LETTER: A wrong path for Camp Helen, a Florida treasure

Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 05:06 PM.

An open letter to our elected commissioners, senators, representatives, and governor:

You're getting this letter because you have the power to seal the fate of Camp Helen State Park, and I have a care as to how it is sustained. Plans in the new Unit Management Plan are potentially detrimental to the natural resources of the park and Lake Powell, a coastal dune lake. Concessions (food and rentals), development on the north side of Hwy.98 and stabilized trails are potential actions in the plan.

Yes, these sound inviting, but to what end?

This is a very small park with a variety of unique coastal, upland and wetland natural communities ranging from coastal dune to mesic flatwoods, salt marsh to maritime hammock, rare sand pine scrub to depression marsh. The disruption of these habitats would change the landscape dramatically by bringing in opportunistic invasive plants and displacing the wildlife we all hope to see.

Two endangered species of shorebirds nest at Phillips Inlet — snowy plovers and least terns. Among the state parks in our area, Camp Helen has the highest fledge rate for snowy plovers. These birds lay eggs directly on the sand. Threats to the nesting shorebirds include predators such as raptors that would perch on new beach boardwalk hand rails to hunt close to the ground and raccoons and coyotes, which would come to feed on leftover food trash thrown into the dunes.

I admit, I am partial to these birds. Once a month, I, alongside many other dedicated volunteers, conduct a bird species survey at the park. We record each bird by species. We document many “banded” plovers and chicks and we have added several new species to the park's official bird list.

Furthermore, proposed development of group camping cabins on the north side would highly alter and usurp the old growth pine habitat and congest the view with structures.

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