well as more common ones.
The park lies in a linear strip between U.S. 19 and the Gulf of Mexico.
“The linear nature of the park and its close proximity to development has made cohesive development of the park difficult,” the plan acknowledges.
Marshy terrain has also made movement difficult, making it a challenge to operate and maintain the park. The park boundary is difficult to determine, leading to encroachment.
The plan has an idea how to deal with this:
“To resolve some of these issues, this plan proposes focused recreational development at the north and south ends of the park, along with distributed staff presence and operational facilities along the length of the park," the plan states. "Focusing development in this pattern will allow for the expansion of recreational opportunities, enhanced visitor safety and experience, and minimal impact to the park’s protected wetland zones.”
One thing that park users have wanted to see happen at the park is the grand opening of its main entrance off of U.S. 19, just north of Walmart. A closed gate bars access there currently.
Currently, visitors mostly access the park using Old Post Road, which leads to the Energy Marine Center in Port Richey.
Folks looking to learn a specific date for the grand opening of the park’s new main entrance may be disappointed. A specific date is not given in the proposed plan.
"Construction of the park’s main entrance and corresponding main day-use area are under way,” the plan states. “A paved entrance road off U.S. Highway 19 is complete and two visitor parking areas are in progress. These facilities will provide access to a small existing picnic area and shoreline canoe launch.”
Park Ranger Christine Dorrier isn’t giving a date either. She says right now the park is trying to add a new sign at the entrance. The park has to get the proper approvalsfor the sign.
Dorrier is looking forward to the day when the gate opens and people can access trails from that entrance.
“I’m excited because I don’t have anybody to play with” now, said Dorrier.
Even when the gate opens, work at the entrance won’t be finished, Dorrier said.
One member of the public who uses the park regularly is Ed Caum. Caum is a board member of the Salt Springs Alliance, the citizen support organization that raises money for the park.
He wants to see the gate open and new facilities added.
"Plans need to progress to get the front gate open so residents and tourists can see the natural beauty the park has to offer," he said. "For this to happen, we need to be sure a plan is in place for restrooms, water points, camp sites, walking trails, signage, park staff, volunteer interpreters, etc. This park can become an international paddling (and) bird watching destination because of its unique and diverse populations."
The proposed management plan is available for download under the Sept. 19 heading at the DEP website. The meeting Wednesday is at 7 p.m. at the West Pasco Government Center, Board Room 1st Floor, 8731 Citizens Drive, New Port Richey.