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Honeymoon Island: Is best Florida park doomed to the bottom line?

It's like someone woke up one morning and said: You know, there just isn't enough disillusionment with Florida government these days.

Surely there must be some unspoiled patches of the state left to meddle with and make money from. Hey! How about Honeymoon Island?

Okay, so the Department of "Environmental Protection" is not just targeting our most popular state park — which, if you have not had the pleasure, is one stunner of a spot to kayak, fish, snorkel, and generally wander old Florida.

No, the DEP is looking at adding overnight camping and RV space at 56 state parks. At Honeymoon Island, that means 45 campsites on 17.5 acres, with amenities like roads, playgrounds, bathhouses and electric and water hookups. Naturally, private companies would build and operate the campgrounds, this being the state of our state.

So why would anyone want to mess with a successful, much-loved park that attracted more than a million visitors and $1.6 million in profit last year?

Because Honeymoon Island, like a lot of state parks, doesn't have overnight camping. Overnight camping brings in more people. More people, more money.

The park, by the way, boasts one of the few remaining virgin slash pine forests in the area. It's a great spot to see an owl, a gopher tortoise, an eagle, even — but keep that on the down-low, or they'll start charging $5 to let you view an osprey nest.

Yes, every dollar government spends should be scrutinized to see if we can do better. But have we really reached the point where absolutely nothing in Florida is worth protecting? (The current amnesiac talk of oil drilling indicates we might be getting there.)

But state parks are like this deal we made. This part stays Florida even if we develop the rest of the place until it looks like any other state in America. This stays protected and whole.

Until Tallahassee says it doesn't.

So what's a little change? In Florida, when we start to alter something — when we knock down, blacktop, bulldoze, build up and displace plants and animals — we generally don't get them back. Gone's gone. And we are very big on the slippery slope concept. Also on give-'em-an-inch.

Here is encouraging news: Upon hearing this, people did not shrug and say: Oh, well, nice park, but what can you do. They crowded a public hearing by the hundreds and made their presence known at an advisory meeting. No, no, no, and in case you didn't hear us, no. Leave Honeymoon Island alone. The state-appointed advisory group sounded a similar note, and the Pinellas County legislative delegation appears ready to give it the stinkeye as well.

Will anyone listen?

Though even fellow Republicans have stepped up to strongly oppose the changes to Honeymoon Island, Gov. Rick Scott says, "We have to make our parks available to people, with whatever amenities we can add to help people use the parks more." A monster roller coaster in amongst the ibis, perhaps.

The governor has spent his first months in office doggedly following his agenda to the point of ignoring the voices of many Floridians around him. Lately I keep thinking of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!, when voices together are finally heard.

Maybe government will see the slash pine forest for the trees, so to speak, on this one.

Honeymoon Island: Is best Florida park doomed to the bottom line? 07/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 7, 2011 8:21pm]
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