Ken Tracey is concerned for the environment at Werner Boyce Salt Springs State Park.
He has suggestions on how to manage it, and he’s not the only one.
Tracey is one of about 30 people who came to the West Pasco Government Center to weigh in on a draft management plan for Werner Boyce, which is near Port Richey, Wednesday night.
While the nearly 4,000 acre park is open, its main entrance is not. Part of the plan is to work to get the gate open, along with adding other improvements including kayak launches, bike and walking paths and more signs over the next decade.
Users want the park's main entrance off U.S. 19, just north of Walmart, opened. A closed gate bars access there currently.
Some visitors, like kayakers and members of the Salt Springs Alliance, a citizen’s support organization access the park using Old Post Road, which leads to the Energy Marine Center in Port Richey. Others access the park at Scenic Drive Trailhead.
A specific date is not given in the proposed plan, but opening the gate is in the works.
Park Ranger Christine Dorrier said right now the park is trying to add a sign at the entrance, which is the only thing holding up opening the gate. The sign needs to get permitted first from Pasco County.
"That front gate is going to be open in your lifetime, without a doubt," Dorrier said.
A lot of access to the park has to be by boat, and it attracts a group of active airboat users. Some locals were eager to express concern about the airboats’ impact on the park, but others noted that the airboat group is good about policing itself.
Constance Cranford is a leader for Boy Scout Troop 8 and volunteer at Werner Boyce said that while the intent is for there to be mixed-use areas of the park, that not every area needs to be accessible all the time.
“Because of its design and its shape, it will always have the intent of preserving a lot of the area for the native wild life and the flora and fauna. Most people won’t have access to it. That’s almost a design plan within the park itself.”
“…I always thought that was a great thing. That the park was kind of our own little treasure.”
Ed Caum, a spokesman for the county, said that the county is working with the state to create a new bike and walking trail at the park's eastern end. That could cost $3 million.
That’s just one of the improvements planned. The state also is planning on adding new canoe and kayak launches, bathrooms, picnic pavilions and signs.
Greg Abbott, an active airboat user, suggested added signage to advise other airboat operators. He said any signs at the park “would certainly help."
Some of Tracey’s concerns about the park were for the birds.
Airboat trails cutting through needle brush at the park and mosquito ditches have “chopped up” the available nesting areas of Scott’s Seaside Sparrow and marsh wren, said Tracey, a past president of the West Pasco Audubon Society.
Seaside sparrows are listed as a Species of Special Concern by the state.
Tracey said that if the trails continue to be used, then “there will be no seaside sparrows.”
Tracey also suggests adding a large passenger airboat to the park to take visitors on a tour of the coastline.