BAYPORT — Les Tremond has been making regular weekend treks to Bayport Park for years now, and he's never seen it like this before.
While most mornings he hasn't had a problem finding a place to stash his boat trailer while he's on the water, things suddenly changed July 1 with the simultaneous openings of the bay scallop harvesting season and the grouper fishing season.
Both activities tend to draw multitudes of visitors from around the state to Hernando County. And for Tremond, a Bushnell resident who enjoys both activities, that means staying away from one of his favorite launching spots on the Gulf of Mexico.
"I won't even come on a weekend this time of the year," said Tremond, who pulled into the park Thursday morning with his 19-foot boat. "By 8 o'clock, you can forget about finding a parking space. It's that bad."
Indeed, weekends and holidays at the county's saltwater access parks can be frustrating for boat owners. Parking is often limited, leaving vessel owners with a tough choice — either go elsewhere or take a chance on parking illegally.
On July, 4, Hernando County sheriff's deputies handed out 11 parking tickets at Bayport Park. An additional eight were written that day at Rogers Park on Shoal Line Boulevard.
In all, the Bayport Park boat ramp has 48 slots for boat trailer parking. Nearby Jenkins Creek Park has 39 slots, and the parking lot at the public boat ramp at Hernando Beach can hold 90 vehicles and trailers.
County parks maintenance supervisor Roy Link said that while about half of the tickets are written for nonpayment of the daily $5 park fee, other vehicles are ticketed for being parked illegally on county roadways or in no-parking areas. Doing so can net a fine of up to $110.
"Maybe they're thinking it's worth it," Link said. "But there's not much we can do about it. The spaces we have are what we have."
Frank Bourgeois, who regularly operates his charter boat out of Bayport Park, said that with the scallop and grouper seasons opening on the same day, a parking shortage was inevitable.
"It's a sad thing," Bourgeois said. "When you've got out-of-town people wanting to go out to fish and catch scallops and there's no place to park, they're going to get mad and go someplace else."
Hernando County Port Authority chairman Roy Martin believes that adding more boat ramps and parking facilities is key to fulfilling the county's goal of being a fisherman's paradise. He intends to submit a five-year plan to the County Commission next week, outlining the need for more saltwater boating facilities.
But Martin said the process for acquiring land for waterfront parks, boat ramps and fishing piers is complicated because state environmental regulations are strict when it comes to developing those areas.
Martin, who was on the Port Authority board in 2003 when the county began planning an expansion of the Bayport Park fishing pier and boat ramp facilities, said the effort ran into red tape from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
"There were so many changes that had to be made," he said. "We were lucky to get what we got."
Still, Martin and others believe that the county will eventually have to deal with the problem in order to keep residents and visitors happy.
"Our waterways are our calling card," Martin said. "The money we spend in making sure we have adequate facilities for fishing and boating will pay off in the long run."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]